Mint! The flavorful, wonderful, useful, often forgotten herb! Forgotten you say? Well I guess that depends on how far into your herbal journey you are. If you are just beginning then starting with mint is the perfect place to start. If you’ve been studying herbs for a while, maybe you’ve moved beyond mint and let it fall to the side. Well today is a good day to revisit it.
Mint is one of the easiest herbs to get your hands on. It is also ridiculously easy to grow and use! There are many types of mint and you can find most of them at your local plant shop. The two most popular mints are peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and spearmint (Mentha spicata). Spearmint has a sweeter smell to it. Peppermint is higher in menthol and mentho, and therefore has a stronger smell and taste. Because of the menthol properties, peppermint is used in many industries. You can also find other mints such as chocolate mint and apple mint, which are great additions to any tea.
The mint family is large and it grows larger each season. There are true mints, such as spearmint, and hybrid mints such as peppermint, a hybrid of water mint and spearmint. Mint’s hybridize easily. This basically means when you let mint go to seed next to other mint plants, it will easily blend with that plant to create a new plant.
How to Grow Mint
Growing mint requires very little work. If you can find a place to plant it, you are golden. In fact, the real trouble in growing mint is keeping it where you put it.
Mint grows well in deep, rich soil that is well-drained but holds moisture. It can tolerate full sun or partial shade. It's good to keep this in mind when planting your mint but honestly, I never have. I bought a few plants, put them in the ground and now they are everywhere in my yard.
Wherever you choose to plant mint, have a containment plan.
Choose a large deep pot for a bigger harvest, or a piece of your property separate from your other herbs. You can also choose a smaller container. You can bring this in over the winter to keep mint available all year long.
Wildcrafting For Mint
Wild Mint (Mentha arvensis) and American mint (Mentha canadensis) is something I've not researched much. I’ve always had easy access to mint through a green house. Writing this article however, has led me to dig a little deeper.
Wild mint is found all over North America. It grows well in moist areas and areas that have been disturbed by man, such as fields and meadows. Wild mint can be slightly more bitter than peppermint or spearmint, but growing conditions and containment are the same. They say you'll likely smell it before you see it. If you happen to be on a plant walk and smell mint, see if you can find it. If you are looking for identification help, check out Google images, there are plenty of wonderful photos of wild mints.
How to Harvest Mint
To harvest mint, you'll only need two things, a pair of sharp clippers or even kitchen scissors and a basket to carry the plants in. You'll harvest the above ground parts, leaves and stems. The best time for harvesting mint is in the morning when the dew has lifted. Harvest mint after it reaches 6-8 inches tall, prior to the plant flowering. You'll clip the plant 4-6 inches above the ground, just above a set of leaves.
How to Preserve Mint
Preserving mint is just as simple as growing it. You have a few options depending on the space you have. You can bunch the stems in loose bundles, tie them together and hang them, tops down, out of direct sun light, to air dry. If you have a dehydrator you can use this to dry them. You can also lay them out on screens, out of direct sunlight to air dry. You'll know they are ready for storage when the leaves are crunchy but retain most of their color and fragrance.
Other ways to preserve mint include tinctures, oils and freezing.
How to Store Mint
Once you have your dried mint, place it in an air tight storage container. I love gathering old, darkly colored jars to store my herbs in. When I've run out of those, I use Mason Jars.
The key to proper storage is to keep your herbs out of sunlight.
If you are using mason jars make sure you store them in a dark place. If you have made an oil or a tincture with them, store those out of sunlight as well. Your dried mint can last a year or more. If it still smells fragrant then it's still good. It's better to have some old herbs on hand then no herbs at all. Don't compost them if you are unable to resupply.
To keep mint for years to come you’ll want to use a propagation method. Avoid mint seeds as often as possible. While you may be able to grow mint from seed, no matter the type, mint grown from seed will not have the taste or smell of the plants you can purchase.
To propagate your mint, it is best to do so by root divisions or cutting and rooting them. After you've had a plant for 3-5 years, it is good to dig it up, divide the plant and replant them.
How to Buy Mint
If you would like to start working with mint right away and don't have any access to the plant, you can buy mint. If you would just like a few sprigs for cooking, check out a farmer’s market or even your local grocery store. If you would like to have a large amount on hand, there are many wonderful places to buy herbs online in bulk. I use Mountain Rose Herbs and Bulk Herb Store. When purchasing online, you'll most often find dried leaves. Spearmint and Peppermint are the most popular plants you will find when buying online.
