Mint is often seen as the delinquent in the food garden, overgrowing other plants, slurping up their food and water, interbreeding and running wild. Such unruly behaviour surely needs to be contained, which is why gardeners are advised to plant it in a pot and keep its roots clipped!
But if you are a free-spirited food gardener, here are other ways to make the most of mint.
- Did you know that most mint varieties have the most beautiful flowers that attract butterflies and bees, which will pollinate your vegetables and fruit?
- Pennyroyal will repel ants when planted in the garden. Use low-growing pennyroyal, Corsican mint or slender mint between stepping-stones in the food garden.
- As a companion plant for broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, squashes and tomatoes, mint repels ants, aphids, cabbage maggot, cabbage moth, flea beetle and potato beetle.
- Variegated mints, like pineapple mint (green and white) and ginger mint (green and gold), are attractive groundcovers for planting around the base of fruit trees, perennials and even roses (just keep them away from the stems). They are also attractive container plants.
- Liquorice mint (also known as agastache or anise hyssop) grows into a large plant with spikes of powdery blue flowers that attract the butterflies, and it is hardy and drought tolerant. It is a feature plant in the food garden or flower garden.
- Keep cutting back mint that is planted in the garden. This forces it to bush and reduces its spread. Use the cut mint to flavour iced water, salads, desserts and sauces.
- If you like the wild look, set aside a dedicated area for mint to provide a fragrant haven for beneficial insects, including hoverflies and wasps.
Mint likes moist, rich soil in a partially shaded spot and regular feeding with an organic fertiliser. It dies down in winter but will come up again in spring.
Yummy ways to use mint:
• Flavour home-made lemonade with mint leaves for extra taste.
• Serve fresh fruit with a tangy lemonmint cream. Whisk ¾ cup of plain fat-free yoghurt, ¼ cup of sour cream, ¼ cup of sugar, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh mint until the sugar dissolves. Chill for an hour and add a dollop to berries or other fruit.
• Line a pretty bowl with whole, fresh mint leaves and fill it with strawberries or melon balls.
• Add chocolate mint to filter coffee for a great-tasting indulgence.
• Add chopped fresh mint to spicy stir-fried beef at the end of cooking.
• Use mint leaves as an ingredient in sorbet. Yuppiechef has a delicious watermelon and mint sorbet recipe (www.yuppiechef. com/spatula/watermelon-sorbet/)
• Combine 8 finely chopped mint leaves with ¾ cup of plain yoghurt, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, and ground pepper, and whisk until it is smooth. Use as a dressing for sliced cucumbers.
Know your mint
Mint is a refreshing, cooling herb that has many uses: flavouring food, aiding digestion, relieving anxiety and fatigue, as well as acting as a natural insecticide. Of the 25 species of mint, these are some of the favourites:
Culinary mint varieties
Apple mint is named for the apple fragrance of its hairy, apple-green, serrated leaves. The plant grows 30cm high with mauve flowers in summer. Use it for mint sauce, in cold desserts, sorbet, summer drinks or as a tea.
Basil mint is a large plant (1m high and 50cm wide) with small leaves that have a sweet, basil-mint aroma. The flavour pairs well with melon, tomatoes and fruit salad, or add it to salad dressings and herbal vinegar.
Chocolate mint is a delicious dessert mint for adding to puddings, ice cream and drinks, because of its chocolate peppermint flavour. It grows up to 45cm high with dark green-brown leaves.
Garden mint is the best-known mint, with tasty, very aromatic, mint-flavoured leaves. It is delicious in salads, sauces, salad dressings, summer drinks, desserts and teas. It can also be used to aid digestion and is less pungent than black mint or peppermint. It is a useful natural insecticide.
Ginger mint is a beautiful mint with serrated, variegated gold-and-green, ginger-scented leaves and small mauve flowers in summer. Use the fresh leaves in salads and for floral decorations.
Julep mint is the party mint because its sweetly scented leaves are delicious when added to punches, coolers and other refreshing summer drinks. The plant is hardy and low growing (25cm high), acts as a natural insect repellent and can be used to aid digestion.
Pineapple mint leaves and flowers can be used in salads, desserts, drinks, with vegetables and in fruit salads. The small white flowers are a pretty garnish. It has a height and spread of 50cm.
Spearmint is very similar to garden mint but has a crisper flavour and crisper leaves. Like garden mint, it is a fragrant, cooling herb for adding to drinks, desserts and savoury dishes, and for making into a soothing tea.
Medicinal mint – Black mint has strong digestive properties, and a tea made from its leaves can be served at the end of a rich meal. The very dark brown, oval leaves have a strong peppermint scent, and the plant produces purple to pink flowers in summer.
Insect-repelling mint – Pennyroyal mint comes in two types: a creeping variety that can be used instead of lawn, and a more upright-growing variety. Both repel ants and fleas, and the leaves release a strong peppermint fragrance when stepped on.
Slender mint is a mat-forming groundcover with small green leaves and clusters of light purple flowers. The leaves release a mint fragrance when crushed and they are insect repellent. Use like pennyroyal or Corsican mint.
Fragrance mint – Eau de cologne mint is a tall-growing mint (60 cm) with a fragrance that is reminiscent of lavender water with citrus overtones. Infuse and add to bathwater or potpourri, and use as an air freshener. It produces clusters of lilac flowers that contrast with dark green leaves.
Liquorice mint (anise hyssop) has anise/liquorice-smelling leaves. The plants need to get acclimatised before they really take off. They like a rich soil and seem to overwinter better if you don’t cut them back until spring. Excellent as a herbal tea and in potpourri.