Simply the Best Herbs-April

IMG_7284 The world is like a little marsh filled with mint and white hawthorn.

Mary MacLane

 

Good thing I am not trying to blog about what is blooming in my garden as winter returned with a vengeance this past week in the form of almost a foot of snow that was blowing and drifting.  The winds were gusting causing many white outs making it was hard to drive to work Temps were in the 20s.  My poor blooms!  But it has melted and more seasonable temps have returned so that I am finally in my garden.  This is the latest I have ever had to wait to get out to clean up and even plant.  And now I am battling the April rains delaying me further.  Frustration due to garden deprivation is setting in.  But there are blooms, so I am consoled by them and look forward to more showing up slowly.

So what better time to highlight another herb while I wait for my garden to warm and wake.  This month I thought I would highlight the common herb mint (with a remarkable history) as I link in with Diana@Elephant’s Eye on False Bay for her meme, Dozen for Diana.  I am also linking in with Susan Troccolo@Life-Change-Compost for her post, Bee Grateful.  Susie and I have teamed up to give away flower seeds to plant for our native bees which continue to be in trouble.  Check the end of the post for more information about the giveaway.

 

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Name

Mint comes from the Latin word mentha, and the Greek word minthe.  The name, “spear” , refers to the spiry form of its flower.

The name mint generally refers to spearmint, (Mentha spicata) unless otherwise noted with specific names; peppermint, pineapple mint, apple mint.  I grow all these and also chocolate mint.  Spearmint, the most common mint, is also know as Garden Mint.  Most of the pictures here are of my big patch of spearmint.

 

 

About

Mentha  is a number of flowering herb plants in the family, Lamiaceae  or mint family.  This family includes many common cooking herbs like basil, rosemary, sage, oregano, and catnip.  There are about 25 species of mentha.  Hybrids of these species can occur naturally.  Mentha can be found across Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and North America.

IMG_7809Mints are cold hardy perennial herbs that grow in zones 3-11.  Mint grows best in wet, moist soils in sun to partial shade. It is actually one of the best herbs to grow in shade.  Mint will grow up to 2 feet high and wide and can spread quickly becoming invasive. So chose a spot carefully that is confining if you decide to grow this herb.  Growing mint in pots sunk into the ground does not keep mint from spreading as I can attest to personally because the roots jump the sides of the containers and send runners.   To be safe grow them in containers above ground.

The flowers range from white to pink to purple and produce small, seedheads.  These seeds can be propagated but are not the best method to quickly grow mint.  It is best to take plant cuttings from the runners.  Mint acts like a groundcover and when the branches flop over they will root quickly.

The most common and popular mints for cultivation are peppermint (Mentha × piperita), spearmint (Mentha spicata), and apple mint (Mentha suaveolens).

Mint is harvested by snipping sprigs and leaves.  If mint isn’t cut regularly, the stems get longer and the leaves get shorter. Once this happens it is a good idea to cut the plants back by half to get fresh foliage.  

 

 

Folklore

Mint has been used since ancient times by the Arabs who made mint tea.
 

In Greek mythology mint was known as the herb of hospitality.  Mint was also one of the herbs used in preparing the dead in ancient Greece.IMG_7261 Ancient scholars also wore crowns of mint to aid their concentration. It was said to stimulate the brain and is used as such even today.

Ancient Greeks used mint to perfume parts of the body especially the arms.

One Greek legend tells of Pluto who was in love with the nymph Minte/Menthe. His jealous wife changed Minte into the plant mint, to be forever trampled.

Mint has a prehistoric history in Europe, and was said to have been introduced to England by the Romans.  In the Middle Ages it was called “Spere Mynte” used to cure many maladies, as a stewing herb and laid on the floors to keep the rooms smelling nice.  During the Middle Ages, powdered mint leaves were also used to whiten teeth.  Mint was recommended as a treatment for hiccups, and digestive issues. It was also used externally to heal skin problems.  In the 14th Century early toothpaste was found that was to be used for whitening teeth.

Josselyn, a 17th century English traveler, wrote of his visit to New England where mint was thought to have been brought to by the Pilgrims.

