Add mint to your edible landscape — don’t fear it, but embrace its varieties and medicinal properties. Here’s a guide to growing mint, plus a mint tea recipe and mint wine recipe.
Eat Your Yard! (Gibbs Smith, 2010) has information on 35 edible plants that offer the best of both landscape and culinary uses. Edible garden plants provide spring blossoms, colorful fruit and flowers, lush greenery, fall foliage, and beautiful structure, but they also offer fruits, nuts, and seeds that you can eat, cook, and preserve.
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Read more from Eat Your Yard!
• Edible Roses: Beautiful and Delicious Garden Features
• Growing Hazelnuts in the Garden
Don’t plant mint! It takes over the garden.
That’s an all-too-common reaction, and it’s true that some mint varieties can run wild if given the right soil, moisture, and sunlight, but no discipline.
I say hurray for mint.
A pretty, low-growing plant, mint fills in the wet, shady places where nothing else will grow. And while the flowers are generally not flashy, they do add lacy pastel highlights to the summer garden and attract beneficial insects.
Mint’s medicinal properties have been chronicled for centuries, and its usefulness in the kitchen is reflected in the fact that cookbooks of ancient Rome contained mint recipes. In houses and temples of those times, mint leaves were strewn over the floors to freshen the air as people walked.
The Spanish name for mint, yerba buena, means the “good herb.” Mint effectively calms the stomach and aids digestion (after-dinner mint, anyone?). It calms nerves, too, and is used in compresses for the relief of skin and joint problems, as well as for headaches and sore eyes.
In my own edible landscape it has taken ten years for a nice little mint patch to get started, and now that it shows signs of robustness (discipline time), I have started using it for cooking and tea, and most spectacularly, for making mint wine.
Peppermint and spearmint. Apple mint and chocolate mint. Curly mint and creeping mint and long-stemmed mint. There are a dozen main mint species and hundreds of hybrids. Sizes range from only a few inches high to some two feet or more.
All these members of the genus Mentha have square stems as a distinguishing characteristic.
They also have a tendency to “run,” so unless you have room for the mint to naturalize, plan early to contain the plants in sunken boxes or pots, or by using lengths of metal or plastic edging to a depth of six or eight inches.
1 quart water
1 cup mint leaves and blossoms
Honey or sugar (optional)
Boil the water and add the mint leaves and blossoms. Let set for 20 minutes. Add honey or sugar to taste, if desired. Serve.
Reprinted from A Taste of Heritage: Crow Indian Recipes and Herbal Medicines by Alma Hogan Snell by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. ©2006 by Alma Hogan Snell.
1 packet regular yeast
7 pounds sugar, depending on sweetness desired
3 gallons water
3 quarts tightly packed mint leaves, cleaned of stems and dirt (start with twice that amount)
Begin with a clean 5-gallon glass carboy for fermentation and scald any utensils you need. Fill the carboy with a solution of 1 tablespoon household bleach per gallon of cold water. Let this stand 20 minutes, empty, and then rinse the carboy three times with cold water.
In a quart jar, combine 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water (114 degrees F) with the yeast, and set in a warm place as you prepare the other ingredients. It should be frothy.
Make a syrup of the sugar with 3 gallons of water, and boil five minutes, or until the sugar is completely dissolved. Meanwhile, bruise the mint leaves and stuff them into the carboy; then pour the syrup over the leaves and let the mixture stand until it cools to lukewarm.
Add the yeast mixture to the carboy and swirl it to distribute. Seal the top loosely with a piece of plastic wrap and a rubber band, or with a brewer’s S-shaped “water trap.” Store the carboy in a dark place about 65 degrees F and let it ferment undisturbed until all bubbling stops, about 2 to 3 months. When the mint leaves fall away and the wine is clear, gently siphon the fermented wine into clean bottles that have been sterilized 20 minutes in a 1 tablespoon to 1 gallon bleach and water solution. Consult a home brew supplier about capping options.
Let wine sit another few weeks for further clarification.
Recipe adapted from Folk Wines, Cordials, & Brandies by M. A. Jagendorf (1963, The Vanguard Press, Inc.).
Reprinted with permission from Eat Your Yard! Edible Trees, Shrubs, Vines, Herbs and Flowers for Your Landscape by Nan K. Chase and published by Gibbs Smith, 2010. Buy this book from our store: Eat Your Yard! Edible Trees, Shrubs, Vines, Herbs and Flowers for Your Landscape.