Growing Mint And Using It In The Kitchen
What to know about Mint? Mint is a beautiful herb in the garden, we love its sweet scent, and the rabbits and deer do not! It has both culinary and health benefits for us and it is easy to grow. Perhaps too easy. Here are 6 important facts that will help you enjoy this charming and useful plant.
Here they are:
- With 600, varieties, there are plenty of choices for you with their own garden behaviors and flavor profiles
- Mint is “vigorous, ” the good news is it’s easy to grow, the bad news is it’s easy to grow
- Mint is great with food but do not overlook beverages. You can’t run the Kentucky Derby without horses and Mint Juleps
- Use it in food both savory and sweet
- Mint is an important source of vitamins and minerals
- Mint improves metabolism, by stimulating digestive enzymes
Mint contains menthol, which cools your mouth, In addition, mint adds a subtle sweetness to your food. To get the best flavor from your fresh mint buy only fresh, and bright green leaves with no brown areas.
Mint Seems Ubiquitous, How Did We Get It?
Mint has been with us throughout the world for a long time. It’s in the Bible which tells us that mint was valued, and you could pay your taxes with it. (Matthew xxiii, 23). In Greek mythology, it featured in the jealousy of the gods. Proserpine turned her rival Minthe into a mint plant. (And we thought she was the nice one we felt sorry for!)
Mint’s Place in History
The Romans brought mint to Britain, where I think it’s illegal to serve lamb and mutton without it. A fascinating character named John Gardiner discusses mint in his book “Feate of Gardening” in 1440, Gardiner’s (probably not his real name) book was the first British horticultural book written in verse.
Mint is used broadly in North America; we think that the Pilgrims brought some on the Mayflower. We have this knowledge because a prominent English traveler named John Josselyn visited the colony in the 17th century. He wrote very detailed observations and met with John Winthrop, who was then Governor. In his writing, he observed that the Pilgrims were at that time growing mint in their gardens.
This is how we have a herb with 600 varieties and choices for every taste.
What Else To Know About Mint. Varieties of Mint
Here are some varieties of mint with their most important growing features and flavor profiles.
Apple Mint –Mentha suaveolens
This mint is aromatic and a very vigorous grower, Apple mint is prolific and can become genuinely obnoxious. Plant it in a contained area or pot. It is hardy in zones 5-9 and prefers partial sun and moist areas. Look for woolly stems with fragrant, bright green leaves with serrated edges and terminal spikes. You will notice a fruity fragrance with nuances of apple. It has less mint flavor than other culinary mints. Here is an interesting piece on using apple mint in the kitchen. Note the mint oil and the apple and apple mint jelly!
Basil Mint-Mentha x piperita citrata ‘basil’
Basil mint is a hardy perennial, and highly productive. It is upright and spreading with bright green leaves tinged with red. The leaves are narrow and tooth-edged. It is sweet and spicy. Try it in Italian dishes, use it in tomato and pasta dishes and salads. It is repellent to insects. You can rub it on your skin, and it also discourages the insects that are attracted to vegetables. Plant it with vegetables to protect them from insect damage. It is listed as suitable for zones 5 and warmer.
Chocolate Mint-Mentha x piperita ‘chocolate’
Use chocolate mint in drinks, desserts, and garnish. You can use it chopped and frozen into ice cubes for a cool drink on a hot day. Grow it indoors and out, always contained; it is successful in full and partial sun. The plant produces serrated leaves, brownish-red stems, and pink flowers in summer. Chocolate mint grows well in damp conditions, and we can use it for water garden edges. Assuming it is in a position to be contained, this can help to create a natural border for the water feature. Hardy in zones 2-11, it is described as a vigorous spreader and easy to regrow next year.
