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Mint — refreshing and flavourful

The mint family offers a delicious variety of refreshing scents and flavours.

The mint family offers a delicious variety of refreshing scents and flavours.

Plant a patch of mint and add refreshing fragrance to your garden. Undemanding and easy to grow, mint boasts a hearty constitution, often growing where other plants fail.

Versatile in the kitchen, use mint fresh or dried to season culinary creations from soups, to beverages, to vegetables, to meats, to desserts.

The mint family offers a tremendous diversity of refreshing scents and flavours for cooking, beverages, and potpourris. Bumblebees and other pollinators are attracted to the delicate flowers that appear in mid- to late summer. Some varieties sport variegated foliage for added interest in the herb garden.

Plants readily cross-pollinate; keep your patch pure by planting mixed varieties as far apart as possible. This herb releases scent when you crush or bruise leaves. 

SOME MINTS FOR YOUR GARDEN

Spearmint (Mentha spicata) makes a soothing tea, and is a key ingredient in mint juleps. It’s also the mint of mint jelly, and can be use to highlight flavours in a fruit salad, leaf salad or pilaf. Plants grow 60 to 90cm tail and blossom in pale violet mid- to late summer.

Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is more pungent than spearmint, which tends to the sweet side. Peppermint grows to 1m tall, bearing smooth leaves 25mm to 75mm long. But the bouquet is bigger than these two familiar flavors.

Variegated Pineapple Mint (Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’ ) brightens corners of the garden with its white-edged leaves. This mint has a fruity flavour. Plants grow to 1m tall and wide.

In catalogs and garden centres, you can find apple mint, chocolate mint, orange mint, and many others.

GROWING AND HARVESTING MINT

Mint spreads by shallow creeping underground runners and can be very invasive, particularly in rich, moist soil. To keep it from overtaking your yard, confine it to a bed with edging of metal or plastic. Bury edging to a depth of 30cm  around the perimeter of the mint patch, or simply grow the plants in containers. All mints thrive in pots.

Mint is best grown in moist soil, and prefers a position in light shade. Propagate by division or from seed. A single plant is plenty for a small garden, as it will quickly spread to fill its allotted space. Choose a sunny location with moderately fertile soil. Use a light mulch to retain moisture and keep leaves clean. Flowers begin in midsummer and continue to autumn.

Plants readily cross-pollinate; keep your patch pure by planting mixed varieties as far apart as possible. This herb releases scent when you crush or bruise leaves. Place it near g arden paths or benches so you can savor the fragrance frequently.

For the most intense flavor, clip topmost mint leaves before flowers form. You can also gather leaves at any point during the growing season. Frequent harvests cause plants to branch and become bushy, so cut growing tips of plants often. Give steamed vegetables, such as peas, carrots, white or black beans, and eggplant a boost by adding fresh chopped mint leaves just before serving. Mix fresh leaves from mint and basil to weave a cooling flavor into spicy Thai and Vietnamese dishes.

Dry mint leaves and flowers by bundling stems and hanging upside down in a dark place. When leaves are dry, crumble from stems and store in airtight containers. To preserve mint leaves with bright green color, freeze them in plastic storage bags.

Capture the refreshing taste of garden-fresh mint for use in beverages and baked goods by creating a syrup. Boil 2 cups of water and 2 cups of white sugar in a pot until sugar dissolves. Add 2 cups of washed mint leaves, stir, and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Allow the mixture to cool, strain, and pour syrup into a glass bottle with a tight-fitting lid.

Rusty spots on leaves indicate a fungal infection; pick and destroy blemished leaves and propagate new plants from uninfected cuttings to cultivate in a new location. You can dry mint leaves on trays or by hanging bunched branches upside down in a warm, dark, well-ventilated area, such as an airy attic or outbuilding. Fresh leaves are easy to freeze too.