When I planted my first garden and before anything else began to take hold, I had a pot of flourishing mint. Mint is easy to grow—so easy I’d been warned not to plant it in the ground. Mint can take over, I was told; with a small garden, you wouldn’t have room for anything else.
So, I had this huge pot of mint, and for years I hardly used it. Now and then I’d garnish a plate with a sprig of mint or cut a bit up in a fruit salad. Then a friend served a Thai shrimp salad in which whole mint and basil leaves were mixed with the other greens and liberally doused with a hot sauce—delicious! I started putting mint leaves (and basil, when I have it) into all of my green salads, and it’s been consistently wonderful. Even without the hot sauce.
Recently, I came across The Extraordinary Cookbook, in which gastronaut (his word) Stefan Gates suggests making tea with fresh herbs from the garden. How obvious is that! For me, it was another revelation. I’d never liked herbal tea, and why would I? Most packaged teas are dried, crushed leaves that were shrouded in paper envelopes who knows how many years ago. Fresh mint tea, I found, is something else altogether.
I cut off a huge handful—both hands, cupped—of fresh mint sprigs, packed them loosely into a teapot, filled it with boiling water, and let the brew steep for ten minutes. Unbelievable, the flavor of that tea. I love fresh mint tea.
Now we come to another dimension, so if all you’re interested in is cooking tips, read no further. A friend from Hawaii called, and I told her about my “discovery” of fresh mint tea. She suggested that the next time I cut mint, I try something: “Ask the plant if it’s okay for you to take its leaves. Then wait to hear its answer.” This woman—whom I met when we were both newspaper reporters in Honolulu—studied for a number of years with a training school for psychic healing, and she sometimes comes up with a subtle perspective I wouldn’t have thought of on my own.
But why not? The next time I wanted to make fresh mint tea, I squatted in front of the potted mint and mentally asked the plant, Would it be all right with you if I took some of your leaves to make tea?
Everything was quiet, and the answer, when it came a moment later, was wordless. I felt a whoosh of sweet energy inside. It seemed as if the mint actually wanted to offer its leaves. And, of course, feeling that made the fresh mint tea even more exquisite.