Story by Edith Mendez, Summer 2018
When my mother was little, my grandmother used to grow a lot of hierbabuena (spearmint) in her garden back in Mexico; her vibrantly painted house in Michoacán smelled fresh and sweet, even when the scent wasn’t floating on the breeze coming from Lake Cuitzeo. My mother remembers being able to tell hierbabuena apart from the many other plants that were around the house by the little purple and white flowers that it blooms. The mint leaves were used almost every day in her childhood home, whether it was in a hot tea to cure a stomach ache, blended and mixed with sugar and water to make a refreshing drink on hot days, or simply to chew on when there was no gum.
This sweet and aromatic herb is beneficial to the body as it heals and replenishes, and acts as a natural antidepressant and anti-inflammatory. It can also be enjoyed in culinary aspects, as it adds flavor to dishes and desserts such as albondigas (meatball soup), or in more common candies like chocolate. After learning these practices from my mother and grandmother when visiting Mexico and then sharing mints uses with my friends, I discovered that it wasn’t just a family inheritance of information but rather was something that all of the Latinx community shares through each generation. This tradition of passing down information orally is unique - these horticultural practices continue to live on by each generation’s choice to value their ancestors’ incorporation of the natural world within their everyday lives.
After doing some research about the mint plant, I was shocked to find out that hierbabuena is actually native to Europe, not Mexico or any other Latin American country. These home remedies and recipes of hierbabuena have been present in all the lives of the women in my family for generations, stemming back further than my grandmother can remember. It is strange to think how something that I believed to be so native and embedded in my culture and roots is, in fact, a product of something introduced during the colonization and conquest of Mexico. This newfound separation and distinction of cultures intermingling centuries back changed my view of a plant that has found its way into my garden at home. Hierbabuena now stands as an important symbol of migration and immigration as it continues to connect various regions and cultures of the world together.