Uses for Mint: The Best Growing Herb

article image
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/JAMDESIGN
Different varieties of mint exist for different uses. Some varieties include, spearmint, applemint, perfum mint and peppermint.

I’m convinced: Mint has got to be one of the most
versatile herbs around. Indoors, you can use it to
deodorize a room, wake up your skin, freshen your breath,
create delicious hot (and cold) teas, lend zest to
vegetable dishes, and spruce up otherwise-ordinary salads,
juices, spreads, fruits, etc. And outdoors — in the vegetable
garden — mint’s highly aromatic foliage acts to repel
ants, white cabbage moths, and other pests … thereby
ensuring healthy crops of cabbage, tomatoes, broccoli, and
brussels sprouts.

No herb or vegetable garden should be without at least
one of the 40 or so sweet-smelling members of the
mint family (genus Mentha). These plants are simply too
useful — and too easy to grow — to pass up!

Where to Obtain Mint

If you live in the country, chances are good that you have
mint on your property already. (if you don’t, your
neighbor probably does. Ask for a few plants or
cuttings.)

Mint can also be purchased from most any plant shop,
nursery, or mail-order herb outlet.

How to Start a Mint Bed

When transplanting mint, dig the herb up carefully — so
as not to make hash of its roots — and leave a little
soil attached to the plant’s base. (You won’t have to dig
very deeply, since mint grows close to the surface.)

Choose a spot in your garden that’s partly shaded and
moderately fertile … then put the plants in the ground
about a foot apart, firm the soil around them to its
original level, water thoroughly, and keep the
area moist. (Mints generally prefer damp places and won’t
produce strongly scented leaves in dry soil.)

Soon, your transplants will begin to send out
runners — or stolons  — both under and
over the surface of the ground, much like strawberries. And
before you know it, the empty space between the parent
plants will be filled by dozens of new herblets. (Don’t be
afraid to uproot stray stolons if the plants begin to get
out of hand. When I was little, my mother used to yank the
weedlike foliage out of the ground by the handful … and
the hardy herbs always grew back.)

How to Grow Plants From Cuttings

To propagate mints from cuttings, all you have to do is detach a three-inch-long piece of stem from a parent plant, remove the leaves from the lowermost inch or so of the
slip, and place the scion in a glass of water on a
window-sill. In about a week — when the cutting’s
roots are half an inch long — the young mint will be
ready to go in the ground. (Plant it in the manner
described above, to a depth of 1/2 inch above the tops of its
roots.)

Growing Mint Indoors

Even if you live in an apartment and don’t have access to a
plot of fertile ground, you can grow all the mint you’ll
ever need … inside a box. (I’ve been growing mint this
way since spring of last year, when I moved to sunny Fort
Lauderdale, Florida.)

Your box can be any size and shape … mine consists of
some old boards nailed together haphazardly to make a
container a foot wide, three feet long, and one and a
quarter feet deep (although it really needn’t have been
more than six inches deep at the most).

On the advice of a nursery woman, I lined my box with
newspaper to discourage invading insects. (I used only the
black-inked sections, however, since colored ink would — the
woman assured me — poison the soil.)

Because I knew (from harsh experience) that my mint planter
would be too heavy to move after it was filled
with soil, I set the empty 1-by-1 1/4-by-3 foot container in
its permanent location (by my front door, in a spot where
it’d be shaded most of the day) first … then I [1]
loaded it with sludge-rich soil, [2] covered the surface of
the dirt with a few handfuls of well-composted cow manure
(which I bought in 50-pound bags at the local nursery), [3]
worked the manure in to a depth of three inches, and [4]
planted a variety of mints: spearmint (Mentha
spicata
), for its familiar flavor … applemint (Mentha
rotundifolia
), for its novel aroma and fuzzy leaves … and perfum mint (Mentha aquatica), because it sounded exotic.
(I later added a fourth variety: peppermint, Mentha piperita.)

I’m happy to say that all of my mints “took” and — as a
result — began sending stolons out all over the place.
And so far — whether because of the newspaper lining or
the plants’ own volatile oils — no bugs have bothered
the containerized garden.

Two Ways to Harvest Mint

You can pluck leaves and sprigs directly from the tops of
your plants as you need them … or you can make a larger
harvest up to three times per year. (In general, a complete
harvest is called for whenever flower stalks begin to
appear on the stems, since mint loses its potency soon
after it blooms.)

To make one of the “big” harvests, simply cut off all the
stems and visible stolons at the base of each plant, tie
them together into a bunch, and hang the bundle of foliage
in a dry, shady, well-ventilated place. When the leaves are
dry take them down, and chop them up if you like, and store
them in airtight containers.

Uses for Mint

MINT SPLASH. Steep a handful of fresh mint
leaves (peppermint is especially good) in a pint of hot
water for about ten minutes … then strain through a
sieve, let cool, and chill. When you need a lift, sprinkle
yourself with this solution. You’ll perk up! (The liquid is
usable for several days.)

MINT RINSE. Prepare mint-water as above
and add it to your bath water for a tingly wash, or use the
solution as a final rinse after shampooing. It’s also good
as a mouthwash, an after-shave lotion, and a soak for tired
feet.

BREATH PURIFIER. Simply chew a sprig of
your favorite mint.

TEA. Steep 1 1/2 teaspoons of dried (or 3
teaspoons of fresh) chopped mint leaves in a cup of hot
water. Sweeten to taste with honey, then sip slowly,
breathing in the fragrance. (Think of green fields warmed
by the summer sun.) For iced tea, simply serve hot mint tea
“on the rocks.”

MINTED VEGETABLES. During the last two
minutes of cooking, add two tablespoons of fresh chopped
mint (or one tablespoon of dried chopped mint) to each
quart of peas, green beans, carrots, or cauliflower.

ZESTY SALAD. Toss together two cups of
lettuce, two cups of lamb’s-quarters (the herb, not the
animal), two or three scallions (green leaves and all), a
couple of sprigs of fresh marjoram or lemon thyme
(chopped), and three tablespoons of fresh, chopped mint
(more if you want, but be careful not to overpower the
salad with mintiness). Serve with your favorite
oil-and-vinegar dressing. (Yield: 4 servings.)

MINT-CHEESE SPREAD. Add a few minced mint
leaves to cream or cottage cheese, mix well, and spread on
wholegrain crackers or rounds.

MINTED FRUITS. Add chopped mint to
applesauce, baked apples, or fruit compotes. (For a morning
eye-opener, blend chopped mint with orange juice.)

Finally, you might want to try what I call “mint sniff.”
Bruise a mint leaf, raise it to your nose, and inhale. Do
this whenever you’ve forgotten the beauty in the world …
and — believe me — you’ll remember.

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368