Mint – a multi-purpose plant

Ah, summer is here, at least that is what the calendar says. My idea of summer is sitting on the porch with a cool glass of any iced drink to which mint has been added. No matter how hot it is,  mint makes it feel so much cooler.

Mint is very versatile. It enhances food, is used in cosmetics and medicines, and is often considered a weed as it is so easy to grow. No matter whether mint is native or hybridized, it is easily recognized by its fragrance and its unique square stem. The most popular, of course, are spearmint (Mentha spicata) and peppermint (M.piperita), though Applemint (M. suaveolens) is rapidly catching up to the first two.

USING MINT

In Kentucky, the most familiar use of spearmint is as the mint in Mint Julep at Derby Time. One preferred variety is actually called “Kentucky Colonel.” Spearmint is preferred over peppermint for its more subtle flavor, which accounts for its widespread use in foods from the Middle East, such as Lebanon and Iran, to this country.

Other flavored mints include Chocolate mint (a hit of spearmint, mostly used for desserts), Basil mint, lavender mint, licorice mint, and these fruity mints.

  • apple – less invasive and sweeter than most;
  • citrus – lemony, used in Asian dishes;
  • ginger – spicy, spearmint-like’
  • orange – strong flavor
  • grapefruit – subtle flavor
  • pineapple – variegated green and white foliage, mostly ornamental.

There is also pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), for which the Pennyrile Region was named. An American plant in the area is called False Pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides) and resembles the European species. Both can be lethal if ingested and yet are very soothing to the skin. In fact, rub any mint leaf on a bee sting and it will ease the pain. 

Liberally cut mint for fresh use or freeze any time of the year. Its essence peaks just before it starts to flower.

GROWING MINT

Mint is not a large family in the Plant Kingdom, but it is found world-wide. That means that different mints have different needs: some require wet soil and are often found along creek banks, pools, and lakes, while others  need well-drained or even very dry soil. Some like full sun; others like partial shade. Most have long, serrated leaves, though leaves may be oval or fuzzy.

The commonly grown varieties of mint prefer damp sites. Online catalog companies are generally sold out of seeds, but the more common plants still are available. Here are some ways to propagate it:

  1. The simplest way to propagate is pull up a handful of mint, cut in half, break the soil surface, water well, place the roots on the soil, cover with soil, and tamp down.
  2. Or, cut the top six inches, remove all but the top two sets of leaves, and stick in water. When root begin to form, plant in a container. Place the container on a hard surface and repot when roots grow out of the pot.

Be careful, though: Mint stolons (the root system) can spread 20 feet or more. Plant different varieties far apart or keep in pots, otherwise they will cross-breed and cancel out each other’s flavor.

Sources

  • Friends
  • local nurseries and garden centers (currently limited varieties)
  • Growers Exchange (thegrowers-exchange.com) mints listed above, native herbs, etc. $6.95. Ships in late August