- Flavorful Mints
- Mint Care Must-Knows
- Harvesting Tips
- More Varieties of Mint
- Garden Plans For Mint
- The fragrant mint family dominates the herb world
- Care Of Lavender Mint Plants: How To Use Lavender Mint Herb
- Growing Lavender Mint
- Care of Lavender Mint
- How to Use Lavender Mint
- Classic Mint Flavors
- Common Culinary Herbs
- Hidden Gems of the Mint Family
- Make Life Minty
Mint plants have long been prized for crisp, soothing aroma and ease of growth. In fact, they grow so well that in some cases they get a little too rambunctious. One plant is usually plenty to supply a summer’s worth of mint. Along with their culinary and aromatic properties, mint deters insects and attracts pollinators.
When people typically think of mint, the two types come to mind: peppermint and spearmint. There are several other lesser known species, all with a distinct taste. Mint plants are easily hybridized, and several hybrids occur naturally. Hybrids have delicious and beautiful flavors, smells, and intensities.
Most commonly grown for their culinary appeal, many species are attractive. In summer, clusters of small blooms top tall spikes of greenery. The flowers form in tight little spikes often in soft lavender, but also white or pink, too. There are also attractive variegated mints, which make eye-catching garnishes. Look for variegated pineapple mint with its cream-edged fuzzy leaves or ginger mint with deep green leaves and golden veins.
Read about the health benefits of mint here.
Mint Care Must-Knows
No matter which variety you decide to grow, mint tolerates a variety of soil conditions. For the most productive plants with the most flavor, plant mint in soil rich in organic matter and provide consistent moisture. Although many varieties tolerate drought, they won’t grow as well or have as good a flavor. Mint grows well in containers, which is a perfect way to have a clump right near your kitchen door for quick and easy clipping for recipes. This is also a great way to control its aggressive habit. Mint spreads quickly by underground runners known as rhizomes and can quickly take over a garden bed and out-compete nearby plants. If you want the mint in the ground, plant it in a container with the bottom removed to contain the runners.
Mint grows best in full sun as long as they are well-watered, otherwise they tolerate part shade. If you are growing mint for their flowers to attract beneficial insects to the garden, plant them in full sun.
Check out our guide to growing mint.
The best time to harvest your mint is in the morning before heat or sun has dried the leaves. For the best flavor, pick mint before the plants bloom. After it flowers, you won’t get as strong a flavor. Simply pluck off leaves as needed, or shearing the stems back, which also encourages good branching and new flushes of tender growth.
See our favorite mint julep recipes here.
More Varieties of Mint
Mentha suaveolens has a delightful wintergreen flavor and fragrance. The fresh leaves can be used to make apple-mint jelly or a stomach-soothing tea. Like other mints, it can be invasive. Applemint grows 3 feet tall and can spread several feet wide. Zones 5-9.
This variety of Mentha piperita is a fast-spreading selection with dark green leaves, purple-tinted stems, and a light chocolate-mint fragrance. It grows 3 feet tall and can spread indefinitely. Zones 4-9.
Mentha haplocalyx is a traditional Chinese herbal remedy for colds and sore throats. Also known as Bo He or Chinese mint, the plant has higher menthol content than many other mints, giving it good sinus-clearing properties. It grows up to 30 inches tall. Zones 5-9.
Mentha requienii, also known as Corsican mint, is a diminutive little mint that has tiny leaves and gets no more than 4″ tall. While not used as commonly for culinary purposes, it makes a fragrant groundcover. Zones 6-9.
Mentha x gracilis, often referred to as ginger mint, is a lovely mint has bright green foliage with yellow veins. It has a gingery scent atop the common mint fragrance. Zones 5-9.
Mentha spicata ‘Julep’ is a selection of spearmint that grows 18-24 inches tall and 14-18 inches wide. In summer, it bears ivory to white flowers. Zones 4-11.
‘Hillary’s Sweet Lemon’ Mint
Mentha dulcia citreus ‘Hillary’s Sweet Lemon’ was developed from a cross of apple mint and lime mint, affording a fruity, citrusy aroma to the plant. It was named for former First Lady Hillary Clinton. The plant produces gray-green foliage, which grows to 18 inches tall, and, like most mints, it can spread aggressively. Zones 4-9.