Ginger Mint-Mentha x gracilis
This variety, has a ginger-like scent, slightly like spearmint. Its leaves are heart-shaped to elliptical and the stems are reddish-brown. Mints called Red Mint, Austrian Mint, Scotch Mint, Slender Mint are all Ginger Mint. They are bred from Spearmint. It is hardy in zone 5-9
Grapefruit Mint-Mentha x piperita var.grapefruit
This is a sweet and citrusy mint variety and is very refreshing in salads and summer beverages. It has fuzzy leaves and is hardy in zones 6-11. Use Grapefruit mint with fish, chicken, and fruit. Freeze some in ice cubes for summer drinks, even water! Hardy in zone 6-11.
Peppermint was an experiment that worked out! About 1750 somebody near London, crossed Watermint and Spearmint, expecting something nice. They were right. Peppermints are now used to make minted vegetables, try them in peas, green beans, carrots, cauliflower, and zucchini. They also are used medicinally for digestive issues and headaches among others. Two kinds of peppermint are:
White Mint- actually pale green has a more subtle peppermint flavor.
Black Mint has dark green/purple stems and foliage and high levels of essential oils. If you like a lot of Peppermint scent and flavor, this would be the one! I find it rated for “most temperate climates. “
Try this saying, I don’t know where it came from, but it is a good way to remember the differences.
” Peppermint goes with chocolate, or other sweet things, other things with Spearmint”
Fruit Salad With Mint
Fruit Salad With Mint
You can make this with many kinds of fruit, but in summer with our bounty of stone fruit, this straightforward recipe from The New York Times will taste good on a hot day.
Pineapple Mint-Mentha suaveolens ‘varigata’
Pineapple mint is very decorative, as it is variegated in bright green and white. It is vaguely pineapple flavored, think of it as fruity and fresh. If you grow it, you can use full or part sun. The plant in the sun stays more upright, in the partial sun, it will trail. It is a desirable container plant and lovely in hanging baskets.
Try it in salads and beverages. This article offers ten uses for Pineapple mint. If you choose to grow it, you should find some good ideas.
A small caution: if your pineapple mint plant shows solid green leaves, pick them off. The plant was created from apple mint, which is a more vigorous variety and will take over the plant, then, there will be no more pineapple. It is rated for zones 5-9, and zone 4 with protection.
Named for its spear-shaped leaves it popular as a toothpaste flavor. In fact, we have recipes from the 1400s for toothpaste using it. If you have a curry for lunch and followed by a meeting you might like a few leaves. Its taste is not far from that of peppermint. The difference is that while both contain menthol, peppermint has more. So if you like the flavor and want it really strongly minty, plant peppermint. If you like it a little milder plant the spearmint.
Spearmint is cold hardy (to zone 5) and is very vigorous. This will become a garden nuisance, and a part-time job for you if not contained. Note that spearmint has several names, garden mint, common mint, lamb mint, and my particular favorite “mackerel mint”! (Sorry, I have no idea.)
Spearmint is the preferred mint for Mojitos and Mint Juleps. You can always test for other ideas. For example, pineapple mint would lend a fruity sweetness to a Mojito.
This is a Mint Julep recipe from the Whiskey Advocate. (Well everybody has to be for something!)
Here is a Cuban Mojito recipe-this drink combines mint with citrus flavors and spearmint is the standard. If you like a more citrus taste try one of the citrus mints.
Living many years in Tampa Fl, a city with a large Cuban population, we developed a taste for Cuban cooking. We knew a man who started life on a farm in Cuba, and he said that his family considered the Mojito to be the proper cure for cold or flu. So if you can conjure up a cough…
Baked Fish With Thai Lemon Mint Sauce
I have found many nice recipes in Bon Appetit Magazine, this one is a good example of fish with a mint sauce. You may enjoy it.
How To Grow Mint
Do not grow more than one mint together if you value the distinct flavors. The more vigorous varieties will take over the lesser and the various flavors will be lost.
Container Planting Mint
Mint is an ideal container plant. It tends to be of a smaller size (1-2′ tall) and its considerable aggressive growth habits are controlled by the container. Mint grows along the ground and under it with rhizomes. Use a tray under your container or turn the pot regularly. Mint’s aggression is boundless, it will grow through the hole and under the ground.
