Welcome to the second installment of the flora series. In this installment, I'll be talking about one of my favorite herbs, and one of my favorite myths: the herb mint, and the naiad Minthê (Μένθη). From Wikipedia:

"Mentha (also known as Mint) is a genus of flowering plants in the family Lamiaceae (mint family). The species are not clearly distinct and estimates of the number of species varies from 13 to 18. Hybridization between some of the species occurs naturally. Many other hybrids as well as numerous cultivars are known in cultivation. The genus has a subcosmopolitan distribution across Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and North America.

Mints are aromatic, almost exclusively perennial, rarely annual, herbs. They have wide-spreading underground and overground stolons and erect, square, branched stems. The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, from oblong to lanceolate, often downy, and with a serrate margin. Leaf colors range from dark green and gray-green to purple, blue, and sometimes pale yellow."

The mythology surrounding the mint plant is well known: it's tied to the beautiful naiad Minthê, who caught the eye of Hades and suffered either Persephone's wrath over it, or that of Demeter.

Minthê was the beautiful daughter of the river Theos Kocytus, the river of Lamentation which encircles the Underworld. There are two variations of her myth. The first dates back from the first century BC to the first century AD, and is recorded by Roman poet Ovid and Greek Strabo. Ovid merely hints at it, in his Metamorphoses, in a tale about Venus (Aphrodite) and Adonis he notes:

"Could Pluto's queen with jealous fury storm, 
And Menthe to a fragrant herb transform?"

Strabo expands on the myth a bit in his Geographies (8. 3. 14):

"Near Pylus, towards the east, is a mountain named after Minthê, who, according to myth, became the concubine of Hades, was trampled under foot by Corê [Persephone], and was transformed into garden-mint, the plant which some call Hedyosmos. Furthermore, near the mountain is a precinct sacred to Hades, which is revered by the Macistians too."

It thus seems that after Hades took Persephone from the surface, He fell in love again, and took Minthê as a lover. Persephone, jealous, and aware of Her status as Queen, trampled Minthê, either physically, or figuratively. To keep Minthê away from Her husband, Persephone turned the naiad Minthê into the unremarkable plant. It may have been Her, who added the sweet scent to the plant, but more likely, it was Hades, who wanted His lover remembered whenever the unremarkable plant was stepped upon. There is, however, another version, a later version, from around the third century BC. This version was recorded by Greek poet Oppian, in his Halieutica:

"Mint, men say, was once a maid beneath the earth, a Nymph of Cocytus, and she lay in the bed of Aidoneus [Hades]; but when he raped the maid Persephone from the Aetnaean hill, then she complained loudly with overweening words and raved foolishly for jealousy, and Demeter in anger trampled her with her feet and destroyed her. For she had said that she was nobler of form and more excellent in beauty than dark-eyed Persephone and she boasted that Aidoneus would return to her and banish the other from his halls: such infatuation leapt upon her tongue. And from the earth sprang the weak herb that bears her name."

In Oppian's version, inspired a bit by Strabo, it is not Persephone who transforms Minthê, but it is a side-effect of her punishment by Demeter, a punishment administered to her for boasting she would oust Persephone from the bed she had previously occupied with Hades. It is of interest to note that Strabo has added another sentence to his description of the mountain of Minthê:

"...and also a grove sacred to Demeter, which is situated above the Pylian plain."

Perhaps even more interesting to note is that kykeon (κυκεών)--the barley beverage preferred by Demeter, and drank by peasants--was made with mint, and used to break a sacred fast within the Eleusinian Mysteries. Kykeon was also used in preparatory rites for some of the most sacred--and secret--rites within Eleusis. As if this connection to Persephone, Demeter and Hades was not enough, mint was also used in funerary rites, along with rosemary and myrtle, to mask the smell of decay, but also--it seems--as an offering to the Lord of the Dead.

Mint is a humble plant, but a pervasive one. It shares many commonalities with its mythical counterpart, and every time I catch a whiff of the unique scent, I think of this myth. Seeing as I drink mint tea quite a lot, that happens wonderfully regularly.

Image taken from: Jessie's Art.