- Practical Peppermint
- Peppermint Teas
- Pampering with Peppermint
- Morning Bath
- Cooking with Peppermint
- Ask the Experts
- Mint Growing and Harvest Information
A hardy perennial—watch out or it’ll take over the garden! — peppermint is a cross between spearmint and watermint. Its botanical name is Mentha x piperita, after a Greek nymph who was transformed into a plant, but you’ve most likely heard it called simply “mint.”
One brush against peppermint and you’ll instantly recognize its fresh, menthol-clean fragrance. One taste and you’ll identify the hot-then-cool sensation. To make a positive identification, look for square, purplish stems with dark green, toothed leaves and reddish veins. In mid-to-late summer, violet flowers appear in whorls (little clusters) around the stem. These flowers, along with the leaves, are harvested just as the flowers begin to open. The plant grows wild all over the world, but cultivated peppermint tends to have the best volatile oil content.
Historically, peppermint was found on the banquet tables of ancient Greece, in the temples of the Middle East, among the healing herbs of the American Indians, and in the teacups of the American colonists.
A powerhouse in the world of herbal teas, peppermint partners well with a wide variety of other herbs (raspberry, rosehips, lemongrass, ginger—you name it) for tea blends. Delicious hot or iced, it has an uncanny ability to both refresh and calm. Peppermint tea freshens the breath and is traditionally served after meals. It’s been relied upon for centuries to address a wide variety of ailments. (The herb first appeared in the London Pharmacopoeia in 1721.) Peppermint tea is delicious when combined with other beverages like fruit juices and sparkling water. (Peppermint ice cubes are a fun way to add subtle flavor to drinks, too.) And be sure to try it in hot cocoa. Simply steep the leaves in the hot water or milk before adding to the cocoa.
Pampering with Peppermint
Your toiletry cabinet likely contains something (shampoo, soap, toothpaste) with the cool scent and cleansing properties of peppermint. Peppermint oil is drying, but the leaf is an emollient. Try it in facial toners, masks, and steams; hair rinses; tooth powders and mouthwashes; baths and lotions. (Some people are sensitive to peppermint, so test a batch of your product first on a small area on the inside of your arm.)
Most of us think of baths as bedtime rituals, but a morning bath is a great way to start the day. (You can prepare the herbal “tea” the night before.) For an evening bath, substitute elder flowers and chamomile for the lavender and rosemary. Combine 1 tablespoon each: lavender, rosemary, and peppermint in a medium-size bowl. Pour 1 quart of boiling water over the herbs and steep for 20 minutes. Strain. Add to bathwater.
Cooking with Peppermint
You might be surprised at how versatile peppermint is in
the kitchen. Try it in:
- Fruit salads, green salads, and salad dressings
- Egg dishes, like frittatas, omelets, and quiche
- Sauces for grains, pasta and veggies
- Soups, such as bean, beef, and fish soups and stews
- Vegetables, especially peas and carrots, green beans, spinach, potatoes, and squash
- Yogurt dishes, like raitas
- Jellies and jams
- Side salads, like tabouleh, cucumber, and carrot salads
- Sandwich salads, such as chicken salad and egg salad
- Desserts, like custard, ice cream, chocolate candies and pudding, fruit pies and pound cake
Ask the Experts
Is there a difference in mints?
Yes; “mint” doesn’t necessarily mean “peppermint.” In fact, there are over two dozen species of mints, each with its own subtle or obvious distinction. (Square stems are characteristic of the entire mint family.) Spearmint, perhaps the next most familiar mint, is a bit milder than peppermint when it comes to taste. Other mints you may come across include the citrusy /lavender bergamot mint, the variegated ginger mint, and the mildly flavored pineapple mint.
Most of my recipes call for fresh mint. Can I substitute dried peppermint?
Well, it doesn’t make an attractive garnish for a mint julep, but because dried peppermint retains the plant’s essential oils nicely, it stands in just fine for the fresh herb in most recipes. If your recipe calls for fresh peppermint, substitute one third the amount of dried.
