Mint is a versatile, useful, perennial herb plant that grows well under many soil and weather conditions. My mother used to say, “You can’t kill mint!” as she pulled up handfuls by the roots to use for tea. My mother’s words were almost true. Mint thrives where many other types of plants will not. The only time I’ve actually lost mint was when it grew too close to the boggy area of my yard and the roots were literally drowned. While many gardeners view mint as a borderline weed, the usefulness and variety of the mentha family make this plant far too practical to do without. I have found many places in my garden to welcome mint.
MINT VARIETIES AND CULTIVATION
There are many varieties of mint, including culinary mints like peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, lemon balm pineapple mint, catnip and even banana mint that smells like-yes-bananas when its leaves are rubbed. There are also several varieties of ornamental mints such as pennyroyal which is usually used as an insect repellent. All mints are perennial, oil-producing plants that produce shallow runners, allowing them to spread along the ground. Mint plants prefer sunny garden spots with well-drained soil.
Some dwarf varieties of mint, such as dwarf peppermint, only grow a few inches tall. Spearmint, peppermint and chocolate mint can grow 2 feet tall or more, while some varieties of catnip grow four or more feet tall. All have small white, yellowish or blueish flowers in mid to late summer. When harvesting fresh mint, pick dry leaves before the flowers form. You can also nip off the flower buds with your fingers before the flowers form.
Many gardening web sites and resources recommend planting mint in pots, stating that the mint is happier if it has a shallow area to spread its roots. This also is an excellent way to assure that your mint grows where you want it. Just check the pots a couple times a season, as the mint roots can creep over the sides and invade the surrounding garden area. I’ve also found that planting mint beneath trees where other plants are reluctant to grow crowds out weeds and that the underlying tree roots provide the mint with the shallow soil they thrive on.
CULINARY AND MEDICINAL USES OF MINT
Members of the mentha, or mint, plant family have many medicinal and culinary uses. Common culinary uses are to add peppermint, spearmint or other mint leaves to salads such as tabbouleh, or boil a couple handfuls of mint leaves to make a pot of hot tea