Roots 'n' Shoots: Mint: How to Grow - Herb of the Month

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Saturday, 26 July 2014

Mint: How to Grow - Herb of the Month

Mint stats/requirements at a glance

Ease of Raising:
5/5 – Very Easy, plant and leave
Water:
2/5 – Minimal, twice a week (especially in a container)
Sun:
3/5 – Full sun & dappled shade
Training:
1/5 – Minimal (3Ds: Dead, damaged and diseased)
Fertilise/Feeding:
1/5 – Minimal (at least during the growing season)
Time to Harvest:
1/5 – Immediate (purchased a seedling)
Frost Hardiness:
1/4 – Very Hardy (can’t take black frost)


Uses:
Culinary, Medicinal, Pollinator attractor & Predator sheltering
Most Problematic Nemesis:
Rusts and mildew, die-back with over-watering
Container Plant:
Yes (preferably grown in containers)

Spearmint
Mentha spicata
Flora of Germany Austria and Switzerland
1885
Kurt Stober's Online Library

Quick intro

The humble mint is a remarkably versatile herb, both in a culinary and medicinal sense. It can be used in sweet and savoury preparations, such as chocolate mousse puddings or as mint jelly in lamb dishes. Its oil is important in several commercial products such as gum or toothpaste. Mint is used for gastrointestinal problems, it can alleviate headaches and is used to treat colds and fever.

History

Mint is native to central Europe with likely origins in the Mediterranean and North Africa. Later it was introduced to England, the rest of Europe by the Romans and then to China and North America.

Mint is derived from Latin ‘Mentha’ and Greek ‘Minthe’. According to Greek mythology Minthe was a water nymph turned into a ground clinging plant by her lover’s wife and the lover bestowed on mint her sweet scent. The Greeks used mint to freshen their homes and it became known as the herb of hospitality.

Spearmint
Mentha spicata

Science Stuff

Naturally occurring mint, such as the water mint, Mentha aquatica, and spearmint, Mentha spicata, belong to the large aromatic herb family, Lamiaceae. This family includes several other well-known herbs, such as rosemary, sage, oregano, basil, thyme, marjorams, balm and savory.

There are several species of herbs, which easily hybridize to give rise to new flavours or growth types. Those with interesting flavours for culinary use are listed in the table:

Common Name
Species
Flavour
Apple mint, pineapple mint
Mentha suaveolens
A hint of apple
Basil mint
Mentha x piperita citrata ‘basil’
Mix of mint and basil
Bergamot mint, orange
Mentha citrata
Bit of citrus
Chocolate mint
Mentha x piperita ‘chocolate’
Slight chocolate aroma
Corsican mint
Mentha requienii
Similar taste to pennyroyal, stronger than spearmint due to pulegone oil
Ginger mint
Mentha x gracilis (M. arvensis x M. spicate)
Ginger fragrance
PennyRoyal
Mentha pulegium
Similar taste to corsican, stronger than spearmint due to pulegone oil
Peppermint
Mentha x piperita (M. aquatica x M. spicata)
Strong mint flavour due to carvone oil
Spearmint
Mentha spicata (also known as M. viridis and M. cordifolia)
Milder and sweeter taste than peppermint

Spearmint, as well as many other mints, contains menthol essential oil that has the characteristic flavour and aroma of mint, whereas Peppermint’s strong flavour and aroma comes from carvone and Corsican/Pennyroyal’s comes from pulegone.

Mint essential oils chemical structures

Growing & Pruning Mint

Mint seedlings are purchased from your local nursery. Mint have underground and above ground runners, known as stolons, which can spread indefinitely and mints may overrun less vigorous herbs. Therefore it is a good idea to grow it in containers or restrict its growth in the garden with sunken bottomless pots.

Basil mint, Mentha x piperita citrata 'basil', above ground stolon

Mint can grow in full sun, where its oil production is maximised, or in partial shade. Mints generally like wetter conditions to most other herbs, but can suffer from overwatering during long periods of rain.

Mints can be pruned back hard (remove all spindly growth) after flowering to encourage new bushy growth.

Most mints have an upright habit, but pennyroyal is a matting ground cover that can fill difficult places, such as between pavers or as an insect repelling living weed guards. It is more potent than spearmint for teas. It’s antiseptic and antipruritic properties can be used to treat insect stings (those pesky mosquito bites!).

Mint can suffer from powdery mildew, but if you can get it through the infection it will shake it off next season and become resistant to future infections. Unfortunately mint rust, Puccinia mentha, is not as easily treatable – either destroy infected plants, prevent mint leaves from being wet too long - or try my Eggplant rust spray (against a similar species, Puccinia substriata or Pearl Millet Rust).

Other Tips

Do not plant different mints too close together else their flavours intertwine and individual flavours become less potent.

Mints can be used in a variety of dishes. Taken as a tea it can be used for indigestion, nausea, flatulence, diarrhoea, colic, reduce fever and colds. Peppermint applied to the temples and base of the neck can alleviate headaches. Mint should not be used by pregnant ladies or people with kidney disease.



Harvesting & Storing

Mints do not dry well, but are evergreen and should provide year round leaves for fresh use. Otherwise store in ice cubes.

Mints cordials make refreshing summer drinks. 

Seed Saving & Propagation

Mint flowers attract pollination, but serious mint harvesters will likely not see any flowers due to constant pruning of the leaves throughout the season.

Mints do not readily grow from seed as germination is variable, rather cuttings are used. Root or softwood cuttings (non-flowering stems) can be used to establish new plants. Large plants can also be divided in Spring when split with a spade.

Spearmint
Mentha spicata

My Mint

Spearmint: The reliable garden staple.

Chocolate mint: Very nice for puddings or just with chocolate J

Basil mint: In areas where cold winters don’t allow year round basil, this is an alternative supply.

I would love to get my hands on some ginger and apple mints as well – they are on my “Most Wanted List’!


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2 comments:

  1. its really nice to read the detailed information about mint from history to its chemistry. thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You are most welcome & I am happy to help! :)

    ReplyDelete

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