Is it true that peppermint deters pests?
As a matter of fact, it is. Mice, in particular, don’t appreciate the scent of peppermint. To deter them, simply sprinkle some peppermint leaf where you think they might scurry. Or dab a little peppermint essential oil on cotton balls and then place the balls strategically around the house. Crush some dried leaves and place them in potpourris or sachets around your home to deter flies.
Mint requires frequent harvesting to keep your plants healthy. The younger leaves have more flavor than the older ones, so it is important to keep up with frequent harvesting so you can enjoy their fresh taste.
Mint harvest can begin once the plant reaches approximately 3-4 in (8-10 cm) in height. You can harvest individual leaves or you can cut the stems one inch from the soil and have it regrow. You can harvest the same mint plant 2-3 times in one growing season.
Start by cutting or pinching off approximately 1/3 of the length of the stem, directly above the set of side shoots (nodes) that emerge from the stem.
Once harvested, mint can be stored fresh, frozen, or dried. See below for specific guidelines on how to ensure that your mint is properly kept!
Here is a short video to see step by step instructions on how to harvest mint:
- Fresh mint can be stored in the refrigerator by wrapping the mint in a damp paper towel then loosely wrapping in plastic.
- Once harvested, pat the mint leaves dry with a towel. Next, chop the leaves and remove the stems. Place 1-2 teaspoons of leaves and water in an ice cube tray and freeze. Once completely frozen, store in an airtight container or freezer bag for future use.
Mint can be dried whole via the microwave, oven, food dehydrator, dehumidifier, or naturally air-dried upside down. Always Ensure that the mint is completely dried before storing it in a non-absorbent, airtight container. Mint will develop mold if not properly stored dry.
- Spread leaves on a microwave-safe plate in a single layer. Begin to microwave in 10-second intervals, checking frequently for crispness. They should be dry in 15-45 seconds.
- Preheat oven to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius). Too high of a temperature can produce a flavorless or aroma-less result. Once the oven has preheated and remained at the proper temperature for a few minutes, turn off, and insert mint leaves spread in a single layer on a baking sheet (do not use cooking spray). Let the mint dry in the warm oven for 5-10 minutes, checking every 5 minutes. They are adequately dry once leaves have begun to curl and become crispy, while still remaining a green color.
- Keep mint in a single layer with little overlap and turn dehydrator onto the lowest setting, checking every 5 minutes.
- Place mint in a single layer on a cooling rack and place it directly in front of the dehumidifier.
- Gather mint into bundles and tie small bunches tightly together at the stem using thick string. Hang mint upside-down by string in a warm, dark, well-ventilated area. This will force the flavorful oils to travel to the leaves rather than in the stems. The mint should be dry after 1-2 weeks and the leaves should be stripped from the stems.
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Mint Growing and Harvest Information
|Soil and Water|
|Space between plants|
|Space between rows||18-24″|
|Companions||brassica, peas, and tomato can benefit|
|Incompatibles||Mint is very invasive and should be kept away from other spices; they will absorb a minty flavor also.|
|Basically cut the leaves when needed. A pair of scissors or nipping with fingers both work well. It pays to cut the top leaves first, to encourage the plant to shoot out again further down the stem. Never strip the plant of all it’s leaves. Just prior to flowering, cut stems 1″ above the soil. you can harvest mint 2-3 times in one growing season.|
Mint is a quick growing and often invasive perennial herb which comes in many varieties. It can be used to calm an upset stomach and to relieve muscle spasms. Leaves are used in jellies, sauces, teas and to flavor various candies. There are numerous species with various scents. More popular mints include spearmint, peppermint, apple mint and orange mints. A sprig of fresh mint is a pretty garnish for summer drinks — and you can’t have a mint julep without it. Try adding a couple of sprigs of mint to the water before cooking your peas. Toss boiled new potatoes with butter and chopped mint—a nice change from parsley. Instead of mint jelly with a lamb roast, try the traditional English mint sauce. Add a little sugar to a couple of tablespoons of chopped fresh mint leaves, add boiling water to bring out the flavor, then top off with vinegar to taste.