‘Himalayan Silver’ Spearmint
This variety of Mentha spicata has silvery, elongated leaves on plants that grow 18-24 inches tall and wide. In summer, the plant produces an abundance of pinkish flowers, which dry well. Zones 4-10.
‘Kentucky Colonel’ Mint
This Mentha spicata selection is a spearmint with excellent minty-green foliage, often used to flavor mint juleps and mojitos. The plant bears white, pink, or lavender blooms in summer and grows 2-3 feet tall. Zones 4-9.
Mentha spicata ‘Mojito’ has a flavor suitable for the Cuban drink by the same name; however, it is different from the true mojito mint, which is a hybrid between spearmint and apple mint. ‘Mojito’ grows 2-3 feet tall and spreads at least as wide. Zones 4-11.
Mentha piperita f. citrata ‘Orange’, also called bergamot mint, develops bright green leaves lightly tinged with red. The foliage has a lovely citrus fragrance and flavor that makes it a good addition to a wide range of dishes. It grows 3 feet tall and spreads several feet wide. Zones 4-9.
Mentha aquatica, as its name suggests, grows in standing water up to 3 inches deep. It also can grow in moist garden soil. In summer, water mint bears lavender-purple flowers. The plant grows 2-3 feet tall and spreads unless contained. Zones 5-11.
‘The Best’ Spearmint
This Mentha spicata variety is an extremely vigorous variety of spearmint. It tolerates frequent shearing to harvest its minty, wrinkled green leaves for tea or flavoring other dishes. The plant grows 24 inches tall and spreads at least 18 inches wide. Zones 4-11.
Variegated Pineapple Mint
Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’ brightens corners of the garden with its white-edge leaves. This mint has a fruity flavor. It grows 3 feet tall and several feet wide. Zones 5-9.
Mentha spicata offers a mild flavor that gives the plant versatility in the kitchen. Spearmint can withstand higher soil moisture; tuck it beneath a downspout for a happy mint patch. Zones 4-9.
This selection of Mentha x piperita packs the strongest mint flavor. It grows 12-30 inches tall and 18 inches wide. Zones 3-8.
‘Todd’s Mitcham’ Peppermint
Mentha × piperita ‘Todd’s Mitcham’ is a variety of peppermint that is widely grown commercially for peppermint oil extraction. It has high essential oil content and is resistant to verticillium wilt. Zones 4-9.
Mentha longifolia is a type of water mint native to the Mediterranean, but it also has naturalized in much of the eastern United States. It has numerous common names, including horsemint, Habek mint, brook mint, and buddleia mint. With its elongated gray foliage on a plant growing up to 4 feet tall, it resembles butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.). Zones 5-11.
Mentha arvensis, also known as field mint or corn mint, is native throughout most of North America. It bears whorls of white, pale lavender, or pale pink flowers from mid- to late summer. You are most likely to find plants through native plant society plant sales. Like most mints, it can spread aggressively. Zones 2-10.
Garden Plans For Mint
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The fragrant mint family dominates the herb world
It is astounding that so many of our most popular and valuable herbs including what I would consider the majority of the finest culinary herbs are in the mint family.
Some surprising members of the mint family aren’t considered herbs at all: ajuga (the ground cover known as carpet bugleweed), bee balm, coleus, lamium (another ground cover), obedient plant (Physotegia virginiana), and salvia.
Although these plants are tolerant of a wide range of environmental factors, for best results grow them in full sun. The soil should be well-draining and of average fertility, with a slightly alkaline pH. Seeds of some mint family herbs may be slow to germinate, but they all grow easily from stem or root cuttings.
Lavender. The history and lore of lavender has been entwined with mankind for thousands of years. Invading Roman soldiers probably brought lavender to the British Isles. It soon became associated with soaps, laundry washing, baths, perfumes, sachets, and potpourris, thus making life cleaner and definitely more fragrant.
Lavender also is useful in the kitchen try it in vinegars, fruit, salads, and poultry dishes.
English lavender and its many varieties are most commonly grown in our American gardens. French, or saw-toothed, lavender is OK for USDA hardiness Zone 8 or so, but it’s worth growing as a container plant in colder regions. Another tender lavender is the purple-flowered Spanish lavender.
