Friday, February 14, 2014

How I use herbs - Mint, Peppermint and Spearmint

As promised, this year I am going to post more regularly about herbs that I grow and use.  I'm going to start off with mint, because its something that grows so easily, but for a long time I wasn't sure what to do with it all!  

Mint is a member of the Lamiaceae family and originated from Europe. There are many different varieties of mint, and in my garden I grow peppermint (Mentha x. piperita), spearmint (Mentha spicata), and another one that I just knew as "mint", but I think its actually Egyptian mint (Mentha niliaca). All the varieties have similar care requirements and similar properties, so I will just write about mint in general.

I think this one is egyptian mint

And this is spearmint
How does Mint grow?

Mints have a habit of invading garden beds, so I keep mine in pots, even then they sometimes manage to throw out a root or a stem and try to get out into the garden. Mint prefers moist conditions and prefers to stay cool, so keeping it in a pot also helps me to move it around into suitable positions as the weather changes. Over winter, I put the pots in the sun, but in summer I hide them under the shade of other plants. This can make the plants grow quite spindly due to lack of sunlight, but they recover when the temperature cools and I can put them back out in the sun. 

Peppermint hiding under the chilli bush
  Mint requires regular cutting to keep it growing well, which is no problem as the excess leaves can be dried, I find that I get the best harvest in spring and autumn when the conditions seem to be just right for mint in my garden. Occasionally when the soil in the pot sinks down, I will tip out the plant, add more potting mix or compost and repot the plant. Regular doses of worm wee also help to keep the plants healthy. I keep the pots in my garden, and they are usually full of worms, so they are virtually part of the garden soil. As long as mint is kept moist and cool, it will grow vigorously with very little care required.

Mint is propagated easily from a cutting, just dig up a stem with some roots attached and replant in another pot, it will soon grow and multiply.

What’s Mint good for?

All mints contain volatile oils made up of menthol and menthone. If you use peppermint essential oil, that is the main constituent, along with some terpenes. If you use the entire leaf, dried or fresh, you also mucilage, tannins and flavenoids. Mints are powerful carminative agents, which means they relax the stomach and add digestion. That is why mint flavours are often used after a meal.

Primarily I use mint for making tea. I regularly trim the plants (all varieties) and dry them. If I only have a small amount of leaves to dry I just rinse the leaves and dry in a colander, but for larger amounts I use a dehydrator. I don’t remove the stalks, I just dry them until the leaves are crumbly and crumble the stalks and leaves into a jar. Mint tea is refreshing and good for digestion. It is quite sweet and other bitter herbs can be added to the tea without affecting the taste. I use mint as a base and add many other herbs, I drink several cups of this tea every day because I like the taste.

I also use fresh mint to make a few different sauces, mint goes particularly well with lamb, but these can also be used as salad dressings:

Mint sauce – apple cider vinegar, honey, chopped mint and a little salt

Yoghurt sauce – yoghurt, garlic, lemon juice, mint and coriander (if I have it, diced cucumber is nice in this too)

And I add mint leaves to fermented fizzy drinks, particularly orange or lemon based drinks, during the fermentation.

A few chopped mint leaves can be nice in a salad too.

Do you grow mint? What do you use it for?

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7 comments:

  1. I use mint in mouthwash. I fill a canning jar with mint leaves, washed and pressed firmly, and then cover with Vodka. After six weeks I have refreshing mouthwash. I also use mint in lemonade. When I am about the farm I chew on the mint leaves. I love how refreshed my gums feel, but I always need to remind myself to brush afterwards, as one time I came in and smiled at my husband and he laughed ever so hard as my teeth were covered in mint leaves!

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  2. Yes I agree that mint likes cooler weather - my mint often looks very bedraggled after our hot and humid summer. I once had chocolate mint which was awesome to nibble on in the garden. My grandson hates green vegetables, but will happily nibble on "garden lollies" that he picks from my mint pot.

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  3. I have spearmint that I rescued from the garden elements recently. I've had rotten luck with mint. Like you however, I've learned they do better in pots. That's where my spearmint is recovering now. Not enough quantity to eat any of it though.

    I prefer my tea with fresh leafs. Lemon balm and pineapple sage tea is a must-have in winter. Really clears up any congestion or sinus issues.

    I must admit, I'm a sucker for peas cooked in mint though.

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  4. Haloumi cheese, grilled, covered in shredded mint and drizzled with oil and a few broad beans or peas or both thrown in.Delicious, and simple.

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  5. I love mint! In tea, in salads, sauces, in lots of things really! The kids love it too :)

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  6. I love mint - sometimes I just cook it to make the kitchen smell nice. Mint Jelly can be good and a nice gift during the Christmas season. Carole

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  7. I grow it but use if primarily in soap making. I'm not a tea drinker (although I long to be!) but I know mint makes a killer after dinner tea.
    I am guilty of just growing it in garden beds and whacking it back or digging it up when it gets out of control! My goal is to make all the different kinds of mint (I have 8 varieties now) and chives be my garden "weeds"!

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Thanks, I appreciate all your comments, suggestions and questions, if you need me to reply personally to a question, please leave your email address in the comment or in your profile, or email me directly on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com

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