Where to Grow Mint
Mints in general are very hardy and can easily be grown almost anywhere in the United States. Plant them from root divisions any time during the growing season.
Soil for Mint
Mints grow well in any soil; they prefer sun but will tolerate partial shade. Don’t fertilize before planting, they will produce more than adequate supply of mint without it.
Although you can plant mints anytime during the growing season, root divisions will be established faster if planted on a cool, moist day in spring or fall.
Mint varieties grown from seed will not grow “true”. So it’s generally more satisfactory to use root divisions, which can even be purchased in grocery stores these days. An innocuous little plant of mint will wander all over the garden if it gets half a chance, so plant each one in a container that will keep the roots in one place — a two pound coffee can with both ends removed is good. Space plants two or three inches apart in rows 18 to 24 inches apart.
To contain invasive growth, plant mint in a container from which the bottom has been removed, and set into the ground. Don’t fertilize mints; they’ll never miss it. Both peppermint and spearmint prefer moist soil, so they’ll require more watering than the rest of the garden. Keep them evenly moist until root divisions are well established.
|Store fresh mint leaves in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Leaves can be finely chopped and mixed with a small amount of olive oil to be frozen. Dry entire branches in a slow oven, a food dehydrator, or hang in a warm, dry and dark place. Store in airtight jars in a dark place for the best flavor retention.|
When to harvest mint?
The more mint you pick, the better the plants will grow, and you can pick sprigs throughout the growing season. Mint can be harvested at any time, and is reccomended that you harvest it as needed to enjoy it at it’s peak freshness. For a large harvest, it is best to wait until the flavor is most intense. The flavor will peak just before it starts to flower. Mint will tolerate a light frost, but if a hard frost is predicted you may want to consider harvesting any remaining mint to use over the winter.
How to harvest mint leaves?
To harvest the entire plant, cut it down to 1-2″ above the soil. You’ll get a second smaller harvest the same season as the plant will regrow. Fresh mint can be kept for several days in the refrigerator. If they’re dirty or sandy, rinse them gently just before using them. Wrapped in a paper towel and placed in a plastic bag, herbs stay fresh for several days. Those herbs that still have their roots can be kept longer; place them in fresh water at room temperature, like cut flowers. You can wrap the roots in a damp cloth and store the herbs in a plastic bag in the warmest part of your refrigerator. You can also freeze the herbs whole or chopped, without blanching; if you wash them, be sure to dry them thoroughly. To dry, strip the mint leaves from the stem and let them dry in a warm shady area. The dried leaves can be stored in a jar with an airtight seal and if kept in a dark place remains flavorful for up to 2 years.
How Mint grows
Mint is a tall (2-3′), shallow-rooted, fast spreading perennial with square stems and leaves that usually have a purple tinge . It is very prolific—once you set them in a corner of the garden they’ll quietly take over. Its roots spread freely, so it is commonly contained in some sort of pot or physical barrier. Its long spear like leaves are slightly curled and deeply veined, and have a refreshing, clean aroma. The plant is usually propagated by vegetative cuttings. The light lavender flowers appear in terminal spikes (2-4″ long) and bloom through most of the growing season. You may also come across varieties like golden apple mint, which has a more delicate flavor than spearmint. This plant also has pale purple flowers, but the leaves are dark green streaked with gold. Orange mint, sometimes known as bergamot mint, gets its name from its delicate scent of oranges. Orange mint has reddish-green leaves edged with purple; the flowers are lavender.
Mints have no notable pest concerns.
Mints are susceptible to verticillium wilt and mint rust. Prevent these diseases by removing all the dead stems and leaves from the bed before winter.