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Muña is a woody, multi-branched shrub that can grow up to a meter tall, depending on the variety. The many fibrous stems are light brown to pale yellow in color, and they sprout short clusters of small white flowers at their tips when the plant is mature. The ovate, vibrant green leaves have prominent light-green veins and curved edges that vary from smooth to serrated. Muña is highly aromatic with an invigorating minty scent that intensifies when the leaves are crushed, and it offers a crisp, earthy, minty flavor.
Muña is available year-round.
Muña is botanically classified as Minthostachys mollis and is a member of the Lamiaceae or mint family. It is also commonly called Andean mint and is known by several nicknames such as Tipo, Tipollo, Poleo, and Muña muña. While it is the most variable and widely distributed species of the genus, Minthostachys, the three most prevalent varieties include Common Muña, Qoto Muña, and Pacha Muña, each varying in size and shape. The name, Muña, is a Quechua word meaning “love” or “passion,” which is perhaps a reference to the fact that the Quechua people of the Andean highlands in Peru drink tea made of Muña for both its medicinal and aphrodisiac properties.
Muña is an excellent source of iron, calcium, and phosphorus, which are essential for maintaining strong teeth and bones, and it is also known for its anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, carminative, antispasmodic, and pain-relieving properties. It is valued as a digestive aid and expectorant and is often made into a tea to decongest respiratory ailments like coughs or the flu, or combat nausea, aid digestion, and soothe stomach aches. It can even be used as a bronchodilator to ease airway infections and symptoms of altitude sickness. Like mint, it can be used to freshen bad breath, and its refreshing minty aroma can promote a sense of calm and mental clarity. Essential oil made from Muña is traditionally used externally to promote skin health and treat minor bone fractures, joint inflammation, sore muscles, bruises, and insect bites.
Muña can be used fresh or dried and is most commonly steeped in boiling water to make a minty, earthy, medicinal tea traditionally served with meals to aid digestion. It is also used as an herbal remedy for sickness. In Peru, Muña is used to make a condiment called shihuayro, which is traditionally prepared by shepherds of the Aymara community along the shores of Lake Titicaca and is made of Muña leaves and other herbs, spices, ground corn, beans, peas, or meat. Muña is also commonly added to sauces, soups, or chupes, a creamy Andean stew with cooked vegetables that has many different variations, including shrimp, fish, chicken, egg, lamb, or other red meat. It has even been used for making candies and liqueurs. Muña pairs well with peas, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, oregano, queso fresco, rice, and beans like tarwi, an Andean lupin bean. Fresh Muña leaves should be stored in the refrigerator and used within one or two days, while dried leaves can be stored in a sealed container in a cool, dry, dark place for up to a year.
In Peru, Muña has been used for generations in native traditional medicine dating back to the Incas, who regularly consumed Muña tea with honey to strengthen the immune system and serve as a natural remedy for digestive and respiratory ailments, including asthma and pulmonary infections. The Incas also used the versatile leaves to protect potato crops, a practice still used by Andean farmers today, as Muña leaves serve as a natural repellent against insects and prevents germination in the tubers. Muña is similarly grown in Peruvian home gardens to repel pests or hung in households to deter flies. It is often sold at local markets in a bundle of Peruvian herbs for cooking, called an asnapa, which typically combines Muña with huacatay, also known as Peruvian black mint, parsley, or cilantro.
Muña is native to the Andes mountains of South America and has been growing wild since the ancient Incan Empire throughout the highlands near Cusco, Ayacucho, and Puno, at altitudes between 2500 and 3500 meters above sea level. Today, the plant is still localized to the cold highlands and is also cultivated on a small scale throughout home gardens in Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, and Argentina. It is known for its unique ability to maintain its vibrant green color even during the freezing, dry winters of the Peruvian highlands. Muña is rare outside of its native land but may be found at specialty stores or farmers markets.
Recipes that include Muña Mint. One is easiest, three is harder.
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