Mint is the most versatile of herbs – it adds zest to summer desserts and savoury dishes, and flavours herbal teas and cocktails. It thrives in semi-shade where other Mediterranean herbs like thyme and rosemary might struggle.
There are so many types available, all with different scents and uses – so it’s helpful to know a little about the different varieties before you start growing. But if you just want to jump into growing something versatile, then a basic mint plant is perfect for getting started.
My favourites include tall apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) whose furry leaves add a fresh tang to boiled new potatoes with butter; it’s also really good in mint sauce. For herbal teas I prefer spicy varieties like peppermint (Mentha x piperita) – a cross between watermint and spearmint, Moroccan mint (Mentha spicata var. crispa ‘Moroccan’) and Tashkent mint (Mentha spicata ‘Tashkent’), also known as spearmint.
For even more flavour, I combine the mint with lemon verbena leaves for an aromatic hot tea, or add sugar, cool the tea and add ice cubes as a refreshing drink on hot summer afternoons. Moroccan and Tashkent mint also have the advantage of being resistant to mint rust, a common fungal disease that can affect leaves from spring until the autumn.
Other varieties to try include ginger mint (Mentha x gracilis ‘Variegata’), an attractive plant with variegated yellow and green foliage that tastes great with fruit salads. Or choose dark chocolate mint (Mentha x piperita f. citrata ‘Chocolate’) my children’s favourite, with deep red stems and leaves that really do taste of mint choc chip ice cream.
The spicy foliage of basil mint (Mentha x piperita f. citrata ‘Basil’) adds a tang to oils and vinegars,and the soft leaves of banana mint (Mentha arvensis ‘Banana’) have a mild flavour with just a hint of banana. There’s even a variety from Cuba called Mojito mint (Menthat villosa ‘Mojito’) which has a warm sweet flavour ideal for combining with soda water, lime juice, white rum and sugar to create the traditional Cuban highball.
Growing and Propagating Mint
It’s a good idea to grow mint in containers, unless you have a large patch that will tolerate invasion by this vigorous perennial. I have grown mint in large bottomless pots sunk into the ground – you just have to be vigilant and pull out any surface runners before they root and escape into the garden.
Mint thrives in semi-shade and likes to be kept well watered, but it copes with full shade and full sun too. It’s best to avoid growing different mints close together or in the same container as they can lose their distinct scents and flavours.
Once you have mint it’s quick and easy to propagate by stem or root cuttings. Either turn the plant out of the pot, break off a few roots (with or without shoots) and bury just below the surface in peat-free compost, or take several stem cuttings from a healthy plant and place around the rim of a pot filled with gritty compost. Keep moist until you see new growth and then pot on.
In the Garden
Mint is also valuable in the garden as an ornamental plant. Creeping Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) creates a relaxed look trailing along a gravel path, between stepping stones or over rocks. At only 3-10cm high, it forms a mat on the ground and releases its spicy aroma when crushed underfoot. As with all flowering mints, this Corsican mint is a magnet for bees which love its tiny mauve flowers.
Hanging baskets are another ideal place for ornamental mint. Indian mint (Satureia douglasii ‘Indian Mint’), a tender perennial in the mint family, has delicate white long-lasting flowers that cascade over the sides of a basket. Or as we’ve done this year, plant sweet strawberry mint (Mentha x piperita ‘Strawberry’) in the centre of a hanging basket surrounded by trailing strawberry plants and then harvest both for a delicious dessert – just add cream.
The author and publisher take no responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Not everyone reacts positively to all edible plants or other plant uses. Seek advice from a professional before using a plant for culinary or medicinal uses.
Nic Wilson is a writer, garden designer and Garden Media Guilds Awards nominee (Best Blog, 2018). She enjoys growing flowers and unusual fruit, vegetables and herbs, and loves to encourage nature into the garden. She also blogs at www.dogwooddays.net