 

 

Uses

Culinary

You can harvest mint at any time. Use the stems and leaves right away or store them in plastic bags in the refrigerator.  I also put them in a glass of water.  Mint can be frozen in ice cube trays, and dried.  Dried mint can last up to 2 years.  All parts of the plant yield an aromatic essential oil.

IMG_2121Peppermint oil is used more often than spearmint oil. Mint  sauces and jellies are made with the milder spearmint.

Mint leaves and essential oil are used in beverages, jellies, syrups, candies, ice cream, and in cooking vegetables and meat dishes. I also use them for making mint tea.

 

Medicinal 

Menthol is made from mint essential oil and is found in many cosmetics and some perfumes. Menthol and mint essential oil are also used in medicine  and are very popular in aromatherapy. Mint especially in the form of tea is used to treat stomach aches.  I find it works wonders.   Mint tea is also a diuretic.  And mint is also used as a mild nasal and chest decongestant that I have used successfully.

Garden

Mints are used as host plants for Lepidoptera moth and butterflies including the Buff Ermine.

Mints are supposed to make good companion plants, repelling pest insects. But mints can be susceptible to some pests like whitefly, spider mites, aphids, mealybugs.  Mint also attracts bees, butterflies and even birds.

Mint oil is used as an environmentally-friendly insecticide for its ability to kill some common pests like wasps, hornets, ants and cockroaches.  Dried mint also acts as an ant barrier and the oil repels rodents.  We are going to try this outside with the voles.

 

 

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Language of Flowers

In the language of flowers mint stands for virtue.  It also symbolizes love and passion.

 

 

It is the destiny of mint to be crushed.  ~Waverley Lewis Root

 
 
 
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 Seed Giveaway

I have joined my blogger friend, Susie Troccolo, at her wonderful blog Life-Change-Compost in giving away seeds to help our native bees.  Check out her post, Bee Grateful.  The first 5 U.S. commenters on each of our blogs will win Bee Friendly seeds.  So leave a comment and win some seeds for the bees.

To find out more information about our native bees and how to attract them, check out this great compilation of resources from Beautiful Wildlife Gardens.

I will have another seed giveaway for my birthday in late May.  So stay tuned!

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Check out other posts in the series, Simply the Best-Herbs:

March-Common Yarrow

February-Chives

January-Lavender

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Next up on the blog:  Next Monday we will see where my garden is on Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day.  It may surprise you.   April also brings us garden books, Earth Day and Wildflower Tales.  The garden will be busy and I hope to capture some of the highlights to share.  I hope you will join me.

I will be linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Wednesday.

I hope you will join me for my posts once a month at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. See my most current post now.

As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.

Please remember, to comment click on the title of the post and the page will reload with the comments section.

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2013.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.

 

87 comments

  1. Esther Montgomery says:

    I have four kinds of mint (apple mint, peppermint, mint mint and chocolate mint). All except the mint mint (the kind which goes with lamb) have been eaten down during the winter by the larvae of . . a fly? . . . a moth? and have been made soggy by the constantly fluctuating temperature and moisture levels. As for seasons – I’ve decided to assume everything is a month late so, as far as gardening is concerned, this is, for me, the first week in March. Time will tell whether this spells sense or disaster.

    • Donna says:

      Oh Esther how awful although I expect it is the moth larvae. I was thinking April felt like March as well until the warm up here this past weekend…sending better weather across the ocean in hopes yours will turn for the best.

  2. pbm says:

    Having a chance to finally work in your garden will be especially exciting this year after your heavy winter.

    Enjoyed your profile on mint.

  3. Donna says:

    I too grow mint to make mint tea. Nothing better on a hot, dry day than a big glass of iced mint tea made in the solar brewer.

  4. Christy says:

    Hi Donna….thanks for a very informative post. Last year we planted several different types of mint in the Herb bed. All of them either died or went dormant over the winter except for two that went crazy and have completely taken over the bed. I tried smelling their leaves to determine what kind they are but I can’t tell. We have a big job ahead of us digging this out. (I will pot some of it to give away to friends.) Any idea what kind would grow so well through the winter here in zone 7?

