Mint – Gardening Tips from the Culinary View
as recommended by Michael Vidrine
Would you like a low maintenance perennial groundcover that smells nice, attracts pollinators and is edible? Well mint just might be your cup of tea. We keep a bed of mint growing under some of our fruit trees as an herb but also just to enjoy the plant and the pollinators it attracts.
Mints are native to many temperate regions of the world including North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa and are now distributed even more widely. The mint family (mentha) is large with 20 or more named species and over 400 varieties. Mints hybridize readily so new cultivars continue to develop. In addition, mints are related to many other common herbs like sage, oregano, rosemary, and basil. One identifying characteristic of the mint family of plants is that they have a square stem. Spearmint is probably the most used culinary mint especially in savory dishes but there are lots of others to try including peppermint, apple mint, orange mint and chocolate mint.
Mint plants are an herbaceous perennial in our area and will often freeze back with cold temperatures. After a hard freeze I usually cut the plants to the ground to tidy them up then they pop right back up with warmer weather. The plants will spread readily from underground stolons and will also self-seed. To keep the rather aggressive nature of the plants under control, mints are often grown in containers or in an area surrounded by deep edging. The plants can also be grown indoors in a sunny location. Since mints hybridize so easily, starting mint from seeds may not result in exactly what the grower wants. It is usually best to start mints from cuttings or from known plant material. Mints prefer cool moist areas with well drained soils and in our climate benefit from a bit of afternoon shade. The plants have few pest or disease problems and we have not had to use any pesticide on our plantings. In fact, mints are sometimes used as pest deterrents and as protective companion plants. Mint extracts also have some fungicidal properties.
Young mint leaves have the best flavor so the plants should be harvested frequently to keep the plants bushy and producing new shoots. The plants can also be sheared to keep them in good shape. The leaves are best used right after harvest, but stems can be kept fresh for a few days growing in water indoors. The leaves can also be frozen in ice cubes or dried and kept in airtight containers.
Mint is used in a variety of drinks, preserves, candies, frozen desserts and in savory dishes like lamb and curries. Mint adds bright flavor to a variety of vegetables particularly green beans, summer squash and peas. Summer soups and fruit salads also pop with the addition of a bit of mint. Mints are a nice palate cleanser to add to cheese plates and charcuterie boards. Citrus flavors and cucumbers are natural pairings with mint. Adding mint sprigs to centerpieces and vases can make the house smell like summer indoors.
Try a bit of mint in your garden. Just remember, it will try to wander so keep it fenced in.
Brazos Valley Gardener, Orchardist, Apiarist and Instructor