Page 1 of 1
Posted: Mon May 19, 2014 10:27 am
Hi all. I'm doing a herb and spice display and was wondering what type of mint would have been most commonly used during the medieval period? I know the romans brought mint to the UK and I know that they were familiar with many different varieties of mint, but some advice/ thoughts on which mint would have been used when "mint" is referenced in recipes (cooking, medicinal, cosmetic) would be much appreciated! For example, peppermint or spearmint?
Posted: Mon May 19, 2014 3:08 pm
Speaking for the 12th century, the surviving recipes mainly do not appear to feature any kind of mint. Admittedly we have very little evidence to go on and the recipes are all aimed at the higher end of society, but mint is rare.
Neckham (writing in about 1180) specifically mentions garlic, pepper, salt, wine, vinegar of grape or apple juice, cumin, sage, parsley, dittany, thyme and cost(mary).
The newly-discovered recipes of about 1160 - 1180 found in a Cambridge manuscript (written at Durham) typically feature parsley, sage, pepper, garlic, mustard and coriander.
This is not to say that ordinary folk were not growing and using mints, just that there is little documentary evidence to support it.
Mints were certainly grown in monastic herb gardens all over the country: spearmint, pennyroyal, peppermint and watermint are all recorded. The uses for them are less well recorded, although they were used medicinally and as strewing herbs. They almost certainly appeared in monastic dishes, but I know of only one recorded example, in an omelette aux fines herbes served at Canterbury cathedral priory in 1179. This was made with 16 eggs and chopped dittany, rue, tansy, mint, sage, marjoram, fennel, parsley, beets, violet leaves, spinach, lettuce and pounded ginger. The Latin word mentha gives us no clue as to which precise mint species was used.
Posted: Mon May 19, 2014 6:59 pm
Out of interest I checked a few recipes in the Forme of Cury (14th century), which is more middle-of-the-road in terms of social status. The Salat recipe is particularly significant:
Salat. Take persel, sawge, grene garlec, chibolles, letys, leek, spinoches, borage, myntes, prymos, violettes, porrettes, fenel, and toun cressis, rew, rosemarye, purslarye; laue and waishe hem clene. Pike hem. Pluk hem small wiþ þyn honde, and myng hem wel with rawe oile; lay on vyneger and salt, and serue it forth.
Note that "mintes" is in the plural, as if either (a) you might use a range of different types of mint together, or (b) it doesn't matter which of the mints is used.
Rue, by the way, is best avoided since it has a range of potentially hazardous characteristics (I have suffered some of them).
Posted: Thu May 22, 2014 9:04 pm
It's a toughie really as mint hybridizes so freely it's difficult to keep tabs! Apocryphally I have heard that peppermint is a natural hybrid of spearmint and water mint but there is a certain amount of consternation as to when it first appeared; some say 18th century whereas some say ancient egypt and there doesn't seem to be any solid proof either way. Most medieval recipes and manuals (in fact all that I have come across) just specify 'myntes' such as this (rather nice tasting) one from Ashmole 1439:
Sauce vert. — Take percely, myntes, diteyne, peletre, a foil or ii. of cost- marye, a clone of garleke. And take faire brede, and stepe it with vynegre and piper, and salt; and grynde al this to-gedre, and tempre it vp -with wynegre, or wi' eisel, and serue it forthe.
As a best guess (and I hate doing this) I'd stick with the classically 'minty' mints such as spearmint, water mint and peppermint and steer away from the variegated varieties and things like apple mint etc until some solid evidence is uncovered for ancestor varieties.
Hope that helps!
Posted: Thu May 22, 2014 9:22 pm
hi everyone. Thanks for your replies. What everyone has said tallies with the information I've managed to find, so at least I'm along the right tracks. I'll stick with peppermint and spearmint for the time being.