  5. Backyard Urban Farm Company says:

    mint is also great with rum!

    we’re running an Indiegogo campaign to help make our community a good food haven. We need all of your help to make that happen – to build a greenhouse for organic food; a demonstration garden to teach interns how to grow that food; and a pop up shop to make urban farming accessible in a city setting. We really just want to make a difference in our food system – I’m sure you do too!!

    thank you for a great post!!

  6. Grace Peterson says:

    You want to know what I think? Mint was valuable because it covered a multitude of olfactory sins. 🙂 Using it at funerals, etc., it probably helped make the event tolerable. God knew what he was doing when he created mint. 🙂

    Great post. I hope spring arrives and elbows winter out of the way once and for all.

  7. tina@inthegarden says:

    I’ve had it jump pots too. It sure does take over so even though I think it pretty and it sure smells great I just won’t chance growing it here. Oh but those smells!

  8. Diana Studer says:

    I have the culinary mint, which, now you mention it, is leggy and needs pruning. It’s gone chilly today and we had our first fire – hope that means your spring arrives!

    We also a have a wild indigenous mint, with woollier leaves, and appreciating a little shade in summer.

    Are your herbs planted in a herb garden? Or amongst the flowers?

    • Donna says:

      It is chilly here too Diana but we will be warming starting tomorrow. I have my herbs mostly lanted amongst flowers with a few spots in the beds to have herbs only. But they seem to blend with flowers some how.

  9. Cathy says:

    That must surely be the last of the snow – hope it warms up soon. We also still have a chill wind and rain is forecast… This post was, once again, very enjoyable and informative. I love mint for the butterflies and bees too. And often add a little to the pot when steaming potatoes.

    • Donna says:

      Cathy I never saw it added to potatoes but I will give it a try. It is still cool today but a spring warmth is coming this week.

  10. HolleyGarden says:

    I have never grown mint, mostly because of its invasive reputation. But, I can imagine that picking some to put in tea would be heavenly. I love the Greek legend about it forever being trampled.

    • Donna says:

      Probably a smart idea not to grow it unless you have a big pot or area to contain it. It is a heavenly smell for sure and my neighbors have been known to come over to the wall garden on the side of the house and pick spearmint for their cocktails.

  11. Nelson says:

    Very wonderful! I only knew that mint especially in the form of tea is used to treat stomach aches. Never thought that it is being used in many cosmetics and some perfumes.

  12. Island Threads says:

    Mint is just so versatile, thanks Donna, I like how you take the time to follow the plants worldwide and not just your own country, lovely photos, Frances x

    • Donna says:

      Thank you dear Frances…as we know plants are universal especially herbs…and also many times ancient in their uses and folklore!

  13. KL says:

    Darn! I am the 10th one and thus no luck for free seeds :-). But, please send me the names of the flowers; I will buy those to help bees. I already do a lot and I think the bees and wasps like my garden too much. They are buzzing everywhere here. When did you have snow again? For the last 2-3 weeks, weather has been gorgeous here :-), with spring in full bloom :-). I also grow mint as it is widely used in Indian food.

  14. Carolyn says:

    I gave up growing mint years ago, Donna. Lovely as it is, it wants to be the star of my garden… as in… it is so invasive it takes over everything. I wonder how it would do in a pot… hmmm. possibilities.

  15. Lavender Cottage says:

    Hello Donna
    Our weather has been the same as yours but I did get a couple of hours in yesterday of garden clean up. Today is pouring rain and tomorrow snow is called for again.
    The only mint I grow is chocolate. It’s a nice addition to hot or iced tea, sometimes just in water.
    Judith

  16. catmint says:

    I always grow the common mint in a pot near the kitchen and use the leaves often for cooking or tea. Round here it’s not a good idea to grow it in the garden because it goes rampant. Although it probably wouldn’t unless there was lot of rain. Pleased to hear winter’s finally leaving, our summer got prolonged too. And good on you and Susie for giving your native bees a hand.

    • Donna says:

      Thanks Catmint. It growing rampant everywhere I think except where there is drought but even then I bet it stays dormant until rain.

  17. Cynthia M. says:

    I’ve had peppermint in my herb gardens for several years, but only just acquired some spearmint, and am looking forward to harvesting it for iced tea this summer! Great herb info – thanks!

