Few herbs are as easy to grow or offer as many uses as our herb in the spotlight – mint
By Roger Fox
Photography Shutterstock & iStock

The refreshing flavour of mint has earned it a place in cuisines the world over. You’ll find it in everything from savoury dishes and salads, to desserts, teas, summer drinks and cocktails. Fresh leaves always offer the best flavour and the plant is so easy to grow (too easy, some would say), there’s no reason not to have it on hand all year-round.

Mint appears in Greek and Italian recipes, as well as Middle Eastern, Asian and Indian dishes. In English cooking of course, it’s the key ingredient in the classic sauce served with lamb. Finely chopped, fresh mint is delicious tossed in with buttered new potatoes or fresh spring peas.

How you grow it

Mint is a spreading groundcover, which will happily wander far and wide. One way to restrain its spread in a garden bed is to plant it into a black plastic pot with the base cut off, which has been partially submerged into the soil so that the rim sits above ground level. This stops the runners from escaping.

Mint will grow in full sun but prefers semi-shade and likes plenty of moisture. Feed with a soluble fertiliser every few weeks to keep all those leafy stems sprouting.

You can propagate your own mint plants from cuttings or pieces of rooted stem found in a friend’s garden (it’s rarely raised from seed).

When to harvest it

In mild climates, you can harvest mint all year-round – simply twist and pull the stems (or cut with scissors if you prefer). Where winters are cold, plants will go dormant for a few months, but rebound in spring.

To prepare mint for cooking, wash and dry it, then strip the leaves from the stems (unless you are using short sprigs as a garnish).

As mint is a plentiful herb, it’s rarely preserved by drying but if you do want to save it, freeze the chopped leaves in ice-cube trays. The minty ice-cubes can be added to cooking or used in cool drinks.

Other Mints for you to know

Mints belong to the genus Mentha and there’s quite a range of species, all varying slightly in flavour and aroma.

  • Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and spearmint (Mentha spicata) are the most common forms.
  • Apple mint (M. suaveolens) has a slightly sweeter flavour and comes in a variegated form with white-edged leaves, which makes a very pretty container plant.
  • Chocolate mint and basil mint are just two of many other unusual varieties.

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