Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mighty Mint.

Years ago, when I was a new gardener, I experimented with container garden designs. I followed the “thrill, fill, spill” rules, but I shunned any other contrived combinations. I wanted my container gardens to be unique. Interesting. Rule breaking.

One of my early designs involved something mundane, like geraniums, paired with mint to trail over the edge of the window box.

After a month, the geraniums were MIA. The mint smothered the pretty pink blooms. My container became a monochromatic ode to overpowering mint.

Mint is a force to be reckoned with. While its leaves entrance us with sweet, sharp, spicy, and sometimes fruity fragrance, its relentless growth dominates the garden, overpowering poor, helpless neighboring plants like a bully on the playground.

Invasive is an understatement.

Still, I grow a lot of mint in our herb gardens. I'm just careful to reprimand it, giving it a quick whack when it gets out of line. And sometimes mint gets solitary confinement when it's too unruly, quarantined to a container. Alone. With no other plants to harass.

Regardless of its ill behavior, I love mint. I love the tried and true basics—peppermint and spearmint. I love chocolate mint and pineapple mint. I love the rustic mountain mints, growing wild in the Appalachians.

More than anything, I adore the potential of mint. Used for everything from teas to tinctures to organic cleaning products and insect repellents, mint's versatility amazes me.

When I was young, my first experience with mint (other than candy, of course) was the fluorescent green mint jelly that accompanied roast lamb. I don't remember anyone in the family eating the jelly, except for my dad. It pooled on his plate, melting into the lamb. Each bite of lamb received a drippy dollop of bright green jelly on top.

I wonder if that jelly contained any real mint?

Today, I can imagine seasoning lamb with a rub of crushed, dried mint. I fantasize about making homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Except that we don't have an ice cream maker.

(For $99, I can buy the ice cream maker attachment for our KitchenAid mixer. Or for $99, I can buy 20 half-gallons of already prepared mint-chocolate-chip ice cream. Hmmm. Decisions, decisions.)

Growing Mint
Mint grows easily in the garden—too easily. Because of its invasive tendencies, you may want to dedicate a container to growing mint. If you plant it in the garden, watch it carefully to make certain it doesn't overpower and crowd out other plants.

Mint likes rich, moist soil and sunny conditions, but it can tolerate a bit of shade. Some mints are prone to rust, and mint flea beetle can cause browning and loss of leaves. Check your mint when harvesting to ensure it's free of any pests.

Harvesting and Cooking with Mint
Mint can be used fresh or dry. To dry, hang the mint in a warm, airy place away from direct sunlight. When thoroughly dried, crush leaves and store in an air tight container.

Dried mint is less overpowering in recipes than fresh mint. Besides the culinary stylings of bright green mint jelly, mint adds flavor to potatoes, peas and salads, as well as many dishes from eastern Mediterranean and Indian countries.

Most commonly, though, mint is a natural choice for an easy tea. Traditionally, mint tea treated digestive issues, relaxing the stomach and easing discomfort.

We brew mint tea because it smells delicious. And it tastes good.

Plus, there's something very soothing about holding a cup of fragrant mint tea in your hands before bedtime.

Mint Tea

Harvest a handful of fresh mint leaves and rinse well. 

Place leaves in a teapot or pitcher. Bring a kettle of water to a boil. 

Pour the boiling water into the teapot, allowing the mint leaves to steep for at least five minutes. With a wooden spoon, bruise the leaves in the water, which helps release the oils. Pour through a strainer into tea cups and enjoy. You can also add honey or sugar for a bit of sweetness, but we found the flavor delicious without sweetener.

Mint is one of my favorite garden delights.

And oddly enough, as I just looked through one of my herbal books, I found a recipe.

For mint jelly.

And this mint jelly actually contains mint.

I think we might need to give it a try, in honor of my dad.

Happy mint-growing!

XO ~


1 comment:

  1. Oh I will have to try mint tea. I have a pot of mint, I know how invasive it can be. Great post.
    one of my MG friends made mint chocolate chip ice cream....really good. We have an ice cream machine, Cuisinart about $35 --- :-)