Mint is a great plant to have, as long as you grow it in containers. It is very versatile — there are so many uses plus it is easy to propagate and make gift plants. Hardy to zone 5, they survive the winters well in containers here in Virginia.
There are about 30 different species of mint and about 500 to 600 different varieties. Most mints are not native to the United States but have become naturalized. They seldom grow true from seed and will cross pollinate so vegetative propagation is the preferred method.
Mints prefer either morning sun and afternoon shade or a light dappled shade. They like moist soil and can be harvested anytime in the growing season. You can use mint leaves fresh or dried. When dried, they retain their flavor.
I have peppermint, spearmint, citrus, chocolate, and mojito. Whenever I am at a garden center I look to see what they have but usually they do not have a wide variety. However, if you visit at the end of the growing season, you might find some great sales. There are plenty of other varieties available online. For truly unique mints try Jim Westerfield’s creations that he hybridized himself. He was a gardener and amateur botanist who hybridized mints as well as managed an inn and restaurant with his wife in Illinois. Today, only two nurseries carry his trademarked mints: Richters in Ontario, Canada, and Fragrant Fields in Illinois. He created mints with such interesting scents, flavors, and names such as Marshmallow, Berries and Cream, Jim’s Candy Lime, Candied Fruit, and Sweet Pear. These are on my bucket list.
The most popular mints are peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and spearmint (Mentha spicata). Peppermint, unlike spearmint, contains menthol so peppermint can be used for medicinal purposes as well as culinary. A peppermint tea helps alleviate an upset stomach, gas, nausea, or cramps. Peppermint also does not produce seed; it is a sterile hybrid of two species: M. spicata (spearmint) and M. aquatica (watermint).
Spearmint is used as a flavoring; it does not have medicinal qualities. It does produce seed and you can purchase packets of spearmint seeds.
If you were to look at the cuisines across the world, you would find mint – from Middle Eastern tabbouleh to Thai stir-fried dishes to Indian yogurt-based condiments.
In my family we use mint for the sweet beverages and desserts such as tea, fresh fruit, syrups, sugar, whipped cream, and baked goods. We mince fresh peppermint leaves and add to chocolate chip cookie dough or packaged brownie mix. We add a fresh sprig to a cup of hot cocoa and hot tea. We use the spearmint for fresh fruit dishes, whipped cream, syrups, cookies, and iced tea. Usually it is spearmint that is used in cooking such as carrots, peas, and new potatoes, and meats such as beef and pork (my mother always served a spearmint jelly with pork).
The chocolate mint is great for making a syrup and pouring over strawberries. The citrus mint is good for fruit and the mojito mint speaks for itself.
Fresh mint can be added to floral arrangements; dried leaves can be added to bowls of potpourri. Mint leaves can garnish cakes, cupcakes, or fruit salads. Mint is often used in liqueurs and cocktails. Because of its great scent, mint is also used in cosmetics, bath products, ointments, toothpaste, mouth wash, soaps, and shampoos.
I use my plants as sources for instant gifts. I simply pot up a cutting in a pretty container and insert a recipe card. With my chocolate mint, I include the simple syrup recipe and suggest pouring over fresh strawberries. Because mint roots so readily, they are great plants to have on hand for gifts, plant swaps, and even fundraisers.
If you have mint growing tips and recipes, please share as a comment here or share on a new Facebook group called Culinary Herbs and Spices.