The Mint in My Life

I am not sure exactly how mint became one of my favorite plants—and flavors, but I can affirm that mint is a part of every one of my days. I shave with mint soap lather every morning and brush my teeth with mint-flavored toothpaste every night. And midday I might be found chewing mint flavored gum. That’s not to count my homemade peppermint astringent and self-picked and dried spearmint leaves for mint tea.

I think the fascination started with my being shown mint growing on the shore of Gull Lake—and being amazed at the taste of what I thought was a mere weed. (Are there really any “mere weeds”?) It was at Gull Lake that my first memories of a family vacation were formed. They include being chased by an angry dog and being bit on the seat of my pants, having to get food from the rented cottage’s icebox loaded up every other day with an ice block Dad got from the corner store, which had ice from the lake stored beneath layers of sawdust in its ice shed—and catching my first fish: a couple small bluegills that had been enticed by the only “bait” I could find: some mint leaves.

So maybe it was that good luck fishing that made me first fond of mint. Second had to be my discovery of Chiclets mint-flavored gum that I discovered in the offering envelopes in racks on the back of the seats at Calvary Undenominational Church in Grand Rapids. (That was the church started by “Doc DeHaan”: M.R. DeHaan the founder also of Radio Bible Class—now RBC Ministries—and the pastor who led my mom and dad to Christ). For a long time I did not know that the gum had been “planted” by my dad. Of course my older brothers had to inform me of that fact when I eventually complained of not finding gum every Sunday. That was probably around the same time I was so callously informed that there was no tooth fairy and no Santa Claus. How cruel older brothers can be to their innocent younger siblings!

Further favor toward the savor came when living later in Hastings, a town we moved to when I was three: our Baptist church pastor always had a pocketful of Brach’s peppermint “lozenges” that he handed out to us kids after the morning service. And every once in a while he even had some of the pink ones (wintergreen lozenges). We called them simply white and pink “peppermints.” Only later did I discover that both of these flavors came from essential oils that had been distilled from plants.

And only recently have I learned another fact that may have made my Michigan upbringing favorable to an appreciation of mint: in 1900 90% of the world’s mint oil was produced in Michigan, most of it being grown within a 90-mile radius of Kalamazoo. In fact, the town that was the center of the most productive mint acreage was named “Mentha,” after the plant (mentha piperita: peppermint and mentha spicata: spearmint. Although Wrigley’s Doublemint gum ingredients are still a trade secret, I sort of suspect that it is a mix of both oils.)

Now all that’s left of Mentha, Michigan, is the ruins of an old barn, the fields having long ago been turned to the production of the farm staples: corn and soybeans. Recently on a visit to see my sister in a nursing home in Lansing, Marge and I took a side trip to see one of the last of the original mint farms in the state: the Crosby Mint Farm. Unfortunately, that farm narrowly averted foreclosure a couple years ago and the operation of the distillery is minimal. Most of the mint oil produced in the US comes from the Pacific Northwest, with Michigan having slipped to number five in output.

Having learned all of this recently, I now find that my fascination with mint has increased. However, I have not yet read all the stuff crammed onto the bottle of Dr. Bronners mint soap that I’ve been using for years. Just for fun, follow this link to see the copy that appears on what has to be the world’s most crowded label. Here is just a sampling:

Yet without the Moral ABC, after father-mother-wife murdered, ourself tortured- blinded, unable to remember our name ‘Bronner or Heilbronner’, this 76 word deathbed message, repeated 4 time, helped save our life in ’46! In ’86, 6 billion strong, it’ll help rally-raise-unite all life All-One: “ATOM BOMBS CAN BE CONTROLLED BECAUSE URANIUM IS RARE! BUT HYDROGEN BOMBS CANNOT ALWAYS BE CONTROLLED BECAUSE HYDROGEN IS EVERYWHERE! IN 1910 NIGHT TURNED INTO DAY WHEN HALLEY’S COMET (ALMOST) EXPLODED! SO IF I DON’T GET OUT OF HERE, A HYDROGEN BOMB CHAIN REACTION MAY EXPLODE GOD’S SPACESHIP EARTH! I AM FIGHTING FOR UNITY NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE, BECAUSE IN ONE WORLD WITH HYDROGEN BOMBS, WE’RE ALL-ONE! ALL-ONE OR WE’RE ALL NONE! ALL NONE! Yet, forced to sleep on the roof of the YMCA, penniless with the pigeons, we could not teach the Moral ABC of All-One- God-Faith, without which none can possibly unite the Human race! For we’re All-One or none!

Say what?!

The Bronner family made its fame with its mint soap first made in Germany in 1858. Sadly, the factory was taken over by the Nazis and Dr. Bronners parents, who were Jews, were transported to death camps and were among the millions of victims of the Holocaust. Trying to figure out exactly what Dr. Bronner’s faith and/or philosophy became is next to impossible to figure out (he died in 1997), and you need to use a magnifier to read his label tract that has text printed in all directions. Craziness on the bottle, but darn good soap inside—and it’s eco-friendly (a favorite with backpackers). Since I enjoy the coolness of menthol, I make a shaving foam from the soap by putting a quarter-sized amount in my hand, putting a few drops of water in it, and rubbing my hands together briskly until it makes a rich lather. Just don’t get it in your eyes!

Follow the links in this article to learn all you may want to learn about mint—like discovering that mint farmers were made exempt from service in World War II because mint oil was considered an essential product for the war effort. And you probably didn’t know that domestic geese were enlisted to eat the weeds out of mint fields, because they could do so without damaging the plants and they would not eat the spicy mint plant.

See you outdoors!

Dean