Growing Mint: From Harvesting to Using

Discover tips for growing mint, including how to harvest and use it.

| March/April 2014

  • Mint has several uses and benefits. Find out how to grow this multipurpose plant.
    Photo by Fotolia/anjelagr
  • Mint can be used for a variety of medicinal purposes.
    Photo by iStock

For many people, the mention of mint conjures images of candy canes and chewing gum, but the uses of fragrant, useful and easy-growing mint extend far beyond the candy counter. Among the easiest plants in the world to grow, aromatic mint is a lovely and low-maintenance perennial to grow indoors or outdoors. In the kitchen, mint makes an excellent addition to recipes and uplifting teas. And long-time favorites in the medicine chest, peppermint and spearmint are rich in compounds that may help alleviate indigestion and gastrointestinal concerns, improve breathing, treat gallstones and combat viruses.

A Brief History of Mint

Although it very likely began even earlier, human use of peppermint has been recorded since ancient Greece. According to Greek legend, mint was originally a nymph named Minthe; she was transformed into a plant when Persephone—the goddess of spring, and later of the underworld—became jealous of her husband Pluto’s interest in Minthe. Unable to reverse the spell cast by his wife, Pluto gave Minthe a delightful scent that filled the senses whenever anyone walked upon her in the garden. Varieties of mint grow around the world. Along with Europe and the Mediterranean, mint has a long history of use in the Middle East and North America.

Growing Mint

The 25 types of mint include well-known peppermint and spearmint as well as more exotic varieties such as apple mint, orange mint, chocolate mint and many other hybrids. You don’t need a green thumb to grow mint, although you may have one after harvesting it thanks to its rich chlorophyll content. Mint’s invasive nature makes it among the easiest plants to grow. In fact, if you want to confine mint to one section of your garden, you may want to plant it in a container at least 15 inches deep and then bury it in the ground; mint grows thick stems that connect underground, spreading throughout any garden space and overtaking neighboring plants. Mints will also grow happily indoors in pots—just be sure to choose a large pot to give the plant room to spread.

Mint prefers a cool, moist spot but can easily grow in full sun if watered regularly. If it is growing in indoor potting soil, mint should have sufficient nutrients for a few months. Fertilize mint plants using about half of the amount suggested on the package of organic fertilizer for indoor plants.

Harvesting and Using Mint

Pluck mint leaves off plants as needed, or snip sprigs about an inch above the soil. To dry mint, cut off sprigs an inch above the soil, wash, dry, bundle together (no more than an inch thick), and hang upside down in a dark, dry place. Once dry, pull the leaves off the stems and store them in an airtight container for up to a year.

Tasty treat: When cooking, add chopped mint to vegetable dishes, rice bowls, fruit or vegetable salads, and soups (especially gazpacho). Mint is great with lamb dishes.

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