Mint grown in containers will benefit from a top dressing of organic matter added every few months. For information on selecting the best potting soil read this.
If you prefer your mint level in the ground with other plants you can dig a hole and sink the pot. If you have a location that is entirely contained by a curb or driveway you can use that as a place for mint in the ground.
Plant mint in full sun to partial shade. This option varies by climate. In our zone 10 South Florida garden, the partial sun is excellent. With the mint planted in pots, we can move them as needed. Mulch all mint plants to ensure moisture and even soil temperatures.
Most mint plants are perennials, hardy to zones 4-9. Unless you intend to grow mint as a summer annual, check the hardiness zones on the individual plants you buy. When cold weather comes your mint plant will die back and reappear in spring. Mulch the inground plants well. Plants in pots will require winter protection. You can bring them indoors for the winter.
Your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone
How to know your garden’s plant hardiness zone? These are set and published by the USDA. This page will give you a map and you can just enter your zip code to see your safe planting zone.
Soil For Mint
Mint prefers moist, usually well-drained, loamy soil with organic amendments. Mint prefers a neutral soil of 6-7pH.
Growing Mint Indoors
Grow mint indoors, in wide containers, in areas with bright light. Grow in temperatures over 60 degrees in sunny rooms. Maintain moisture and fertilizer.
Fertilizer For Mint
For mint in containers use a liquid fertilizer in early spring and again every 4 weeks throughout the growing season.
In the garden, fertilize the spring mint with a complete slow-release fertilizer labeled 16-16-16. Use about one teaspoon of dry fertilizer on the soil of one plant. Then water the fertilizer into the plants, ensure that the water does not cover the plant stems and foliage as mint is subject to rot.
Pests And Diseases Of Mint
Spider mites- these tiny insects pierce holes in the leaves, and appear on the leaf undersides. Remove them with jets of water.
Root borer-feed on the rhizomes below ground. These are difficult to control and they are hidden underground. They can be treated with beneficial nematodes.
Cutworms are nocturnal feeders that hide in the soil near the plant during the day. If you dig down you may see their larvae. Recognize them as the worm turns to a C shape when disturbed. Maintenance, including clean-up of any debris, is the best defense. There are insecitcides.
Root weevils-insects that develop on plant roots and feed at night by cutting leaves. Tou can treat them with insecticides.
Verticillium Wilt-a a serious fungal disease, attacks the xylem preventing water from reaching the leaves. There is no effective treatment.
MInt Rust-a a common fungal disease, it also attacks sage and marjoram. It appears as dusty orange, yellow and black spots on the leaves. Try to dig out the affected stems and destroy them. There are fungicides, however, they are best at prevention.
Anthracnose-a fungal disease tends to appear in a cool, wet Spring. The appearance of dry and hot weather tends to end the problem, but it is cyclical and reappears. It should appear as dot-sized small, brown, or black spots on the underside of the leaves. Prevent occurrences with good sanitation, removing and destroying any damaged plant material.
Companion Plants For Mint
Mint will deter flea beetles that eat plant foliage. Plant kale, radish, cabbage, and cauliflower near mint, and their foliage will be protected. Oregano and marigold as well as tomato, eggplant, peas, beans, and carrots work well with mint.
Plants That Do Not Grow Well With Mint
Do not plant mint with herbs that prefer dry soil such as lavender, rosemary, sage, and thyme.
Mint is one of the most widely used and longest-used herbs worldwide. We all enjoy and use it but I think that we could be more adventurous in our use of mint. There are endless varieties. Try some of the specialty herb breeders who sell online. There are also more possible uses for mint, particularly in savory dishes. it is also one of those plants that gardeners can safely encourage beginners to start with.
This article discusses culinary herbs in general and links to specific posts on each herb. You will find a table that allows you to choose herbs to plant, based on growing conditions and flavor profile.