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July 2008

Starting Again with Mint
By The Growing Gardener

The Growing Gardener archive

Spearmint
spearmint

When I learned that this month's topic was mint, I thought, oh no, I pull that invasive mint out of my garden every year. One year I found that darn mint on the other side of the house. Although I love the smell of mint . . . I love mint in iced tea . . . and I love the interesting varieties of mint . . . I love mint better in someone else's garden! From the time I moved to my house six years ago, I've never once harvested any of the mint the previous owners planted because I'm always trying to remove it!

Well, now that I'm more informed about mint, I'm excited to grow MORE mint. But I'm also happy I didn't harvest any of the mint in my yard because, after the research, I'm convinced it's English Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium). English Pennyroyal smells like citronella (that's mine!) and although I normally like the smell of mint, I always thought there was something different about the mint growing in my yard. Pennyroyal is supposed to make a good natural flea repellant and butterflies like the flowers that bloom from August to October. And although it is used for medicinal purposes, the essential oils in large quantities can be toxic. For culinary endeavors, you're better off with basic spearmint (Mentha spicata) or peppermint (Mentha x piperita).

Some growing tips I've gleaned:

  • To grow traditional culinary mints, use mints of the Mentha genus. Mints from other genera such as Monarda are considered ornamental. Both Mentha and Monarda are in the mint family (Lamiaceae), which has about 210 genera and 3,500 species, and both Mentha and Monarda have common names that include the word "mint," so it can be confusing.
  • Grow it indoors and have fresh mint about all year 'round.
  • Grow it in containers to contain those spreading rhizomes (it's possible for birds to spread the plant, too).
  • Grow it in a dry climate. Mint is prolific in moisture, part-shade, and acidic soil. In a drier climate, it won't tend to spread like it does in the Pacific Northwest.

For the beginner, consider the following culinary varieties:

  • Spearmint (Mentha spicata) - The most popular type of mint for most culinary delights. If you must choose just one mint for your kitchen garden window or container, choose spearmint over peppermint (the second most popular mint). Spearmint is milder than peppermint and lends itself to more types of dishes. Also, its leaves are larger, making it easier to chop up for cooking.
  • Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) - Great for teas and medicinal uses.
  • Orange mint (Mentha x piperita 'Citrata') - This is mint you want for Mint Juleps and Mojitos.
  • Chocolate mint (Mentha x piperita 'Chocolate') - Use in conjunction with sugar, as in desserts and ices.

Fun mint tips:

  • Toss fresh leaves into tea and hot chocolate.
  • Microwave mint leaves (without woody stems) for 4 minutes. Store in an air-tight bag and you'll have instant dried mint! Or you can tie stems together with string and hang upside down in a cool, dark place.
  • In drier climates, plant mint in a basin under an outside water faucet. Enjoy the mint essence each time you turn on or off the faucet.

Enjoy that mint!

 

The Growing Gardener is Gina Renee Lozier, a Seattle-area resident, a landscape and container garden designer, and an enthusiastic student of horticulture.

 

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