Growing and Using Mint
Mint are among the most versatile of herbs. The various types of herbs have been grown for their flavors and medicinal uses alike. No matter where you live, there is a mint that is suitable to grow in your backyard.
Distinguishing Characteristics of Mint
Mints have squared, four-sided stems with opposite leaves and lipped flowers. All parts of mints have a strong pungent smell. Most mints can be extremely invasive, and form thick mats of spreading stolons just under underground. Above ground, mints produce stems that are 2-3 feet high.
Types of Mint
There are many types of mint. Some of the most familiar mints are peppermint and spearmint. Other types include apple mint, orange mint, Corsican mint and other hybrid and variegated forms.
Black mint (type of peppermint) is distinguishable from other types of peppermint by its purple stems and dark green leaves. It grown three feet tall and has spikes of lavender flowers in the middle of summer. Black mint is widely used medicinally and commercially.
Mints Growing in the Missouri Wilds
Many types of mints grow in the wild here in Missouri You always know when you have a mint, when you find that the plant has a square stem and leaves that are directly opposite one another. When you find such a plant, crush a leaf in your hand and smell it. Very likely you will have found a mint and it will have a minty scent.
Horsemint (Mondarda russeliana) grows in south, central and eastern Missouri.
Bee Balm or Oswego Tea (Monarda didyma) can be found in isolated patches in the wild.
Ohio Horsemint (Blephilia ciliata) also grows in the southern and eastern portions of Missouri.
Wood Mint (Blephilia hirsute) is most common in counties that border rivers including the Missouri and Mississippi.
Pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides) can be found statewide.
Dittany (Cunila origanoides) is found throughout the Ozarks.
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) is scattered in central and southern Missouri.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is scattered in central and southern Missouri.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is lightly scattered throughout the state.
In Missouri, mints flower from April to October. They can be found in woods, fields, rocky soil, good soil, abandoned areas and inhabited areas alike. Whenever picking mint or any other wild plant, always use wild plant etiquette and leave at least half of the plant growing in its found location. Never pick from state or federal lands or you may face fines.
If you are unable to find mint in the wild, you can also grow it in your garden. Mints prefer cool moist partial shade, but will also grow in the full sun. Prepare the soil with lots of compost when transplanting mint into the garden. Peppermint demands the most humus and moisture of all mints. Plants can be bought from a reputable gardening nursery online, but if you want to know exactly what you are getting, go to a nursery and pick out plants whose flavor and aroma appeal to you. One plant of each type of mint will soon provide more than enough mint for home use. To prevent your mint from taking over the garden, plant it in deep bottomless containers sunk into the ground or plant above ground in tubs and barrels. Corsican mint looks good planted between paving stones or in a rock garden.
Using Mint as Companion Plants
Mints are good companions for cabbages and tomatoes because they improve their health and flavor. Mint and tomatoes are both strengthened if they are near stinging nettle. Spearmint can keep aphids off nearby plants because the ants (which bring the aphids to the plants) do not like the mint Peppermint drives away red ants from shrubs and planted among cabbage will repel the white cabbage butterfly. When grown with chamomile, it has less oil, but the chamomile benefits from the interaction. Stinging nettle grown with peppermint increases peppermint oil potency.
As soon as your mint has become established and has started putting out new growth, you can begin snipping leaves. To harvest large quantities at a time, cut stems to within an in or so above ground. You will be able to make several harvests during the season. Hang min in loose bunches to air dry, freeze in self-sealing bags, or freeze in ice cube trays filled with water to add to cold drinks.
Using Mint in Cooking
Mint teas can be enjoyed hot or iced. Throw some mint leaves in with orange pekoe tea bags when making sun tea. Remove the mint leaves when you remove the tea bags. The mint adds a cool refreshing flavor to this commercial type tea just what you need on a hot summer day. Leaves are used for making peppermint tea, an ancient remedy for upset stomach. Add chopped leaves to lamb, rice, salads, or cooked vegetables.
To make tea, crush dried leaves (see instructions below for drying mint) and allow a teaspoon per one or two cups of hot water, depending on how strong you want to make it. Allow to steep 3-5 minutes and strain leaves from the liquid. I have a French press that I use that makes this process simple.
To make tea from fresh leaves, add 4-5 leaves per cup of hot water. Again allow to steep for 3-5 minutes.
Mints can be made into jams and jellies to bring the cool minty flavor into the winter months to serve with lamb or venison. To make jelly, use apples, mayapples or crab apples as the jelly base and source of pectin. Cover the quartered apples in water and cook for ten to fifteen minutes. Drain liquid and add one half cup of fresh mint leaves and two tablespoons of lemon juice to the apple liquid. Stir and add a cup of sugar for each cup of liquid. When mixture is ready, strain off the mint leaves and pour into sterilized jars. Cap with sterilized lids and rings.
You can also make mint sauce to marinate lamb using fresh mint. Marinate a handful of leaves (about of a half a cup) add 4 to 5 tablespoons of sugar, an equal amount of water, half a cup of distilled vinegar, and marinate at least two hours in the refrigerator.
Make a mint sauce to serve with the lamb using one-cup mint jelly, one-cup red currant jelly, one-cup chili sauce, and one stick of butter. Melt slowly and serve hot over lamb and rice.
Mint vinegar is simple to make. Cut several sprigs of mint and arrange them loosely in a jar. Cover them with apple cider vinegar, cap and place the jar in a sunny location for about three weeks. At the end of this period, strain off the mint, rebottle and seal. Mint vinegar makes a refreshing dressing for tossed salad.
Try making mint wafers. Dip washed and dried mint leaves and brush with egg white. Roll in white or powdered sugar and place on waxed paper or a food dryer to dry.
Other Cool Uses for Mint
Fragrant foliage is used in potpourris, wreaths, and other herbal crafts. Orange mint is probably best used for its fragrance.
Mint repels against clothing moths indoors and is used against black flea beetles. Mint leaves dropped under rabbit hutches keep flies to a minimum while dried leaves or mint oils keep are rat and mice repellents.
Drying Peppermint for the Winter
Any mint can be dried and used in teas. The best time to pick mint leaves is midmorning after the morning dew has dried, but before the heat of the day. Remove the leaves from the stems. Leaves can be dried by placing them on waxed paper on the kitchen counter and turned occasionally leaving until thoroughly dried. This may take several weeks. Another method of drying the leaves is to place them in cheesecloth and hang near the ceiling in the kitchen or attic. When leaves are thoroughly dry. Place them in a jar and cover with a lid until ready to use the dried leaves.