How to Grow Mints (Mentha species)
- Plant: perennial, hardy to -6degC(M. pulegium, M. requinii to
- Height: 30-90cm
- Soil: moist, rich
- Exposure: shade
- Propagation: cuttings, division
- Uses: culinary, fragrance
From the large assortment of mint species and varieties there are
many that you can grow. Typically, these plants have square stems and
opposite leaves that are aromatic when crushed. The seven that are
described here are among the most important and most frequently grown.
Orange mint or bergamot mint (M. citrata) grows to about 60cm high and
has broad, dark green, 5cm leaves that are edged with purple. They taste
and smell slightly of oranges, combined with the characteristic minty
spikes during midsummer. The stems of this species are reddish purple
and nearly round.
Golden apple mint (M. gentilis) has smooth, deep green leaves variegated
with yellow. The plant grows to about 60cm and makes an attractive
ground cover where taller spring-flowering bulbs are planted.
Peppermint (M. piperita)—or its flavor—is familiar to many people.
The plant grows to 1m high and has strongly scented, 3-inch leaves with
toothed edges. Small purple flowers appear in 2-7cm long spikes at the
ends of stems.
Pennyroyal (M. pulegium) is another attractive mint, but it should
not be confused with American mock pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegiodes) which
is not a mint at all. It is prostrate and branching with downy, oval
leaves that are no more than 1cm long. Small, rosy lilac flowers bloom
late in the summer and early autumn. It is a less hardy, and far less
neat, ground cover than Corsican mint but—in its favor—it is said to
repel insects from the garden.
Jewel mint of Corsica or Corsican mint (M. requienii) is a creeping
sort that rarely grows over 1 inch high. It has tiny, round, bright
green leaves that form a moss-like mat. In summer, small, light purple
flowers appear. The foliage has a delightful minty or sagelike fragrance
when bruised or crushed under foot.
Apple mint (M. rotundifolia) has stiff stems that grow 50 to 70cm
high. The rounded leaves are slightly hairy and gray-green, about 2-10cm
long. The purplish white flowers are produced in 5-8cm spikes.
Spearmint (M. spicata) is another of the most familiar species and is
the one used commonly with roast lamb and in mint jelly. Its dark green
leaves are slightly smaller than those of peppermint and look and feel
crinkly. The stems will grow 45-60cm high if not pinched back.
The ancient Greeks believed that when Pluto, god of the underworld,
became enraptured by the beauty of Menthe (a young nymph), his wife
Prosperpine turned her into this herb and left her forever to grow in
the shadows and moisture. However, Menthe was still loved by the Greeks
and has continued to find friends ever since. Mints have been used in
innumerable ways in the past. The ancient Pharisees of Biblical times
paid their taxes with its leaves. Ancient medicine has recommended using
the leaves for bites of mad dogs, to prevent indigestion, to cure mouth
and gum ailments, in a preparation for ulcers, to heal skin diseases,
and to stimulate the appetite. One old herbalist warns, however, that if
a wounded man eats it, his injuries will never heal, while another
claims that it must never be cut or harvested with shears or a blade
made of iron. Previous writers are not always explicit as to which
species of mint they are talking about, but the distinct flavor and
aroma that most of the species share to some degree makes it clear that
this is what made them so highly favored.
Modern commerce makes many uses of mints. Spearmint and peppermint
are two of the most common flavorings for everything from chewing gum to
mouthwashes and medicines.
Most mints will grow almost anywhere except in hot, direct sun. They
do best, however, in a light, moderately rich soil that is moist and in
shade or partial shade. These herbs spread rapidly by underground stems
and runners and can be propagated very simply by layering, division, or
stem cuttings. Their invasive nature can be contained by planting in
pots or boxes, or sinking header boards 15-20cm into the ground around
their roots. Keep flowers pinched back to encourage bushy growth.
Use the leaves fresh or dried in any number of different ways: add
them to potpourris, lamb, and jelly; spearmint is the best for
garnishing iced drinks; fresh leaves of peppermint, pineapple, apple,
and orange mints can be added to fruit cocktails or sprinkled over ice
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