The Coolest Herb

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Mint. In the Antiquity, your freshening smell was appreciated in funerals for covering the smell of decay and to prepare the kykeon, a psychoactive beverage drunk at secret religious rites, the Eleusinian Mysteries.

In the same mythology, Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter, Queen of the Underworld, metamorphosed you, beautiful naiad Minthe, into a bush of common mint, to prevent you from seducing her husband, Hades. Minth’s misfortune was our luck as you became the coolest herb one can find.  Priests & doctors used you as a purifying herb, from the floor of ancient synagogues to Roman hospitals where you could reanimate the spirit. Today, the use of mint is so common that not a single day passes without us enjoying its cooling scent and flavor.

Mint or Mentha is a genus of aromatic plants in the large family of the Lamiaceae, comprising nearly all known herbs such a thyme, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, and even lavender. These plants are all common use in aromatherapy, cooking, and perfumery. Mints are perennial plants native from all continents and now widely cultivated for their therapeutic and odoriferous properties. They prefer wet soils in which they propagate quickly, using their overground stolons, and can become even invasive. Mints produce small purple-whitish flowers that become tiny brown seeds at maturity.

A closer view on corn mint (Mentha Arvensis)

There are more than hundred varieties of mint, each displaying a different range of flavor, from citrusy to sweet chocolaty, but few of them stand out from this crowd. Among these are the Spearmint (Mentha Spicata) which is one of the most common and native species of Europe, the famous hybrid Peppermint(Mentha x Piperita),  the wild native American Cornmint(Mentha Arvensis) and a more recent hybrid called Scotch Spearmint (Mentha x Gracilis) which is widely used nowadays to flavor chewing gums and candies. Pennyroyal (Mentha Pulegium) is a pungent mint that was in the old days the panacea to induce abortion and a powerful insect repellent. The plant is now considered toxic due to its high content in the molecule pulegone, an enzyme inhibitor targeting the liver and kidneys.

A delicious Mojito with spearmint

Fresh Spearmint leaves are the key ingredient of delicious mojitos and lovely fruit salads. Mediterranean summer dishes and the British mint sauce to season lamb are other examples of the diverse culinary use of mint.  Like most herbs, mints can be appreciated simply as a tea, by pouring hot water on the fresh or dry leaves. Mint tea is an excellent digestive and relieves from flatulence. It is also a powerful decongestant that helps in case of common cold and flu. In aromatherapy, the essential oil of peppermint, steam distilled from the leaves, is appreciated for providing a cooling sensation calming the body and relieving sore muscles when used topically. The oil is an excellent folk remedy against gum diseases and bad breath. The oil is especially recommended for old people for its digestive values, and tonic effect for convalescence, fatigue, and anemia.

So, what makes mint so cool?  Menthol !  Menthol is a crystalline compound, solid at room temperature, extracted from all type of mints with different yields. Menthol triggers the cold-sensitive receptors of our skin and tongue and gives us this unusual sensation of coolness. Menthol is also antibacterial, analgesic and anesthetic and for this reason, is found as a molecule in many medical formulae, balms, gels, and toothpaste. Besides menthol, the mint essential oil also contains some menthone, menthyl acetate, menthofuran and many other compounds in smaller concentration.

The scent of mint, and especially menthol, is so much associated with toothpaste, hygiene, and medicinal products that it is not a very popular top note in modern perfumery. However, some daring perfumers created beautiful juices which I would like to share with you this week:

Guerlain – Aqua Allegoria – HERBA FRESCA, as shot at the duty-free store in Haneda this month.

