Mint or Mentha is much more than a plant grown to brew tea. The aromatic fresh green leaves can be used in the kitchen to spice up a fruit salad, sherbet, and ice cream. There are numerous other reasons to grow mint. The list includes the following:
- The rich nectar and pollen attracts beneficial insects in the garden
- Mint deters bad bugs like flies and ants
- Peppermint tea calms the digestive system and eases upset stomachs
- Stop abdominal cramping with a cup of tea
- Apply strong, refrigerated peppermint tea with clean cotton pads to sunburns for soothing relief.
- A few drops of mint essential oil added to unscented house cleaners give your home a fresh smell
- Use it as cold relief medicine
This fragrant perennial becomes a constant, sometimes aggressive, garden companion. The plant is invasive, grows fast, and is tough to remove. It spreads through underground root runners. Find a corner in your garden that you do not want to use for anything else.
You can plant mint in containers, which can be buried in the ground. You can also use a large half-barrel or plastic tub and leave it outside year-round. Do not keep ceramic pots outdoors when temperatures drop. They usually break during freeze-thaw cycles.
Healthy mint plants grow 1 or 2 feet tall. They require lots of sun, moist soil, and compost if you keep them in pots. It is a great companion plant for tomatoes and cabbage. These herbs are quite hardy. They will be among the first greens to emerge in spring.
Determine what you want to use the mint for before acquiring shoots. There are various kinds, including spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, lemon mint, pineapple mint, and apple mint.
You can cut fresh mint sprigs any time of the year, but wait until the plants are well established for a rich harvest. You can hack mint more than once in a season when you leave at least 6 inches of stem. The plants recover fast.
Like most herbs, the best harvest time is in the morning, as the volatile oils in the plant are then at their strongest. Wash and dry the leaves before processing. Freezing and dehydrating are excellent preserving methods. You can air dry mint, or use the oven or a dehydrator to remove moisture. The opinions on ideal air dry temperatures vary between 70F and 120F. I set my dehydrator at 115F.
For best results, store dried mint in air-tight, glass containers.
Irida Sangemino is an accomplished permaculture adviser, homesteading expert, and instructor.
Photo. Matthias Böckel