Using Mint in your Food
When you add mint to your food you will be adding Vitamin A and small amounts of other vitamins. Spearmint is also a good source of minerals, being high in Iron among others. Most of us know mint because of its use in tea. This is wonderful for both pleasure and health, but you can add mint to so much more than just your tea. Mint brings a cooling and stimulating taste no matter where you use it. It is also an herb known to help with digestion, dissipating gas and indigestion.
If you are a smoothie geek like I am, you probably have a favorite chocolate flavored recipe. Add chopped mint to change it to a mint chocolate smoothie...YUM! Add it to flavored water mixes with cucumber or lemon, or put it in a sun tea.
Another way to use mint for cooking is to freeze a sprig of mint to use for sweets. After the mint is frozen, crumble it and add it to cookies or brownies. Adding mint to fresh salads or pasta salads can really dress up a meal! The options are truly endless.
How to Heal with Mint
Mint is also an amazing medicinal herb! Mint can be used to add a better taste to a distasteful medicinal tea that you are having trouble drinking. It also holds many powers of its own. Mint is a wonderful herb to use if you have nausea caused from morning sickness or motion sickness. Try it as a tea in these situations.
Having dried mint on hand during cold and flu season is a must! Mint can help with mucus build up that comes with seasonal ailments. A warm mint tea can help clear mucus. You can also use it as a steam to clear a congested head.
Other Fun Ways to use Mint
If you've ever brushed your teeth, I'm sure you've noticed the minty taste in toothpaste. With tooth powders becoming more popular, you'll find mint as a key ingredient. Some recipes use the powdered herb and others will use the essential oil for flavor. You can also use a cooled mint tea as a mouth wash.
Mint is a great mosquito repellent. Placing mint plants around your patio can deter mosquitoes. If you add basil and lavender to your patio garden you'll have even more protection from insects. An apple cider vinegar tincture mixed with witch hazel placed in a spray bottle can also be used as a bug repellent.
Peppermint, the Essential Oil
If you have spent any time in the natural online world, you have heard of essential oils. You may not know much about them and it is a very big topic to cover. We won't go too deep here. I do want to mention safety practices to keep in mind when using essential oils.
Essential oils are very concentrated versions of plant parts. They are very powerful but they don't always work exactly as the plant itself would. The constituents in the oil may be slightly different from the whole plant.
I rarely ever recommend ingesting essential oils, especially not in water. Oil and water don't mix and there is a chance that the undiluted oil can come in contact with tissue, causing damage. Always use a carrier oil when using essential oils. To safely use peppermint oil, never use it straight (neat.) You can gain a sensitivity to it. Inhaling it for too long can cause dizziness and confusion among other adverse side effects. Remain aware.
Peppermint oil should not be used at all with children under 30 months old. It can cause breathing difficulties. Peppermint oil should always be diluted in a carrier oil, especially in children between the ages of 30 months to 12 years. Placing diluted oils on the feet of children is a safer way to use the oil. Avoid placing it on the chest or face. If you are using oils with children, do your research, ask questions and be safe
I also recommend doing research on the company you buy the oil from. Most oils found in stores, even health food stores, are very diluted. It is costly to buy a good quality oil, but you'll certainly get better results from less oil. It all equals out in the end and with quality oils you’ll know exactly what is in the oil. Avoid using large amounts of peppermint essential oil if you are pregnant.
Peppermint oil is a very good starter essential oil. It comes in handy in many situations. I really like having one oil, plant, ingredient, etc., that can handle many different situations. This oil certainly does that. To dig a little deeper in this oil and for more wonderful uses, check out this post: Spotlight On Essential Oils: Peppermint Oil.
Peppermint oil saved my life when I was pregnant. If you are having indigestion or heart burn, put a drop of peppermint oil and a drop lemon oil in a carrier oil and rub it on your sternum. This was my go to for relief of indigestion when I was pregnant. Without it I'm sure I would have got a lot less sleep!
I also enjoy a quick sniff of peppermint essential oil to energize me. I’m unable to diffuse it right now because of the age of my children. Instead I have a sniffer with me always, home and at work for quick headache relief or an energy boost.
I hope this post has been helpful and informative. Mint is an amazing plant to have around. I tend to overlook it because it is so simple, choosing more complex herbs to play with. Writing this post has reminded me how powerful this simple plant is and I hope you have realized or remembered the same thing.