  18. PJ says:

    Isn’t the folklore wonderful? I have my various mint plants in solitary confinement as I hear too many stories about it invading wherever it can! 🙂
    I do love mint though – great post x

  19. Charlie@Seattle Trekker says:

    Spring has been really slow coming, but I am harvesting rosemary, lemon balm, catnip, and apple mint for tea so all is not lost. I enjoyed your post and found the information helpful. Thank you.

    • Donna says:

      Thanks Charlie. How great to be harvesting all those herbs. I bring some in so i can use them in winter. Many outdoor herbs are beginning to green up.

  20. Gail says:

    We have mint in our garden that looks dead at the moment, but I noticed yesterday that it is coming back. Thanks so much for all the herb info!

    • Donna says:

      My mint will be growing right out of the ground soon as it dies back in winter. But it grows so big it looks like it has been growing for months and months.

  21. Jennifer@threedogsinagarden says:

    I have just one mint in a pot (spearmint I think), but would love to try a few more varieties like the peppermint or apple mint. Especially interesting to me was the fact that this is a herb that can take some shade. That opens up new possibilities. Have a great weekend Donna!

    • Donna says:

      Jennifer definitely try some mint in shade as it will grow a bit slower. You will love those other varieties as well i am sure.

  22. commonweeder says:

    There are already signs of spring growth in my Herb Bed, covered with a film of snow this am – but my Ashfield black stem mint is not quite up yet. Nor my field of spearmint. Won’t be long though.

  23. debsgarden says:

    I love mint and have grown several varieties. I could never resist chocolate mint! But I would never let them loose in the ground and I definitely grow these in pots!

  24. Liz says:

    Hi Donna,

    Sorry to hear you’re still struggling with the weather! I hope the rain stops soon and you can get to work.
    I’ve a few days off next week and want to get some work done but also get out and visit places – snatch any sun I can find!

      • Liz says:

        Hi Donna,

        The main reason for me having time off was meant to be to decorate and attempt to get the house ready to sell…. But with the weather being rubbish I decided I’d not bother with the time off and just take one day off… Then it’s improved and they’ve been promising ready nice weather and changing their minds all the time. So now I’ve decided to take three days, I’ve no idea if I’ll end up with good or rubbish weather.

        Oh well, I’m sure you’ll get the work done… And hey, even if you don’t, it’s no major biggie; the plants will still be there 🙂 Take it easy, it’ll be OK.

  25. b-a-g says:

    I don’t have a problem with mint being invasive because I love mint tea. I usually pound it in a pestle & mortar with a tiny bit of sugar as an abrasive to get out every bit of mintiness.

  26. Janet/Plantaliscious says:

    I’m glad you warned about the roots jumping the boundaries of buried pots Donna as I was planning to plant my mint like that! Now I think I will put the plants in a half barrel I rescued, I just need to find it a suitable part shaded spot that is still easily accessible for the kitchen. I have the standard culinary mint but also a lovely variegated trailing mint given to me by a neighbour when we arrived here. I must get my hands on some apple mint too and then I should have a lovely pot. A virtuous pot!

    • Donna says:

      That is a great idea Janet..a barrel or something contained is fabulous for lots of mint. Looking forward to seeing that virtuous pot.

  27. Andrea says:

    We also have mint but it is another species. However, i’ve never seen it flower, just like the rosemary which has lovely blooms in cold climes. Your mint’s bloom is wonderful with the fully green background. Lastly, i am awed at your diligence in replying to all the so many commenters. And thanks for always visiting my sites.

    • Donna says:

      Thank you Andrea for visiting and commenting. I would love to see a picture of your mint sometime. I love being able to reply as it feels like friends keeping in touch!

  28. Nancy Lewis says:

    Thank you for this most informative post. Your photos are absolutely gorgeous. I have three laying Cayuga ducks and am interested to know what herbs are good for them, so will be back to read more!

  29. Arija says:

    I love mint and lemon mint tea, I just wish the plants would have a little respect and not invade the rest of the garden like hungry hordes.

    • Donna says:

      Lemon mint tea sounds wonderful and something I will have to try…they do behave badly my mint plants. Wonderful to have you visit.

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