Lemon balm. This herb was used by ancient Greeks and Romans and today is valued as a tea, garnish, perfume, and as a seasoning for veal and poultry. The botanical name for lemon balm is Melissa officinalis, which is appropriate for an herb that attracts bees (melissa means honeybee in Greek).
Mostly, lemon balm is grown for its refreshing fragrance. But it’s also decorative in the garden. There are types with attractive variegated leaves and all kinds have white, pale yellow, or rose flowers toward the end of summer.
Lemon balm may flop over as it gets tall; pruning it regularly will encourage bushiness.
Basil. A classic herb, basil is essential in the kitchen. Gardeners of ancient Greece and Rome believed that basil would thrive only if the gardener cursed and shouted when he was sowing basil seeds which gives a whole new meaning to the advice that you talk to your plants!
Basils range in height from dwarf to more than 3 feet. Since they’re frost-sensitive, basils are most often grown as annuals. They come in several leaf colors (purple is popular at the moment) and a number of growth habits. Many are attractive enough to use as ornamentals in flower beds as well as in herb gardens.
Basil seeds sprout quickly in warm, sunny locations with rich, moist soil. Pinch off basil flower buds and one or more pairs of leaves regularly, both for use in salads and pestos and to make the plants bushier. Basil and tomatoes are a particularly tasty combination.
Oregano. Many gardeners grow oregano, expecting it to smell and taste like the commercial “oregano” used to flavor pizza and spaghetti sauces. In truth, commercial “oregano” consists of a variety of plants, including oregano, sweet marjoram, pennyroyal, and spearmint. Consider oregano a flavor rather than a specific plant. The herb that smells and tastes most like the pizza or spaghetti “oregano” is sweet marjoram.
Sweet marjoram. A tender perennial throughout much of the United States, it has stronger flavor and fragrance if grown in fertile soil (unlike most herbs, which are grown in average to slightly poor soil conditions). In medieval times, marjoram’s fragrance was said to revive person’s spirits; therefore this herb came to symbolize both happiness and protection.
Pinch it back to encourage bushiness, then enjoy cooking with the clippings. The small leaves are a valuable seasoning to many dishes from meats to soups to stuffings.
Rosemary. Native to Mediterranean regions, where it grows on rocky hillsides, rosemary has a long history. The single species, a cold-sensitive bushy evergreen, has been developed into a number of excellent varieties. It has a reputation as the herb of remembrance and friendship.
The botanic name is from the Latin ros marinus, meaning dew of the sea. Rosemary is one of the most flavorful and aromatic herbs of the mint family.
Gardeners in colder climates often keep rosemary plants in containers all year long, putting them outdoors only during warm months.
As a culinary herb, rosemary fresh or dried will flavor vinegars, sauces, meats, soups, and stews. It has a strong flavor use it sparingly.
Salvia. This genus includes herbal sages as well as many spectacular garden flowers.
As a culinary herb, sage is the Thanksgiving herb a necessity for turkey dressing a must for herb gardens and a favorite of cooks everywhere. It also makes great herbal teas, sausage flavorings, and garnishes for mixed dishes and salads.
Garden sage is a shrubby perennial with gray-green leaves that have a pebbly, lizard-skin surface. Although sage is evergreen where winters are mild, it dies back to the ground in severe cold. The variegated forms are less hardy and may not always return after a cold winter. Lilac-blue whorls of flowers appear in early to midsummer.
Pineapple sage, a frost-tender, shrubby, four-foot plant from Mexico is grown as an annual in Northern gardens. The bright-green leaves have a sweet pineapple flavor and aroma. Grow the plant in a container on a patio and place an oscillating fan behind it to get full benefit of the delightful fragrance.
Pineapple sage’s late-summer, red flowers are eye-catching favorites of hummingbirds.
Savory. The two major herbs of this genus are summer savory and winter savory, both natives of Southern Europe that have been used for more than 2,000 years. The two savories, both about a foot tall, have the same wonderful fragrance and a somewhat similar taste, reminiscent of marjoram and thyme. Summer savory is a bit milder, winter savory more peppery.
Summer savory, an annual, has smooth, narrow, gray-green leaves and small, sparse white or lilac flowers that appear from midsummer to frost. Winter savory is a shrubby somewhat-evergreen perennial.
