Food Garden · Herb · Homesteading · How to Grow

Mint: How to Grow – Herb of the Month

Mint stats/requirements at a glance

Ease of Raising:5/5 – Very Easy, plant and leave
Water:2/5 – Minimal, twice a week (especially in a container)
Sun:3/5 – Full sun & dappled shade
Training:1/5 – Minimal (3Ds: Dead, damaged and diseased)
Fertilise/Feeding:1/5 – Minimal (at least during the growing season)
Time to Harvest:1/5 – Immediate (purchased a seedling)
Frost Hardiness:1/4 – Very Hardy (can’t take black frost)    
Uses:Culinary, Medicinal, Ground Cover,
Pollinator attractor & Predator sheltering
Most Problematic Nemesis:Rusts and mildew, die-back with over-watering
Container Plant:Yes (preferably grown in containers)
Spearmint
Mentha spicata
Flora of Germany Austria and Switzerland
1885
Kurt Stober's Online Library
Spearmint,
Mentha spicata,
Flora of Germany Austria and Switzerland,
1885,
Kurt Stober’s Online Library

Quick intro

The humble mint is a remarkably versatile herb, both in a culinary and medicinal sense. It can be used in sweet and savoury preparations, such as chocolate mousse puddings or as mint jelly in lamb dishes. Its oil is important in several commercial products such as gum or toothpaste. Mint is used for gastrointestinal problems and is used to treat colds and fever as well as alleviating headaches.

History

Mint is native to central Europe with its origins likely in the Mediterranean and North Africa. Later it was introduced to England, the rest of Europe by the Romans and then to China and North America.

Mint is derived from Latin ‘Mentha’ and Greek ‘Minthe’. According to Greek mythology Minthe was a water nymph that got turned into a ground clinging plant by her lover’s wife. Afterwards, the lover bestowed on mint her sweet scent. The Greeks used mint to freshen their homes and it became known as the herb of hospitality.

Peppermint by congerdesign
Peppermint leaves by congerdesign

Science Stuff

Naturally occurring mint, such as the water mint, Mentha aquatica, and spearmint, Mentha spicata, belong to the large aromatic herb family, Lamiaceae. This family includes several other well-known herbs, such as rosemary, sage, oregano, basil, thyme, marjorams, balm and savory.

There are several species of herbs, which easily hybridise to give rise to new flavours or growth types. Those with interesting flavours for culinary use are listed in the table:

Common NameSpeciesFlavour
Apple mint, pineapple mintMentha suaveolensA hint of apple
Basil mintMentha x piperita citrata ‘basil’Mix of mint and basil
Bergamot mint, orange mintMentha citrataBit of citrus
Chocolate mintMentha x piperita ‘chocolate’Slight chocolate aroma
Corsican mintMentha requieniiSimilar taste to pennyroyal, stronger than spearmint due to pulegone oil
Ginger mintMentha x gracilis (M. arvensis x M. spicate)Ginger fragrance
PennyRoyalMentha pulegiumSimilar taste to corsican, stronger than spearmint due to pulegone oil
PeppermintMentha x piperita (M. aquatica x M. spicata)Strong mint flavour due to carvone oil
SpearmintMentha spicata (also known as M. viridis and M. cordifolia)Milder and sweeter taste than pepperming

Spearmint, as well as many other mints, contains menthol essential oil that has the characteristic flavour and aroma of mint, whereas Peppermint’s strong flavour and aroma comes from carvone and Corsican/Pennyroyal’s comes from pulegone.

Menthol, Pulegone and Carvone,
Daveryan, Ju and Walkerma 
Wikipedia
Menthol, Pulegone and Carvone,
Daveryan, Ju and Walkerma
Wikipedia

Growing & Pruning Mint

Mint seedlings are purchased from your local nursery. Mint have underground and above ground runners, known as stolons, which can spread indefinitely and mints may overrun less vigorous herbs. Therefore it is a good idea to grow it in containers or restrict its growth in the garden with sunken bottomless pots.

Basil mint,
Mentha x piperita citrata 'basil',
above ground stolon
Basil mint,
Mentha x piperita citrata ‘basil’,
above ground stolon

Mint can grow in full sun, where its oil production is maximised, or in partial shade. Mints generally like wetter conditions to most other herbs, but can suffer from overwatering during long periods of rain.

Mints can be pruned back hard (remove all spindly growth) after flowering to encourage new bushy growth.

Most mints have an upright habit, but pennyroyal is a matting ground cover that can fill difficult places, such as between pavers or as an insect repelling living weed guards. It is more potent than spearmint for use in teas. It’s antiseptic and antipruritic properties can be used to treat insect stings (such as those pesky mosquito bites!).

Mint can suffer from powdery mildew, but if you can get it through the infection it will shake it off next season and become resistant to future infections. Unfortunately mint rust, Puccinia mentha, is not as easily treatable – either destroy infected plants, prevent mint leaves from being wet too long – or try my Eggplant rust spray (against a similar species, Puccinia substriata or Pearl Millet Rust).

Other Tips

Do not plant different mints too close together else their flavours intertwine and individual flavours become less potent.

Mints can be used in a variety of dishes. Taken as a tea it can be used for indigestion, nausea, flatulence, diarrhoea, colic, reduce fever and colds. Peppermint applied to the temples and base of the neck can alleviate headaches. Mint should not be used by pregnant ladies or people with kidney disease.

Mint in small doses is a calmative, while in larger doses it lifts one’s mood.

Mint and a tea cup by congerdesign
Mint and a tea cup by congerdesign

Harvesting & Storing

Mints do not dry well, but are evergreen and should provide year round leaves for fresh use. Otherwise store in ice cubes in the freezer.

Mints cordials make refreshing summer drinks. 

Mint cold drink with limes by congerdesign
Mint cold drink with limes by congerdesign

Seed Saving & Propagation

Mint flowers attract pollination, but serious mint harvesters will likely not see any flowers, due to the constant pruning of the leaves throughout the season for fresh leaves.

Mints do not readily grow from seed as germination is variable, rather cuttings are used. Root or softwood cuttings (non-flowering stems) can be used to establish new plants. Alternatively, rip out one of the running stolons with some roots attached and replant – be sure to water regularly until established. Large plants can also be divided in Spring when split with a spade.

White flowers of the peppermint by Nennieinszweidrei
White flowers of the peppermint by Nennieinszweidrei

My Mints

  • Spearmint: The reliable garden staple and hardy plant.
  • Basil mint: In areas where cold winters don’t allow year round basil, this is an alternative supply.

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