A guide to mint

Nick Moyle and Rich Hood

Mint is one of the most dependable herbs in the garden and one of the most versatile in the kitchen. But even though it’s easy to grow there are a few things worth knowing if you want to maximise your minty rewards…

Mint varieties

Mint is a member of the Lamiaceae family of plants that also includes sage, basil, thyme and lavender. It’s the Mentha genus that contains the varieties that we commonly refer to as mint, which includes numerous species and hybrids, each with a slight twist of appearance and flavour. 

The two main players in the culinary mint world are spearmint (often referred to as common mint or garden mint) and peppermint. Spearmint is the archetypal tall, bushy-leaved herb with a sweet menthol flavour that makes it so popular in any number of dishes, while its cousin peppermint (a hybrid of water mint and spearmint) is packed with much more menthol, giving a peppery bite to its enhanced mintiness.

Other varieties worth exploring include apple mint, with its tall stems and large, fluffy leaves;  Moroccan mint, the leaf of choice for tea-makers; and chocolate mint, one to impress your pals with courtesy of its chocolatey aroma.

However, be careful if you decide to cultivate a collection of mint varieties—grow them too close together and their signature characteristics will fade into a generic mintiness. 

 

Growing mint

It doesn’t take much skill to successfully grow mint—get yourself a healthy young plant from a garden centre or nursery and it will likely survive in most soil conditions; give it warmth, moisture and good drainage and it will positively thrive.

Mint grows from rhizomes, which have a habit of rapidly spreading below ground, so a happy plant can take over a patch of garden in no time. It’s for this reason that mint tends to be confined to pots, which can be kept indoors or outside. Regular picking will help to keep it healthy and stimulate new growth, but as those rhizomes spread you’ll notice that after a few years your mint is at its busiest around the edge of the pot with not much action in the middle.
  
This means it’s time to rejuvenate your plant, but there’s no need to dash to the garden centre with debit card in hand, because propagating a new plant is easy. To grow mint from a cutting, simply snip off a finger-length tip, pinch out the bottom few leaves, place in a jar of water (refreshing it every couple of days) and wait for roots to appear. When you have a healthy tuft of roots simply pot up the stem and you’re well on the way to a healthy new plant. Alternatively, dig up your tired old mint in early spring or late autumn and cut those rhizomes into smaller pieces before returning each one to a pot.

 

Cooking with mint

The fresh, zingy menthol flavour that bursts from mint’s leaves is equally suited to savoury and sweet dishes. Here are five of our favourite uses…

Spicy food
Mint works a treat with spicy food, especially in Thai dishes that feature its flavoursome friends ginger and lime. It’s also great in curries and salads that contain a kick of chilli.

 

Mint sauce
Finely chop some mint leaves and drop them into an even mix of vinegar and water (sugar and salt optional) and you have an instant sauce. It’s most celebrated as a drizzler for lamb but we think it’s a much more versatile dressing than that and will regularly spoon it over other roast vegetables, peas, green beans, or use it as a dip for crusty bread and pittas.

 

Raita
For a cooling sauce or dip that works wonders with a whole range of dishes, rustle up a raita. This is essentially chopped mint and grated cucumber mixed into Greek yoghurt, but that can be just the starting point for some saucy experimentation – try adding any combination of ginger, lime, coriander, cumin or mustard.

 

Mint chocolate
We all know that mint goes great with sweet courses as sprigs of leaves are used as a garnish for just about any dessert you can think of, but we'd argue this is underusing its flavour. Be more confident and chuck a handful into your next pudding, particularly if it contains a whole load of chocolate.

 

Mint tea
If you’ve overdone it on dinner then nothing will ease your bloated stomach as well as a cup of mint tea. You can take an age prepping it like a veteran Moroccan mint tea maker, or you can simply grab a small handful of leaves, scrunch them up to help release their oils, and place in a cup or pot with boiling water. 

 

Read more: Leafy greens you can grow in your garden

Read more: How plants can add value to your home


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