I see mint as magnificent because there are so many different kinds with so many uses. The more you cut mint plants back, the healthier they grow. They always share their aromatic love abundantly, as you crush their gentle leaves.
I love them all, from common garden mint, Mentha, to the exotic spicy Vietnamese mint, Persicaria odorata.
I fell in love with mint all over again on a trip to Saudi Arabia. At the souk (local market) people were selling bags of dried mint and bundles of fresh mint. The long stems were tied firmly at the cut end to resemble a small broom. These herb bunches are used to tap or pat the body all over to invigorate it. They are also used to alleviate muscle spasms and aching joints. Try it, it feels magnificent!
In The Kitchen
The many ways I use mint include simply adding chopped mint to salads, fruit salads, steamed vegetables, rice and even ice-cream and chocolate desserts. Sprigs of mint make the perfect garnish. Just try it and taste the lift it gives an ordinary dish.
My favorite recipe using mint is Arabian spiced mint tea.
In the garden
Mint really wants to be a ground cover. The long branches grow upwards and then flop over and root, spreading the plant wherever it can reach. The spikes of white or pinkish flowers are attractive, but brief. However, they do attract bees, butterflies and even birds. Most mint plants are hybrids and will not grow true from seed.
Where to plant
All mints can be grown in shade but will tolerate full sun if kept well watered. Pennyroyal works well in herbal lawns. The pennyroyal plants will need to be kept mowed, if you plan on walking on them. But this will help control their spread and the scent will make the work more pleasant.
In tiny, neat gardens and patios – plant mint in pots. To minimise hybridization, ( cross pollinating where you end up with a mixed mint and not the true mint variety you planted), plant each variety in a separate pot.
Some of my favorite mints include:
|common name||Botanical name||Popular use||Gardening tips for all mints|
|garden mint||Mentha||Mint sauce||1. Keep well watered|
|water||M. aquatica||tea||2. Feed generously from early spring|
|spearmint||M. spicata||medicinal, used for digestive disorders||3. Easily propagated from root slips in spring.|
|peppermint (a hybrid of watermint and spearmint)||M. x piperita||tea, medicinal||4. Mint prefers a rich, moist soil with a slightly acidic pH between 6.5 and 7.0.|
|chocolate||M. piperita f. citrate “Chocolate”||desserts||5. Mints grow easily from seed.|
|eau-de-cologne||M. x piperita f. citrate “Lemon”||desserts||6. All clippings can be used. Chop fresh leaves and freeze till required.|
|pennyroyal||M. puleguim||Insect repellent – especially useful against ants||7. Hard prune mid-season for regrowth.|
|apple||M. suaveolens||Mint jelly||8. Dry mint by tying in bunches and hanging upside down in a paper bag for a few days out of direct sunlight.|
|pineapple||M. suaveolens variegate||Least invasive , good ground cover(variegated)||9.Plant in cool moist conditions.|
|corsican||M. requienii||Moss like creeper ideal for between pavers and in rock gardens||10. Harvest regularly before the flowers develop. Pinch off the flower heads to encourage more leaf growth.|
Peppermint’s origins are a mystery but it has been around a long time. Dried leaves found in the pyramids in Egypt date back to around 1000 BC.
Peppermint’s uses include:
• relieving wind, flatulence and bloating
• helpful for muscle spasm
• stimulating secretion of bile
• treatment of irritable bowel syndrome
• headache relief
• nausea relief.
Drink a fresh infusion of 2 teaspoons fresh leaves or 1 teaspoon dried in one cup boiling water. Drink up to five cups a day for one week only.
Consult your health care practitioner if symptoms persist.
CAUTION: Do not use peppermint for children under 5 years
Insect repellent mints
All mints are helpful insect repellents in the garden and the home
Pennyroyal is a powerful aromatic herb is native to Europe and Western Asia. It has been traditionally used as flea repellent. I have found it extremely helpful for ants.
CAUTION: The essential oil of pennyroyal should not be used on the skin.
What to do if your mint looks sick?
Mints sometimes get rust (this appears on the underside of the leaves like small orange/ brown spots.) Use an organic fungicide and try to allow plants to dry between watering. If you water first thing in the morning and allow the plants to dry, it will minimise this occurrence. At first sighting of rust, cut all your mint back to ground level. Burn the affected clippings. Do not add to your compost heap.
Then cover the cut tips of the plant with good rich compost and keep your mint well watered till new shoots appear. Keep a vigilant eye for rust to reappear. Cut back immediately should this occur, cover once again with good compost and water well till new shoots appear. This should have resolved the problem.
If it happens again remove and replace the plant. Burn it or put it in the green waste bin. Stressed plants may also be bothered by whitefly, spider mites, aphids and mealy bugs. Healthy plants seldom suffer these pest infestations.
So important was mint in biblical times, tithes were paid in mint.
“But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgement and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone”
Luke 11:42, The Bible .