Timijja, the river mint
I grew up at the Domaine de la Roseraie in Ouirgane, surrounded by plants: rosemary, thyme, sage… I can remember Fatna, who always had the perfect remedy to all our little scratches and bumps. Fatna had learnt from her ancestors. Inspired by these childhood memories, I wish to pay a tribute to the Berber women who touched my younger years and also to help pass on their knowledge.
Last month, one of Fatna’s friends, ‘Lla Fatim, invited me to her granddaughter’s wedding. The whole village had already been celebrating for three days. “Ahouach” Berber songs could be heard across the valley, men and women were performing ancestral choreographies in harmony with the rhythm of Bendir tambourines. There was a huge fire illuminating the village square and projecting the dancers’ shadows as they moved around… a magical, timeless moment. I arrived in time for dinner. We were served some glorious lamb mechoui that had been slow-cooked for hours in a traditional clay oven. It was presented to us on a bed of mint but not the usual “naanaa” mint. Its leaves were soft and woolly…
Fatna, what's this mint? It’s round leaf mint, we call it Timijja. It grows on river banks, near brooks and streams, which is why it’s also called “river mint”. Its soft, fluffy leaves are particularly fragrant and you cannot miss it when you walk past it.
When do you use Timijja? In the mountains, we usually use it to make herbal infusion particularly to accompany a rich, fatty dish such as a mechoui. The drink is not tea as we do not add any green tea to it.
How can it also be used in everyday life? We cook a lot with it. Can you remember the broad beans I prepare? I steam them in a couscous pot, I add some Timijja and the beans delicately absorb the fragrance of the mint. I then sprinkle them with cumin before putting the dish on the table. We can also mix mint and dough to make flat bread.
In his book “Traditional Moroccan Pharmacopeia”, Dr. Jamal Bellakhdar indicates that in winter, countryside dwellers like to use round mint. Its addition to flat bread is “said to prevent and cure colds, the flu and all kinds of chills”, probably thanks to the menthol and its antiseptic virtues.
Whether homegrown or wild, mint is also generally speaking a plant that stimulates digestion. That’s why “mint tea” is our national drink! It relieves stomach cramps as well as bad digestion. In case of troublesome gas or bloating, Timijja mint is particularly good because it is carminative, which means that it encourages the elimination of intestinal gas. As recommended by Dr. Sijelmassi in his book “Morocco’s Medicinal Plants”, Timijja infusion is to be prepared with one teaspoon of dried mint in a glass of boiling water.
Peppermint, a cousin of round mint and green mint, is nowadays the most widely used in aromatherapy because it is considered to be the most potent. As an essential oil, beyond its aforementioned virtues, it is also good to relieve headaches, as it has analgesic properties. Be careful, however, and also seek advice from your doctor regarding the use of essential oils which are special and must never be used to treat pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers or children.
Fatna’s coffee-break suggestion:
If you enjoy flavoured coffee, make a note of this recipe. Fatna always makes coffee adding to it some Timijja mint, some artemisia (Chih) and a little thyme (Z’îtra). Use an Italian cafetiere or, if you like traditional methods, prepare your coffee in a pan.
Spa Director at La Roseraie Spa Retreat
Published in NAFS Magazine – November 2016