Tag Archives: mint

Marvelous Mint

peppermint

peppermint

One of the herbalists I follow is Jekka McVicar, an organic grower of herbs, horticulturist, author, and designer who owns Jekka’s Herb Farm in Bristol, England. If I lived in England, I would be working at her herb farm, learning everything there is to learn. Recently the Royal Horticultural Society featured a short video of her and Michelin chief Nathan Outlaw about mint. Continue reading

Celebrate National Chocolate Mint Day!

Today is National Chocolate Mint Day and for gardeners that translates into the chocolate mint herb (Mentha x piperita forma citrata ‘Chocolate’). Mints are herbaceous perennials. They are extremely hardy but must be grown in containers. All mints will take over your garden if you plant them in the ground.

Chocolate mint has textured leaves and dark brown to purple stems. The leaves are green but the new growth is darker, with veins that are brown to purple. The leaves really do taste like chocolate mint, which kids love. In my family, we make a syrup out of the leaves and pour it on fresh strawberries (see recipe below). We also put minced leaves in a store-bought brownie mix, chocolate cake, and chocolate chip cookie dough to add the mint flavor. The leaves are great for garnishing fruit salads, desserts, cakes, and cupcakes. They can be used fresh or dried for making tea, or adding to coffee or hot chocolate.

This is a great plant to have in order to make gifts. The stems root very easily in water so you can either pot up the rooted stems or just give cuttings to friends. We have given away pots of chocolate mint with a recipe card attached. Because the cost is minimal, pots of chocolate mint make a great gift for your children’s teachers.

Mints can tolerate shade and prefer moist soil. They can be grown in dappled shade or morning sun and afternoon shade. If there is a dry period in the summer, make sure the container is receiving enough water. They grow to a few feet tall and flower in the summer. The small flowers are edible and can be used as a garnish. They also attract beneficial insects, bees, and butterflies. Deer leave the plant alone. Chocolate mint also can be used as the “spiller” in a container with summer flowers.

Syrup

Put one cup of water and one cup of sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. When the sugar dissolves, turn off the heat, and add a large handful of chocolate mint leaves. Bruise with a wooden spoon by smashing leaves against the side of the pot. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes. When cool, strain leaves out and pour syrup in glass jar. Store in fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Start Seed, but Don’t Forget to Dig and Divide Perennials!

volunteer butterfly bush

volunteer butterfly bush

Early spring is the time to start your cool season vegetable and herb seeds but it also a good time to make more plants from the perennials in your garden, both edible and ornamental. This week, I literally hacked a chunk out of my sweet marjoram in my garden bed and put the chunks in the plastic containers that strawberry growers use (the plastic containers you buy in the grocery store, with the lid cut off).  I added soil from the compost bin, labeled and watered the plant, and placed it on the deck to root and recuperate. I also pulled oregano and thyme and put them in similar containers. All of these plants are about 5 years old and have grown so big they would not notice if I removed parts plus they are more likely to root in early spring with cool moist temperatures.

I also chopped up the lemon balm to create new pups, dug up baby plants from my black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), tore out extra blanket flowers while they were still small (Gaillardia), and took a few stems from the ice plant (Delosperma), a succulent groundcover. I still need to pot up chunks of the chrysanthemum while the leaves are small and near the ground, as well as the bluets (Centaurea), hardy geraniums, Japanese anemone (Anemone x hybrida), speedwell (Veronica surcolosa), yarrow (Achillea), aster, and creeping phlox (Phlox subulata). These perennials have been in my garden for years and tend to either spread outward or become congested inward so I have plenty to share.

marjoram slices in plastic containers

marjoram slices in plastic containers

I overturned my plastic containers of chocolate peppermint, peppermint, and spearmint that overwintered on the deck, broke up the plants into chunks, and re-potted into more containers. Mints are also easy to root in water but they are invasive and should always be grown in containers.

Usually I find a volunteer—a seedling in an unexpected place.  This year I found a butterfly bush seedling (Buddleia) in January in a patch of dirt on the concrete steps. Last week I dug it up and put it in a small container. When it is bigger and older, I will either plant in an appropriate spot or give it away to a friend. I have started new butterfly bushes, wand flowers (Gaura), and flowering tobacco plants (Nicotiana) this way. Look around your garden for volunteers and plants that can be shared with friends!