Spearmint (Mentha viridis or Mentha spicata) was particularly dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and its common names include Our Lady’s Mint, Mary’s Mint, Mary’s Leaf, Lady’s Leaf. These names are very similar in other languages illustrating the universality of naming specific plants for Our Lady. In the various names for spearmint in other languages we can see an example of this universality - in French, Menthe Notre Dame and Herba Santa Maria in Spanish. Also, according to information I read on Ann Ball' s website, mint was one of the favorite strewing herbs in the Middle Ages; it was strewn on the floors of churches and banquet halls to furnish a pleasant odor. It was used by the monks in cooking and medicinally.
Another Marian herb also in the mint family is lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) which was known in medieval Mary garden’s as Sweet Mary. Its lovely fragrance fills the air and could be a reminder to help us be aware of Mary's presence in our life. Lemon balm has a strong history in Catholic religious settings. It is the principal ingredient in Carmelite Water or “Eau de Melisse de Carmes” which was invented by Carmelite nuns and used both medicinally, and externally as a perfume or Eau de Toilette. Lemon balm is also an ingredient in the liquor, Benedictine, which was first made by Dom Bernardo Vincelli, a monk at the Benedictine Abbey of Fecamp in Normandy in the 16th century.
As we enter the season of summer in the northern hemisphere, cool beverages are a great way to beat the heat and find refreshment. A couple sample iced drinks which use these herbs of Our Lady are shared here.
Strawberry Mint Lemonade
4 cups water
1 cup sugar
4 cups fresh mint leaves, lightly packed
1 quart strawberry hulled, halved
1 cup lemon juice, fresh squeezed
Place 2 cups water, sugar and mint in a small saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and discard mint. Thinly slice about 1 cup of strawberries and set aside. Add 1/2 of the remaining strawberries to a blender and blend until smooth; pour into 2 quarter pitcher. Stir in sliced strawberries and remaining water. Cover and chill until serving.
Lemon Balm Iced Tea
approx. 2 ounces fresh lemon balm leaves
6 cups water
1 small lemon, thinly sliced
4 tea bags (black tea)
3 T honey
Combine lemon balm, the lemon slices, and tea bags in a teapot or bowl. Pour in 2 cups boiling water to cover. Cover and let steep for 5 minutes. Remove and discard the tea bags. Stir the honey and set aside to cool. Strain the tea into a large pitcher and discard the solids. Add 4 cups cold water and stir well. Refrigerate the tea until ready to serve. Pour the chilled tea over ice in glasses and garnish with lemon balm sprigs.