I’m a self-proclaimed mint addict. At my herb farm in Old Fort, North Carolina I grow 13 different types of mint. They range from sweet to pungent. It’s one of the easiest herbs to grow and you can do it almost anywhere.
C’mon y’all, grow some mint!
Did you know that “mint” is a family of herbs that includes lavender and lemon balm? Yep, it is. To grow your own mint plants you must keep a few things in mind:
- they need at least four hours of sunlight a day, and more is better as long as they don’t dry out completely
- they tolerate most soil types – except areas where they may be submerged under water for long periods of time
- and most mints are drought tolerant once established, provided they get some moisture every week.
Most varieties of mint will survive winter quite well. In colder climates, they tend to lose their leaves and hibernate underground until the soil warms up in the spring. Then they go crazy, growing almost overnight. Here in North Carolina, mints stay close to the ground, even changing color in some cases. Orange Mint turns a nice burgundy color during the winter, adding color to a dying landscape. And while the plants are not large, you can still harvest some leaves throughout the year.
Mints need space! Grow them in a container or raised bed for best results because they have a tendency to spread and take over. I have Curly Mint in my lawn that smells great when I mow. Can’t beat that!
So many types of mint!
So how many varieties of mint are there? No one really knows for sure, but we do know there are MANY. I grow the following varieties:
- Orange Mint – as mentioned before, with rounded leaves that are scented with a sharp orange peel scent
- Mountain Mint – a variety that is native to my area that gets about 3-4 ft tall and has a mild vanilla mint scent
- Curly Mint – a spearmint-scented mint with twisted leaves
- Ginger Mint – smelling faintly of ginger, with rounded leaves that have a lighter colored vein in the center of the leaf
- Chocolate Mint – yes, it smells and tastes like mint chocolate chip ice cream!
- Pineapple Mint – has fuzzy leaves that are often variegated with a cream-colored edging, and it tastes and smells like pineapple
- Apple Mint – smells like green apples
- and of course Spearmint and Peppermint!
This year I added four new mints to my collection:
- Grapefruit Mint – with a sharp bitter edge of grapefruit
- Zazu’s Mystery – which is just like Chocolate Mint, but creeping
- Reginald’s Mystery – a larger upright variety, similar in appearance to Zazu, but without the chocolate scent
- Pennyroyal Mint – Pennyroyal is a specialty mint most often used for keeping insects off pets. It has a high amount of pugelone, a compound that may cause uterine contractions. For this reason, it should not be used by women that are pregnant or could become pregnant.
Most mints are stimulating, but in small amounts are safe for almost everyone. Pennyroyal is the only mint I know of that carries a warning.
I’ve ordered more mints, and I guess that exceeds 13, but then, who’s counting? One of the new ones I have coming soon is Candy Cane Mint – you guessed it, it smells and tastes like candy canes, that sweet peppermint that we can never forget. Another is Mojito Mint, with an edge of lime. This one is just right for those cool, delicious summer drinks. And I just got seeds for Lemon Mint. Lemon Mint is not a true mint but does have similar characteristics. It’s actually a Monarda or Wild Bergamot – still in the family, but not an actual mint. I had a Black Peppermint plant a few years ago, but it died out, and finding a replacement has proven difficult.
Some others I’d like to try are Eau de Cologne Mint, Cat Mint, Catnip, Water Mint (the forerunner of Peppermint), Banana Mint and Lavender Mint. I’m sure there are many others that I haven’t mentioned. Maybe someday I’ll have them all!
Using your mint
One of my favorite treats is mint chocolate chip ice cream. But even better is an after-dinner drink highlighted with mint. Different mints would add different flavors, but for the following recipe, I used Curly Mint which is one of the Spearmints.
Minty After Dinner Drink
You will need:
- 6-7 mint sprigs, bruised
- ½ cup alcohol (I use bourbon)
Drop the bruised mint into a jar and add the alcohol. Shake vigorously. Allow it to sit for a week in the sun, shaking every day. After a week, strain and bottle the alcohol. If you want a stronger mint flavor, repeat the process with the same alcohol, but use fresh mint.
The drink recipe:
In a tall glass, add about a tablespoon of organic cane sugar. Dampen it with a bit of water and add mint sprigs along the side. Add crushed ice to the top. Pour about a shot (1.5 ounces – more or less depending on your glass) and then a bit of Crème de Cacao. (If using Chocolate Mint, you can omit the Crème de Cacao.) Top off with some half and half. Upend a glass over the top and shake well. Add a straw and enjoy!
This drink doesn’t have a proper name – I made it up one evening when I had a lot of mint left after cutting it for drying.
Mint dries very well and can be stored for about a year. Use it in tea, in your cooking, and in soap and other beauty products.
Try a few new kinds of mint this season and soon you’ll be in Mint Condition!
photo by dinner series