Man has made use of mint as a flavouring in food since time immemorial and a mention is made of this useful herb in the gospels of both Luke and Matthew. The Ancient Greeks used mint as a scent. The Romans added it to their baths. In Britain, where having a bath is more or less a novelty of recent times, mint was much used as a strewing herb over the floor.
Some Garden Mints
Spearmint is the kind associated with new potatoes, green peas and mint sauce. Botanically, this is Mentha spicata, but mint plants vary from one garden to another. Whichever mint you already have in your own garden probably suits your palate because most of them are excellent. A selection of different mints suited to a herb garden is given along with, where it exists, the English garden name, though there is some confusion in mint names.
- M. arvensis var. piperascens (Japanese mint)
- M. citrata (bergamot mint, pineapple mint, citrus mint)
- M. cordifoha
- M. gattefossei
- M. x gentilis (ginger mint)
- M. longifolia
- M. piperita (peppermint)
- M. piperita var. officinalis (white mint)
- M. piperita crispula (crisp-leafed form of peppermint)
- M. pulegium (pennyroyal)
- M. requiem: (Spanish mint)
- M. rotundifolia ‘Bowles’ (Towles’s mint’, pea mint)
- M. rotundifidia variegata (apple mint)
- M. spicata (spearmint, common green mint)
- M. spicata crispata (curl-leafed mint)
- M. sylvestris (horsemint).
For culinary use there are no better forms than spearmint and ‘Bowles’s mint’ and both or either should be included in a collection; white mint is also worth considering because of its attractive foliage colour. For something different in herb aromas, orange mint and pineapple mint are worth growing.
Plants vary in height according to variety; heights shown in seedsmen’s lists refer to the maximum attained if plants are permitted to flower. The average height is 1-1 ½ ft., but there are exceptions. M. requienii is the smallest; it has very small leaves, but with typical, but minute mint flowers. ‘Bowles’s mint’, on the other hand, will grow to almost 5 ft. Most mints may be planted in front of taller growing herbs, with M. requienii as an edging.
Mints are moisture-loving plants and although often recommended for growing in window boxes, they do better if grown on their own in a window box or large pot, because the regular watering which they require in summer may not suit other herbs grown with it.
There is one drawback with mint in the herb garden. It can become an invasive weed. This can be prevented by planting in old pails. Holes are made in _the bottom and they are then filled with good top soil. The pails are sunk in the ground to within an inch of the rim. Plastic pails or large pots may be used. Before plants are established, the colourful rims of plastic pails may be an eyesore. Hide them by spreading moist peat as a thick mulch around and just over them. When the mint has made lush growth, brush aside the peat so that mint roots do not run into the surrounding
Although it needs adequate water in a hot, dry summer spell, garden mint is not a marsh plant and good drainage is essential. Both flavour and aroma are better where the plants receive all the sunshine possible, though plants will grow well in partial shade.
Young plants may be set out in spring or autumn, usually in small clumps, four or five small plants 6 in. apart. Propagation is easy. Just tear off a stem with a small piece of root attached and replant; keep the divisions well-watered until they are properly established.
In the first season do not rob young plants of foliage for use in the kitchen until they are about to flower. Tips may then be gathered for use. Side growths will develop and these may be pinched off for use. Once established, pick as and when required for flavouring new potatoes and green peas in June and July.
It is a common practice to dig up the plants every three or four years and to replant roots 2 in. deep in another part of the herb garden after the soil has been dressed with garden compost.
Mint is susceptible to the fungal disease mint rust. This is more likely to affect spearmint than other mints. It shows as orange, rusty spots on leaves and stems. Dig up and burn affected plants.
The dwarf form of M. pukgzum, with small oval leaves and numerous mauve flowers, may be used to make a mint lawn in a shady situation. Set out young plants 6-9 in. apart. Keep the site free from weeds until the plants have made a closely knit bed.
Choose a dry, sunny morning in July, before plants show signs of flowering. Cut stems about 9 in. long and hang them in small bunches on a clothes line. Rapid drying is important. The dry mint should be rubbed between the hands and stored in jars or boxes in a dry place indoors. Mint which is not dried rapidly tends to bleach. If rain falls during the drying process, browning occurs. A second cut may be taken and dried in September in dry, sunny weather.
Mint may be added in small quantities to salads. Dried or freshly cut, chopped mint may be sprinkled on pea soup and buttered, boiled new potatoes may also have a mint sprinkling. To give a mint flavour to new potatoes or green peas during boiling, add only two or four sprigs.
Spearmint and ‘Bowles’s mint’ are of use in the preparation of mint tea which is made in a teapot and drunk as an aid to digestion.
A simple recipe is to chop mint leaves very finely, sprinkle on a little sugar and add vinegar. If dried mint is used, ‘reconstitute’ the mint first by pouring a little boiling water over it before adding sugar and vinegar.
- Mix 4 pint of ale, 4 pint of water and bottle of sherry.
- Add the juice of one lemon and float two bruised mint leaves on the surface for 15 minutes.
- If you use dried mint, allow this to soak in the mixture for 30 minutes and strain before pouring.
- Wash and slice 2 lb. of unpeeled, uncored tart green apples into I quart of cold water in a preserving pan.
- Add 4 teaspoon of citric acid and several sprigs of mint.
- Bring to the boil and cook till soft and pulpy.
- Then strain through a jelly bag and leave to drip over-night.
- Measure the juice and bring to the boil and to each pint of juice stir in 1 lb. of sugar.
- If you require a more minty flavour, hold a bunch of fresh, well-bruised mint in the liquor for a few minutes and continue to boil and test for setting.
- Pour into jars and cover with jam pot covers to exclude air.
Choose an open position and one where the plants can spread some distance without becoming a nuisance. Roots should be obtained in March and be strewn thinly all over the selected site, then covered with 11 in. of finely broken soil. Almost any ground will grow mint, but it is an advantage if a little manure or compost can be dug in first. If a winter supply is required, some roots should be lifted in October or November, placed in shallow boxes and lightly covered with soil. Then place them in a warm greenhouse, where they will soon ptoduce fresh green shoots.
Mint rust is the only important disease.