It’s summertime and the living is easy…. and your mint plants are taking over the glorious garden! What we all know about mint is that is loves to “walk”. What we mean, is that their roots, which are called “runners” are incredibly invasive and grow quickly, sprouting leaves as they grow. Thus, in a short period of weeks, your mint plant will take over your garden.
Mint is an aromatic herb plant in the Mentha genus. Mentha, the Latin word for mint, has about 20 to 30 species that are mainly found in temperate regions of the world. You can research and learn that there are hundreds of varieties of mint plants. Actually, there are in the mint family, Lamiaceae, about 250 genera and 6,700 species. One characteristic of a mint plant, which makes them easily identifiable, is that their stems are always square. The way all grasses have round stems and sedges have triangular stems, mints will be all having square stems. I remember being taught that at a very young age by my botanist mother. Afterall, it’s such an easy character used in keying a plant. Keying a plant means that you identify the plant characteristics and by using a key, such as Gray’s Manual of Botany, you can determine the Latin names for each plant.
Mint plants love full sun and lots of water. They are hardy to Plant Zone 5. However, they can grow in almost every soil type. If you have young children, you can cut off a few sprigs of mint, put them in a clear glass of water, then see them, over a few weeks, sprout roots. Eventually, they will be long enough to plant them in soil within your outdoor garden.
Last year I was surprised to find my favorite mint, “Apple Mint” being sold a local garden nursery. It is a mint plant that has soft velvety leaves and smells delicious. Other “fuzzy” mints include Egyptian, Habek, and Pineapple mints. It has white flowers and grows to a height of two feet. However, I soon discovered that although it grew well outdoors in the summer, in my plastic black caldron, when I brought it inside for the winter months, it died on me. I never thought you could kill a mint plant, but I did. Not enough light, not enough nourishment, and too cold. Bottom line, mint plants outdoors will take over your garden. Kept in a container, they will not!
Thus, even though you want to contain your mint plant so it does not take over your garden, be aware that you have to provide it ample sun, water, fertilizer, and warmth when you take it indoors for the winter. If you do not place inside a container, a mint plant can winter outdoors with no problem.
Mentha spicata crispa, commonly known as Curly Mint, is a curly spearmint that is excellent to be used as a garnish, or swizzle stick, for a cool, refreshing, summer drink.
Mint contains Vitamin A and C, and has long been known to be an herbal remedy to many cultures for many generations. I recently was reminded at a Middle Eastern restaurant that mints make a deliciousand refreshing tea. I had grown up drying fresh mint leaves and using them to make tea.
How to use mint to make a tea:
Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of dried peppermint leaves, or 6 to 8 fresh leaves. Steep for 10 minutes. Strain and cool. Enjoy 2 to 3 times per day after meals.
Peppermint, Mentha x piperita, was discovered in 1696 growing in an English field. It was subsequently cultivated. In 1721, Peppermint was officially included in the London Pharmacopoeia. It was not until the 1790’s that mint was grown commercially for the first time in the United States in western Massachusetts. By 1812, commercial production began on a small scale in Ashfield, Massachusetts. Propagation is by cuttings, division, or most easily by a cutting of the runners. It is not by seed.
Peppermint leaves, as shown below, are harvested for their oil just as it begins flowering. Peppermint is also defined by the high percentage of menthol in its essential oil. Most people have tasted or seen red and white candy canes at Christmas time.
As with all mints, butterflies are attracted to these plants. The peppermint plant has pink or lilac flowers that bloom form mid- to late summer. They are arranged in a head or oblong spike and are almost all completely sterile.
NOTE: Never apply peppermint oil to the face of an infant or small child under the age of 5, as it may cause spasms that inhibit breathing. Also, do not give peppermint lozenges, that contain any menthol, to children under the age of 2.