Yerba buena with its sweet taste of mint, not only enlivens palates it fills Cuzco’s gardens with freshness given Its radiant leaves and bright green color. It is one bright tone in a favored background for the reds and whites of weavings, gardens, and meals. This brilliant aromatic herb has medicinal importance at the same time it claims a role in Cuzco’s gastronomy.
Yerba buena finds its way into the favorite dishes of Cuzco. For example, our typical soups–chuño lunch, chairo soup, squash soup, and others–require well washed mint leaves. They are often minced as part of a bundle of herbs called asnapa to give the soups better flavor and aroma.
The chuño lunch, almuerzo de chuño, is a concentrated soup based on this dehydrated potato and the most nutritious vegetables of our region, among them fava beans, carrots, potatoes and more. This delicious and nutritious meal is a main actor in the daily fixed price meals offered in our markets. It is always decorated with the freshest leaves of yerba buena.
One of the most popular cocktails in Cuzco these days is the mojito. Yerba buena is a principal ingredient for this refreshing drink.
Furthermore yerba buena is a faithful companion of the famous chicharrón, which is one of the most iconic dishes of Cuzco. It is a favorite of all. The seasoned, crisp pork is always accompanied by a salad of washed and sliced onions and yerba buena leaves as well as fried potatoes and mote (boiled kernels of dried corn). The salad gives and agreeable and important contrast to the richness of the pork. Not only is it irresistible since it is so good on its own, it aids with the digestion of the pork in this delicious traditional dish from Cuzco.
Many visitors to our city, especially Peruvians, can not wait to have chicharrón as soon as they arrive. It is offered in various restaurants in the monumental heart of our city. Nevertheless, there are only a few places that prepare it in the classic traditional way. The most recommended place is Mundialistas restaurant found on Pampa de Castillo street. Another fabulous place to get chicharrón is in the district of Saylla just 30 minutes by car from the city. Here you can find the best chicharron, as well as other offerings, and enjoy it in a garden environment, should you wish. Entire families often come here on the weekends. Once the finish it is not uncommon for them to follow the meal with a good digestive, a freshly made mint tea.
This aromatic herb is also common in Cuzco’s home gardens where it quickly fills space. Most families have mint growing in their yards. Our grandmothers taught us the custom of always having medicinal herbs nearby. Of course we can also find them in the markets where they are available for people who do not have gardens.
The traditional women from the countryside bring these herbs to the city every day. They look out for our good health and take care of us. We go to them with our needs and complaints, they listen and suggest herbs according to what we are feeling. They are our personal healers. They always bring in yerba buena along with other herbs in bundles of vibrant green and other natural colors. A bunch of yerba buena costs around S/0.30 ($0.12 US), or more depending on the quantity you need. Sometimes, though, when you do not feel well and just need a sprig they mothers, as we call these women from the countryside, will just give you a sprig.
When I was a child my mother would say that this marvelous herb was medical. Every time anyone felt bad in my home, or suffered from colic she would go quickly to the garden to gather some large and fresh leaves to prepare a hot yerba buena tea. If the colic was fiercer than she would have us chew a leaf of mint and keep it by our lips for a while, juts as if it were a leaf of coca. In this way the problems would disappear. My mother would also make poultices of yerba buena. She would blend the leaves and put them on the part of the body that was hurting. The paste would stay on all night. The next day people would wake up as if new.
As people of Cuzco we love yerba buena. It is very important in our lives and has many uses, both in natural medicine as well as in our traditional gastronomy. Its aroma as well as its name, yerba buena or good herb, tell us how fabulous this plant is.