Thyme. Thyme has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years, was grown in Sumaria three milleniums before the time of Jesus.
Thyme comes in many forms and flavors. Thymes may be dwarf or standard in size (about 6 inches tall), prostrate or erect, plain or variegated, hairy or smooth. Common or garden thyme with its whorls of summer flowers of lilac, white, or pale purple is the most used culinary thyme. An essential herb in the French bouquet garni, it is also an important ingredient in stews, and vegetable dishes.
Although some of the thymes lack significant taste, the best loved varieties are full of flavor.
In taste and fragrance, thymes range all the way from the traditional slightly peppery thyme taste to lemon to lavender to coconut. Several of these are culinary favorites of good cooks everywhere.
The thymes have leaves that are oval to rounded, without notching or scalloping. Because their stems tend to get woody as they age, it is a good idea to restart thymes every three to four years.
Common thyme may be called English thyme or French thyme and there are several forms called lemon thyme that truly do not look much alike. The best thing to do is to find the thymes that you like, then maintain them through division or cuttings.
The number of herbs in the mint family is extraordinary. The true mints would be enough to brag about, but add the other marvelous herbs, and this becomes one of the most valuable plant families in cultivation.
Barbara Perry Lawton is the author of a new reference book on the mint family: ‘Mints’ (Timber Press, $27.95).
Care Of Lavender Mint Plants: How To Use Lavender Mint Herb
Mints are aromatic garden plants that have so many culinary and medicinal uses; everyone loves them. There are as many flavors of mint as there is ice cream. Varieties include chocolate, banana, apple, spearmint, peppermint, orange, ginger, and the ever popular lavender mint plants. Mints are attractive plants and make delightful additions to teas, soups, cold drinks, salads and desserts. Lavender mint has delicate purple flowers and is hardy in USDA growing zones 3 to 7.
Growing Lavender Mint
Growing lavender mint (Mentha piperita ‘Lavendula’) isn’t difficult, as mint is generally not fussy and a perfect starter plant for those just getting into gardening. Like peppermint, lavender mint plants have a red stem and delicious floral overtones.
One caveat that must be mentioned about growing any type of mint is its invasive nature. Once mint gets started, it runs like a freight train throughout the garden. It is best to contain lavender mint in a fairly shallow, wide pot, for best results. It’s also a good idea not to combine different types of mints together but give them each their own space.
You can also put mint in large tin cans or buckets with open bottoms and bury them in the garden to keep plants contained. However, if you have a large open space and require a perennial groundcover, lavender mint is a good choice, as it tolerates some shade and will grow well under trees and shrubs as long as it gets a little sun daily.
Although mints are not particular about the soil, if you grow it in a pot, be sure to use a loamy soil that drains well.
Care of Lavender Mint
Mint plants are a breeze to care for and are often called the perfect lazy gardener’s companion. Care of a lavender mint plant in a pot is minimal as long as you make sure that the soil does not become overly dry.
Keep the soil evenly moist and offer more water during especially dry times. A layer of mulch helps mint plants in the ground retain moisture.
Mint can be cut back in the fall and mulched for overwintering. To share mint, dig and divide plants or start new plants from leaf cuttings.
How to Use Lavender Mint
Like other mints, the lavender mint family is remarkably versatile. This mint is equally at home in the kitchen as it is in the medicine cabinet. Most often used dry for potpourris and teas, lavender mint is also a key ingredient in a number of personal care products including lip balms, shampoos and creams.
Add a sprig or two of lavender mint to your salads, pastas or soups for a taste enhancer. Fresh lavender mint is also a pleasant addition to a glass of cold lemonade or on top of a dish of fresh strawberries.
The mint family is something most of us are familiar with. We know mint from our oral health care products: spearmint and peppermint have become the default flavor of toothpastes and mouthwashes. We might also know mint as an herbal tea. Some of us know it in jellies. It is the ubiquitous garnish, of the dessert world, adding that touch of green.
However, we unknowingly use the mint family (Labiatae, aka Lamiaceae) far more than that, and with a turn back to self-sufficiency, we could actually be using it more than we already do. The cousins, uncles, and siblings of what we recognize as mint (the Mentha genus) carry a wide array of notable flavors for cooking, medicinal values for home remedies and ecological benefits for the garden.
