The mint family is a large and diverse group of perennial plants that include some well known favorites such as peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and spearmint (Mentha spicata) and some others that are perhaps less well known, like pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium). They are hardy in many climates, and like rich, moist soil in full sun to partial shade.
Mints are easy to grow, but unless you take some precautions, most of them will take over your garden quickly and prolifically! One of the ways to keep them contained is just to keep them in a pot, but I’ve seen creative gardeners keep them in check in a variety of ways. One lady I knew in Kentucky kept hers in a “raised bed” made from old tires. One gardener plants bottomless pots in the garden (so that the edge of the pot is just a few inches above the soil) and plants his mints inside the pots – that way the roots have plenty of space, but the runners are restrained. This method would not keep them back indefinitely, but would slow them down enough for you to keep them cut back.
One summer I had a spot in the garden that seemed particularly attractive to the ants and I couldn’t get rid of them. Since it was a garden of edibles, I didn’t want to resort to pesticides (but I was really tired of being bitten!), so I planted a single SMALL pennyroyal plant right in the middle of that spot. The ants moved, but I spent the rest of the summer doing battle with the pennyroyal!
All that to say, be thoughtful about where you plant mints, and use their efforts to dominate to your advantage! Have a partially shaded spot where you’re having trouble filling in? Mints are your answer! Want a fast growing ground cover that smells great? Try a mint! They really are fun to grow.
You can pretty much harvest mint however you want. Need a little, cut a little, or pinch a little off. Need a lot? Cut it way back! Mints don’t mind. They’re very accommodating that way! You can use them fresh, keep them in the fridge (where they might even sprout roots, if you keep them moist enough), freeze them or dry them.
From The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses, regarding peppermint:
A decongestant, strongly aromatic, bitter herb. Relieves spasms, increases perspiration, improves digestion, and has antiseptic, mildly anesthetic effects; acts mainly on the digestive system, especially on the lower bowel…. [Used] internally for nausea, morning sickness, indigestion, gastric ulcer, gastroenteritis, irritable bowel syndrome, colic, influenza (especially in the feverish stage), and colds. Externally for upper respiratory tract infections, sinusitis, mucus, asthma, itching skin conditions, burns, ringworm, neuralgia, rheumatism, and as an insect repellant.
Wow! And that’s just peppermint! As with all herbal remedies, though, you need to do your research, and seek the advice of a medical professional or certified herbalist. Mints have been known to cause some reaction or irritations, and peppermint is not suitable for babies.
I will share with you, though, a large part of my love affair with the medicinal qualities of mint…
He’s six, and has struggled for the last 4 1/2 years with an undiagnosed tummy problem. We’ve been to several doctors, and two years ago he had an endoscopy and colonoscopy done to try and figure out what was going on. What we learned was that he has some inflammation in his stomach and some bumps (lymphonodular hyperplasia) and ulcers in his colon. What we also learned is that they have a lot of speculation, but no definite explanation for why he has those things. We were told to wait and see – that things would either get better as he grew, or worse. This, of course, was an incredibly frustrating thing to hear! One of the things that we’ve discovered over the last four years, though, is that when he is having an episode of cramping and pain, a cup of warm peppermint tea with a bit of honey always helps. It’s not a magic cure, but it soothes the tummy a LOT, and the warmth and the minty smell soothes his little spirit, too, and helps him rest. And it’s not bad for Mom, either!
Cosmetic and Other Uses
Mint oils are used in toothpaste, mouthwashes, perfumes and potpourri. I like mint in bath products, too. One of my most popular soaps is Rosemary Mint.
I make a nice bath tea with oats and mint. I put several cups of oats in the food processor and just whirl them around a few times, so that they are a bit smaller. Then I mix in about a cup of dried mint leaves and whirl things around again (more pulsing than anything – I’m not trying to powder stuff!) and use the mix to fill large tea bags about halfway. I seal the bags with an iron, and then when I want a refreshing and skin soothing bath, I toss one or two in the tub while the water is running, and let it steep for a minute or two before I get in. Wonderful!
This recipe is great for hot, tired feet in the summer time! It comes from Casey Kellar’s The Good Earth Bath, Beauty and Health Book.
Citrus/Mint Foot Cooler-Deodorizing Mist
1/4 cup distilled water
1/4 cup witch hazel
3 drops lemon fragrance oil
3 drops grapefruit fragrance oil
2 drops wintergreen essential oil
2 drops peppermint essential oil
Mix all together. Pour into sportier and store in the refrigerator. Shake well before using. Shelf life: Approximately 2-3 weeks.
Mints are great for teas, both hot and cold. They are also yummy for liqueurs, juleps, candies, jellies and of course – mints! But mints can be used in a huge variety of dishes other than drinks and desserts, too. They can add interest to salads, peas, potatoes, squash, fruits, tomatoes and most meats. They also pair well with many other herbs, such as summer savory, scented geraniums, sage, oregano and rosemary. The most common mint in the kitchen is spearmint. Here is a recipe for Fresh Mint Chutney from The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld. Have I told you to buy this book yet? Seriously.
Fresh Mint Chutney
(makes one cup)
2 cups fresh spearmint leaves
2 green onions, coarsely chopped
2 TBS. coarsely chopped fresh ginger
3 TBS. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1-3 tsp. seeded and coarsely chopped jalepeno pepper to taste
3-4 TBS cold water
Process all the ingredients except the water in a food processor until finely chopped. Add three tablespoons water and puree until smooth, adding additional water as needed for a thick sauce consistency. Taste and add additional salt, jalepeno and/or sugar if needed. The chutney has the brightest flavor if it is served when freshly made.
And here is a link to The Herbfarm. I wish I lived close enough to pay them a visit… or maybe a few!
Go people, and grow some mint this summer. And send pictures! (please?)