Learn all about the culinary herb mint. How to grow, harvest and preserve mint in the home garden. Plus ideas to use mint leaves in cooking and tea.
Mint is one of those herbs that gardeners either love or hate to grow.
Known as a voracious spreader, mint can take over your whole garden if left unattended. Since mint grows so easily, it is a great choice for beginning gardeners.
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Mint is a hardy perennial which will last for many years in the garden. To prevent mint from spreading too much, mint can be left in the pot when planting in the ground. Allow about 1 inch of soil to cover the top of the pot so moisture will flow freely into your planted pot.
Ideal Location for Growing Mint
Mint prefers a lightly shaded area with moist but not wet soil. If given enough moisture or protected with a mulch, mint can also thrive in full sun.
Mint is most often transplanted in the garden as young plants or divisions. Mint is also easily grown from cuttings since it is such a vigorous grower.
If desired, mint can also be grown from seed. Seeds should be sown in the early spring. Plant in rich moist soil about ¼ inch deep, then covered with soil. After plants reach the seedling stage and have a few true leaves, space plants 12 to 18 inches apart.
Don’t apply too much organic matter to the soil as mint can develop rust problems. When planting or dividing a medium-fertility soil improver can be added. In the fall, mint can be cut to the ground level. Divide plants every 2 to 3 years.
This plant spreads primarily by runners growing underground. It is often recommended to keep mint confined to containers to limit its reach in your garden.
Organic gardeners may choose to let it spread into the lawn or grow wild next to the house. Mint is known to repel pests such as mice and other pests, so it can be used as a form of organic pest control. It also smells wonderful when cut by the lawnmower. 🙂
Common Problems when Growing Mint
Varieties of Mint
There are many popular varieties of mint each with its own unique flavor and scent.
Peppermint is the most popular of the mint varieties. Growing between 1-2 feet tall, peppermint has purple-tinged leaves and stems. Peppermint has the strongest flavor of the mints so is best suited to desserts or herbal applications.
Spearmint is another popular mint grown in the herb garden. The crinkly leaves are a brighter green with hints of yellow. Spearmint is favored in most culinary recipes since the flavor is milder than peppermint.
Chocolate mint has a darker rich color and really does smell like chocolate. It’s perfect for flavoring ice cream, beverages, and confections. Apple or pineapple mint has a sweetly fruity taste with hairy leaves. Orange mint is becoming more popular with its citrusy taste it can be substituted in any recipe calling for peppermint.
Additional varieties of mint include orange mint, water mint, pennyroyal, and ginger mint.
Where To Buy Mint Plants and Seeds
Mint plants and seeds can be found at most garden shops, home improvement, and even grocery stores. Most often you will find Peppermint or Spearmint in local stores, although an increasing number of garden centers have started to carry additional varieties.
Mint can also be purchased at online stores such as Burpee Gardening. When looking for more unique varieties you will most often find plants for sale instead of seeds.
Cooking With Mint
Spearmint is most often used in recipes since it has a milder flavor. Mint can easily overpower other flavors, so it’s good practice to add this herb a little at a time, tasting as you go.
Dried mint is not quite as strong and is used in many Eastern and Mediterranean recipes. Popular combinations include lamb with mint jelly or minted peas.
Peppermint is excellent when added to teas, candies, and desserts. Whole leaves can be added to lemonade or the leaves can be crushed or muddled with sugar.
Mint leaves can be harvested at any time. Cut fresh stems, then run the mint under cold water and pat dry.
Mint is best used fresh. You can store cut mint stems in a glass of water for several days before it begins to droop.
Drying is a popular way to preserve mint. Hang full branches to dry for ten to fourteen days in a warm, well-ventilated location. Once dry, crush the leaves and remove the stems.
Store dried mint in an air-tight container. Dried mint will keep its flavor for up to a year.
Mint Uses in Herbal Medicine and Health Benefits
Peppermint is used more often as a medicinal herb rather than Spearmint, which is mostly a culinary herb. However, if a less potent remedy is desired, spearmint is a good substitute.
Mint has been known to soothe toothaches, ease digestive troubles and treat colic in children. Mint tea can be made from fresh or dried leaves. This makes a tasty and refreshing after-dinner beverage to calm the stomach.
Mint is used as an aromatic herb in scented sachets and potpourris. Mint is also used as a cooling agent and is popular in pain-relieving lotions or facials to cleanse the skin.
Mint is a popular culinary herb most used in flavoring candies, teas, and jellies. It’s one of the most vigorous growers in the garden but is also suited to container growing.
While peppermint and spearmint are the most popular varieties, there is an amazing range of flavors being developed that are worth a try. Why not add a bit of apple, orange, or chocolate peppermint to your garden this year?