There is so much more to mint than toothpaste and dessert plates.
Classic Mint Flavors
For those who have experimented with growing mint a little, we know that what we recognize as mint, plants from the Mentha genus, have great variety in and of themselves. While most of these are culinarily characterized by a bright, refreshing flavor, there are subtle tastes beyond that. For those of us who have experimented with mint as an ingredient, we know that mint has much more versatility than tea and ice cream. Amongst the most popular of Mentha flavors are:
- Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
- Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
- Apple mint (Mentha suaveolens)
- Chocolate mint (Mentha x piperita ‘Chocolate’)
- Lemon mint (Mentha x piperita citrata)
For a little investigation with the classic mint flavors, try using these 10 Peppermint Recipes and these 15 Chocolate and Mint Recipes to try out the different flavor variations in homemade sweet treats. To move beyond dessert and into savory snacks and tasty cocktails, check out these 15 Ways to Use Mint in Your Recipes This Summer.
Source: 1Day Review/Flickr
Common Culinary Herbs
When we look at the mint family as a whole, not just those members of the Mentha genus, the flavors get much more wide ranging. The thought of using the mint family in savory dishes is actually commonplace. In fact, most Western culinary herbs do come from the Labiatae family, and many of these are in our spice cabinets now, only we might not have recognized them as a type of mint. What’s more is that each of these types of mints has many subspecies of flavor to play with, e.g. pineapple sage, lemon thyme, and Thai basil.
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
- Sage (Salvia officinalis)
- Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
- Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
- Rosemary (Rosimarinus officinalis)
Not that the majority of cooks need help figuring out how to use these members of the mint family, there are some awesome recipes to try out for celebrating this new knowledge of mint: Baked Herb-Crusted Cashew-Almond Cheese, Za’atar Grilled Eggplant, Chickpea Pizza with Herb Pesto, and Mixed Herb Lentil and Wild Rice Soup. Then, check out this incredibly useful guide to pairing herbs with the right vegetables.
Source: NC State Extension Gardener/Flickr
Hidden Gems of the Mint Family
The expanse of the mint family goes much wider than what we’ve mentioned thus far. There are plenty more members that we are familiar with and possibly enjoy regularly. There are other members that we ought to give a try. And, due to the fact that we have limited to space and time, there are other members we won’t even get to today. That said, these are some other mints to try or try again.
- Savory (Summer: Satureja hortensis, Winter: Satureja montana) Summer savory is an annual plant and is the more commonly used of the two. Winter savory is perennial and has a slightly more bitter flavor. Savory is used similarly to sage, and it is a common component in the herbes de Provence blend. Savory can be substituted for thyme and sage, though usually the more easily found thyme and sage are substituted for it.
- Chia (Salvia hispanica) Chia seeds actually come from a mint family plant, and of course, for plant-based — or any for that matter — eaters, these are a great source of protein and healthy fats. There are all kinds of ways to use chia seeds in everyday recipes, such as breakfast cereal, pancakes, burgers, and smoothies.
- Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) Hyssop is a beautiful plant for landscaping and great at attracting bees and butterflies. It is also edible and medicinal. It has a mint-licorice flavor that works in infused liqueurs (see: absinthe), as well as marinades. The flowers can be put into salads. This one is strong tasting, so it should be used sparingly.
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) Lavender is something we are much more familiar with aromatically than culinarily. Its scent is known to have a calming effect that warrants its inclusion in lots of bath, massage and aromatherapy products. Lavender also works in the kitchen. It brings a floral flavor and is often used in conjunction with other herbs.
- Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)/Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) Bee balm, be it cultivated or wild, is a beautiful addition to flower, butterfly and bee gardens. It also can add some funk and flavor to food. The flowers can be tossed into salads, the leaves and flowers can be used to season cooked foods and, most notably, the leaves and flowers are often components of tea blends.
Source: Michele Dorsey Walfred/Flickr
Make Life Minty
Though it wasn’t the focus of this article, most of the mints listed above have a slew of medicinal qualities that keep us healthy and kicking. They do things like boost our immune system, soothe our joints and stimulate our brains. In other words, it makes sense to include mints in our life. We can put them in the garden, we can put them on our shelves and, without a doubt, we should put them in our recipes.
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