The mint family (Mentha sp.) is a large group of pungent herbs that come in a wide range of flavors. Some varieties creep between paving stones while others leap up and spread like wildfire. Let’s dig in and learn more about these stimulating herbs.
Mints For Your Garden
Apple Mint (M. suaveolens) – This apple scented mint has light green fuzzy leaves on stems 18-24 inches high. Its subtle flavor is a good addition to fruit punch or smoothies.
Pineapple Mint (M. suaveolens ‘Variegata’) – Pineapple mint sports lovely dark green fuzzy leaves edged with white. Allow it to cascade over the edge of pots on your patio for an attractive display.
Peppermint (M. x piperita) – Anyone can recognize the scent and flavor of peppermint. This herb has dark green smooth leaves and small lavender flowers in late summer. It is a sterile hybrid growing to two feet high in good conditions.
Chocolate Mint (M. x piperita piperita) –Think peppermint patty and you’ll have the flavor of my personal favorite mint. Low growing with dark glossy leaves, it’s great to grow near the patio. On lazy summer afternoons add a sprig to iced tea.
Spearmint (M. spicata) – Spearmint is a hardy groundcover with hairy medium green leaves. In favorable conditions it produces two inch spires of tiny white flowers.
Tips For Growing Mint
Mint prefers moist soil and can handle soggy spots in your garden. Many of the species mints are native to moist or boggy areas and prefer slightly acid soil. In hot areas give mint afternoon shade.
If you want more mint all you have to do is wait. It constantly sends out runners (a.k.a. stolons) which can form roots at every leaf node. Don’t bother purchasing mint seed. Much of the seed you see on the market is either not what it says or will have a poor rate of germination.
Mint will take over a garden bed unless stern measures are used. When you weed check for those sneaky runners mint sends out, dig around it with your cultivator to the depth of an inch or two. Pull up the runners and clip them off.
If you simply must have your mint under control, solitary confinement is your best option. Mint will happily grow in pots, window boxes, or half-barrels. But even in containers, breakouts will happen. It loves to burrow through a crack or creep over the edge and escape.
Harvesting and Storing Mint
Harvesting mint is as simple as a trip to the garden with your kitchen shears. For long-term storage, drying is the best method. Clip large sections of the mint stems – down to the ground if you want. Bring them inside and immerse them completely in water to dislodge any hitchhikers. Remove the stems from their bath and shake off excess moisture. Spread on a large screen or absorbent towel to dry. Rotate the stems daily to ensure even drying. When the leaves are crackly remove them by running your fingers along the stem.
Store in an airtight wide-mouth container – canning jars work great. Check the container the next day to see if there’s any moisture on the inside of the glass. If so, remove the leaves and spread them out a few days more to complete the drying.
Mint In the Kitchen
Fresh mint is a welcome addition to many foods. Add mint leaves to a fruit salad just before serving. Mint sauce is a great accompaniment to lamb. Finely mince about 1/2 cup fresh leaves and add to your next batch of brownies or sugar cookies. Mint can also be added to quick breads for an extra zing.
You can make hot beverages from the fresh or dried leaves. Add about one tablespoon fresh leaves or one teaspoon dried leaves for every cup of liquid. Place the mint in a metal mesh ball or “tea spoon” used with bulk teas. Try mint solo for a refreshing herbal tea. Combine it with a bag of black tea for a robust pick-me-up. You can also steep it in hot milk and add cocoa for a mint chocolate late night snack.
In addition to being pleasant to the palate, mint tea is good for the digestion after a heavy meal and has been used for centuries to relieve a variety of stomach complaints, including nausea, morning sickness, and excess gas. It is stimulating to the throat and sinuses, making it a good home remedy for coughs and colds.
Although mint requires regular attention to maintain control in the garden, it’s well worth the trouble. The fresh leaves are delicious added to fruit salad or a punch bowl. Dried mint is excellent in hot tea when winter winds howl. But by far the best use of mint I’ve found is a sprig added to a glass of iced tea for that well deserved rest after my garden labors.