In the fresh fragrance collection of Guerlain called Aqua Allegoria, Herba Fresca is embodying the spirit of freshly cut grass in summer, after a cooling rain shower. Jean-Paul Guerlain, supported by Mathilde Laurent, now house perfumer of Cartier fragrances, had here a big challenge to create such atmosphere and sophisticated scent. The fragrance opens with fresh green notes (said to be of clover leaves, but this is the magic effect of synthesized molecules) with some hints of lemon. Very soon, a superb and bright note of spearmint appears in combination with green tea. Some soapy floral accord is dominating the dry down, but not for very long. Herba Fresca is a great fragrance for hot summer days, but you need to bring a handy refill to increase its longevity. Sillage is weak, so do not expect to be complimented on this one, it is only for your enjoyment or for the ones who deserve your intimacy.

I must confess that I am not very familiar with the fragrance house of PHAEDON which was a start-up, later bought by Pierre Guillaume (already known with his brands of Parfumerie Générale and Huitième Art). The existing line of the Pheadon start-up was revisited by Pierre who invited some of his perfumer friends to support him in giving the exclusive brand a real Mediterranean spirit. Oriental Mint (also called Noir Marine), which I had the chance to try and love last year in Florence, is using a “menthone-rich” Egyptian peppermint oil at its heart. What I loved in this fragrance is the contrast between the fresh and dominating mint note and the mild base notes of resins and tobacco, and this intriguing and pulsing marine touch which acts together like a magic dissonance. Very well done and the longevity was quite good on my skin.

Two remarkable perfumes from HEELEY, Menthe Fraîche, and Iris de Nuit, happily found in Hong Kong

With twenty perfumes on the menu, the fragrance house of HEELEY is one of my favorite for the quality of the juices and the concept and design of the products. It was founded in 2010 by the young British entrepreneur and James Heeley, after some initial work for Annick Goutal. James is very talented and now often compared with Francis Kurkdjian, another star of exclusive fragrances. Menthe Fraîche is one of his creation for summer, with a crisp opening of spearmint that soon gets blended with a note of Yerba Mate and some bergamot which is hardly noticeable to my nostrils at first. Mint remains in the heart of the fragrance which is rather linear and fades into a soft woody floral base. Again, not a model of longevity but what can we expect with mint? It is a top note that evaporates quickly, and if the rest of the composition is overpowering, the mint will not make it through. Mint lovers, do not expect to find on the market a mint fragrance with a longevity and sillage of an oriental or leather juice, it is just physically impossible.

Comme des Garçons is the most avant-guardist brand for clothes and fragrances as well. Their sherbet series is made for summer, with distinct crisp notes and of course, peppermint is at the Rendez-Vous. PEPPERMINT SERIES 5 is one of the very best mint fragrances I could try so far, with very realistic peppermint and spearmint notes opening very sharply, followed by some spicy heart made of white pepper and cardamom, sweetened by red berries. This fascinating blend fades out on a musky-ambery atmosphere that is very mild and pleasant. Longevity and sillage are again an issue, but if you like mint…

To conclude my post this week, I can’t miss the first pure mint fragrance of my collection, bought in Paris quite many years ago. Agua de Colonia No. 4, Spearmint Tea, from the Portuguese house of Claus Porto. This brand is relatively unknown, and this is regrettable since they have an excellent line of Colognes for barbershops and grooming uses. Spearmint Tea is exactly what it says, a very plain spearmint and green tea blend that makes your summer mornings beautiful. This juice lasts easily the whole morning on my skin and somehow shows the best longevity among all fragrances I listed this week: surprising, as the price tag is modest and the oil concentration might not be as high as some others. A terrific deal indeed, Claus Porto! My long time love from this brand was for their MUSGO REAL No.4 Lavender which is now very unfortunately discontinued. I am still saving the last drops for my old days, as I love this simple yet amazing lavender.

That’s it my friends! I hope you will forgive all these perfumers and noses for not having created yet the miracle blend with a mint note that lasts for the whole day. In the meantime, let’s invest in some Travalo and carry with us the necessary dose for the afternoon.

I wish you a wonderful week, from the overheated Shanghai. (40.9 degrees yesterday!)

Laurent

 

 

 

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