Monday, January 9, 2012

Permaculture Plants: Mint

Everyone should be growing mint!  
Spearmint, Mentha spicata

Common Name: Mint
Scientific Name: Mentha species
Family: Lamiaceae (Mint family)

Apple Mint (aka Wooly Mint), Mentha suaveolens

Description:
Mint is a plant that needs almost no description.  It is a small, running, highly aromatic, perennial herb.  The leaves have been used for thousands of years in culinary and medicinal applications.  Very useful in forest gardens to cover large areas under trees, protecting soil, and providing food and shelter for beneficial insects.  I have always considered this a must-have plant, and usually have one or two clumps or pots growing somewhere.  I currently have one potted plant and one jar full of cuttings just taking root.

Spearmint, Mentha spicata (aka M. viridis) is one of the best known Mints.

History:
There are between 13 and 30 recognized species of mint and about as many hybrids; it all depends on who is citing what research.  It is hard to identify where these herbs originated as there are species on every continent.  I can only assume that this plant had its origins in Pangea before the continents separated!  Most cultures in places where mints grow have used mint in culinary and medicinal ways for thousands of years.  Many anthrobotanists (those who study plants in cultures and society) believe that it is almost impossible to find many species of mint that have not been influenced by the people living nearby... a co-evolution of plant and society.

Trivia:
  • "Mint" comes from the Greek word minthe.  Minthe, a nymph in Greek mythology, was transformed into a plant by Queen Persephone just before Minthe could be seduced by Hades (aka Pluto, the god of the underworld).  Unable, to undo the curse, Hades was at least able to give her a sweet scent.
  • Mint oil can be used as an insecticide.
  • Many of the common cooking herbs are in the "Mint Family", Lamiaceae, including rosemary, basil, sage, and oregano.
  • Peppermint, a hybrid, has been dated as far back as 10,000 years!
  • Pineapple Mint is just a variegated form of Apple Mint - meaning its leaves have white spots

Fresh mint, just before flowering, is the best mint to be used.

USING THIS PLANT
Primary Uses:
  • Fresh eating (salads, flavoring)
  • Cooking
  • Dried
  • Teas (fresh sprigs can be added to your teapot and steeped for 2-3 minutes)
  • Flavoring in beverages
  • Main flavoring component in some alcoholic drinks (Mojito, Mint Julep)
  • Jelly
  • Ice Cream

Secondary Uses:
  • General insect nectar plant, especially bees (i.e. attracts beneficial insects)
  • Aromatic pest confuser
  • Weed suppressing ground cover (Apple Mint and Horse Mint are ideal; other species should be interplanted with other ground cover plants to create enough density to be weed suppressing)
  • Dynamic accumulator of K (potassium) and Mg (Magnesium)
  • Medicinal properties (multiple traditional and modern uses)
  • Lacewings prefer laying eggs on Mentha over other plants

 Corsican Mint, Mentha requienii, looks and behaves quite different than its relatives.

Selected Species:
  • Mentha aquatica - Water Mint (Zone 4-10):  Tolerates very wet, marshy soil
  • Mentha arvensis - Field or Wild Mint (Zone 3-8):
  • Mentha longifolia - Horse Mint (Zone 4-10):  Great ground cover. Can tolerate light foot traffic.
  • Mentha pulegium - Pennyroyal (Zone: Traditionally used in teas and foods, but the concentrated essential oil is highly toxic.  It has been used as an abortifacient, sometimes with tragic results.
  • Mentha requienii - Corsican Mint (Zone 6-10): small, slow growing, very shade tolerant, can handle foot traffic well
  • Mentha spicata - Spearmint (Zone 4-10)
  • Mentha suaveolens - Apple Mint (Zone 6): Great ground cover. Can tolerate light foot traffic.  Sometimes known as wooly mint due to its hairy/downy leaves.

Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) - Franz Kohler, 1897

Selected Hybrids:
  • Mentha x piperita - Peppermint or Chocolate Mint (Zone 3-10): Cross between Water Mint and Spearmint.  One of the best known and widespread mint plants.
  • Mentha x villosa - Bowle's Mint or Cuban/Mojito Mint (Zone 6):  High shade tolerance.  Not a good individual ground cover.


Harvesting: Spring - Autumn, essential oils in the leaves are at their peak just before flowering.  This would be the ideal time for harvesting to dry leaves


Storage:  Fresh leaves do not last long.  I often will keep a bunch sitting in a glass of water in the kitchen window for up to a week.  Leaves or sprigs can stay in the refrigerator, wrapped in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag, for 3-4 days.

Mints have tiny flowers, like this Water Mint, Mentha aquatica, but vary from purple to white.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 3-10 depending on the species (see species list above)

Plant Type: Small to Medium Herb
Leaf Type: Deciduous (may be Evergreen in more mild climates)
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer, Ground Cover
Cultivars/Varieties: Many species and varieties available.

Flowering: July - September

Life Span: Indefinite as it spreads

Peppermint, Mentha x piperita, a must grow of the Mint plants

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
Size: 6 inches to 2 feet (15-60 centimeters) tall and indefinitely wide, depending on the species
Roots: Rhizomes (underground stems that send out creeping roots, shoots, and above ground stems)
Growth Rate: Fast

Horse Mint, Mentha longifolia, is a great ground cover.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
Light: Prefers full sun to light shade (depending on the species)
Shade: Tolerates medium to full shade (again depending on the species, but many Mentha species can thrive in the shade)
Moisture: Medium to wet soils
pH: tolerates a wide range of soil (5.5 - 7.5)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Plant at a spacing of 10-14 inches (25-35 centimeters) to create a complete and efficient weed-suppressing ground cover

Propagation:  From seed, but can be more difficult to germinate.  Roots easily grow from stem or root cuttings placed in water.  Once adequate roots form, the cutting can be potted.  I have found cuttings to be the easiest method by far.

Maintenance:
Minimal.

Concerns:
Expansive - may need to trim runners

The Mojito may be one of my favorite summer drinks - just make it with lots of mint!

Mojito Recipe
  • 2 ounces White Rum
  • 2 ounces Club Soda or Sparkling Water
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 12-15 Mint Leaves - traditionally Spearmint is used
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar

Process
  • Place the mint leaves into a tall glass.  The traditional Mojito glass is the "Collins" glass.
  • Squeeze lime juice over the leaves.
  • Add the sugar.
  • Smash the sugar into the leaves with a muddler (or back of a wooden spoon).
  • Add ice.
  • Add rum and stir.
  • Top with Club Soda.
  • Enjoy!



5 comments:

  1. I love mint! Thank you for your detailed information on so many plants. I learn something each time I visit.

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  2. Peppermint is a hybrid cross between Spearmint and Watermint. I love mint in the garden, to attract beneficial insects such as bees and preditory wasps, and to discourage pest insects. Beware that it spreads like crazy! It can easily be grown in a pot, and blooms can be cut back to prevent the setting of seeds. Enjoy it!
    Gardener in Michigan.

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