Caption: Fresh-from-the-garden mint is easy to grow and adds a cool, fresh flavor to meals, beverages and desserts.
by Melinda Myers
Add a bit of cool flavor to your beverages, meals and desserts this summer with homegrown mint. Try using peppermint leaves in fruit cocktails and ice cream. Add spearmint to your tea or use the leaves to season lamb and jelly. Or try chocolate mint for a unique, sweet and refreshing flavor in desserts and drinks.
Mint is easy to grow and suited to container gardens. In fact, growing it in a pot will help keep this vigorous herb contained. Or sink a container of mint in the garden or plant where surrounding walks and walls will keep it in check. Keep a watchful eye and remove any unwanted plants as they appear.
Grow mint in a full sun to partial shade location with moist, well-drained soil. Mulch the soil to conserve moisture. Though hardy in zones 3 to 11, you will need to provide a bit of winter protection when growing mint in containers in colder regions. Either sink the container in a vacant spot in the garden or move the planter into an unheated garage. Water thoroughly whenever the soil is thawed and dry.
Gardeners lacking outdoor growing space or in areas with cold winters can also grow this herb indoors. Grow mint in a quality well-drained potting mix. Place in a sunny window or under artificial lights and keep the soil evenly moist.
Harvest the mint leaves as needed. Cut leafy stems off the plant just above a healthy leaf or bud so the wound closes faster and the remaining plant will look better. Rinse off the clippings and remove tough stems and bad leaves before adding mint to your favorite beverage or dish.
You’ll enjoy the most intense flavor when harvesting mint just before the plants begin to flower. This is the best time to make larger harvests for drying and freezing. Fortunately, you can remove up to 75% of foliage from an established plant. Watch for fresh, new growth and continue to harvest as needed.
Store any extra mint cuttings in a vase of water, loosely cover with a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator.
Consider including mint in your patio, balcony or deck plantings. Keeping it close to the kitchen and outdoor living space will make it easy for you to harvest and use. Plus, your guests will enjoy plucking a few fresh mint leaves to add to their iced tea, mojito, other favorite summer beverage or salad.
Not only does this easy-to-grow herb add flavor, but it also aids digestion. Add a garnish of mint to dress up the dessert plate and calm a queasy stomach. And use it to increase the manganese, vitamin C and vitamin A levels in your diet.
Make this the year you plant, harvest and enjoy some minty fresh flavor straight from the garden.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including The Midwest Gardener’s Handbook and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Her web site is www.MelindaMyers.com.