The Mentha species or mints as they are commonly called include many varieties that flavor everything from appetizers to desserts. The best-known species in North American are peppermint (M. x piperita) and spearmint (M. spicata), which are highly valued for commercial use. Mint symbolises “hospitality” and can be grown in pots and containers indoors and out. In the garden, mint should be grown with a barrier around the roots, as it can be extremely invasive. Most mints do not come true from seed so it is best to purchase plants from a nursery or garden centre. Fresh mints are a source of Vitamin C and pro-vitamin A.
Peppermint and spearmint are perennials growing 12 – 36 inches (30 – 90 cm) tall although some mints are ground hugging. Produced at the end of square stems, terminal spikes of dainty lilac, purple, pink, or white flowers usually bloom in mid-to-late summer.
Cultivation requirements for growing mint: grows best in moist, deep, loosely textured sandy soil; full sun but will do well in partial shade; keep well watered; pinch off flowers to promote bushy growth; and if growing indoors, fertilize with an organic fertilizer at half-strength every 3 or 4 weeks. Where winters are harsh, mulch with straw or leaves to protect your plants.
Mints have creeping roots that require sufficient room to develop. When establishing indoor plants, pot up in good houseplant soil and sufficiently large containers to accommodate their root system. To bring indoors for the winter, check for insects, and spray with soap and water if necessary. To harvest and prevent indoor plants from getting scraggly, keep the stems cut back to 5 inches (13 cm). This will also keep the plants from blooming and ensure tastier leaves.
Indoor mints require at least 5 hours of strong sunlight daily. Grow them on a southern or eastern exposure. If you are growing them on a windowsill, rotate regularly to ensure each side receives equal amounts of light. Better yet, grow them under fluorescent lights hung 6 inches (15 cm) above the plants and leave on for 14 hours a day.
In the garden, mint is a good companion to cabbage and tomatoes. Mint deters cabbageworms and spearmint may help keep aphids off nearby plants. Mints attract bees so planting them near fruit trees will improve pollination and increase yields. Add fresh mint leaves to water in the birdbath to keep the water attractive for birds.
In the kitchen, use mint with roast lamb or fish, butter, salads, cheese, fruits, fruit salads, jellies, soups, sauces, plain meats, poultry, stews, sweet dishes, teas, bean and lentil dishes. Add fresh sprigs to cooking water of peas, carrots, fresh beets, new potatoes, and in vinegar. Mint flowers can be used in salads as well as garnishes for desserts. In Middle Eastern dishes, mint is used for cheese pastry fillings, yoghurt dressings, and stuffings for vegetables such as bell peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant.
Mint tea is useful for soothing upset stomachs. To brew a cup, use 1 teaspoon (5 mL) dried leaves or 3 teaspoons (15 mL) crushed fresh leaves in 1 cup (250 mL) of boiling water. Steep to taste. Mint can be dried or freeze leaves in butter, oil, or ice cubes.