By Bobbi Henkel - WRHS Garden Chair
Peppermint is one of the easiest to grow and most versatile of the common kitchen herbs. It gives back to your effort with its lovely green appearance and pretty little tufts of terminal racemes of flower spikes. But, the fragrance and the taste potential give its most sought after delights.
Ease of growing: Mint grows in full or partial sun, and can easily be started in pots on your patio, or placed into soil directly in places where you wouldn’t care if it spreads like wildfire.
It attracts pollinators and grows in lousy clay soil like my Ohio backyard, but even better in some cultivated lovely loamy humus. Even Miracle Grow. Don’t let it dry out. It loves moisture and is a frost-hardy perennial in zones 3-12. And, if you’re worried and want it to produce even longer, bring it into your garage or porch over the winter. My pots stay outdoors in Northern Ohio Winters and are about 5 years old so far.
Fresh cut for flower bouquets: The leaves are a pretty deep green growing off square stems that hold their shape easily. You can mix them into black eyed Susans and you have a sensual treat because of the fragrance and the colors. The blooms appear at the terminus of the stems in little tufts of white or light pink or lavender.
To use Peppermint freshly picked: Choose small tender bright green leaves and pick whole stems. Wash it under cold water and pat it dry with a towel.
Add a sprig to garnish a glass of lemonade or iced tea
Add small leaves to fruit salads: cantaloupe, watermelon, berries with a squirt of lemon over them all. Chill and serve. Also? Why don't you mix up fresh Arnold Palmers: 1/2 lemonade with 1/2 cold tea and add 2 tablespoons of minced fresh peppermint. Allow to stand for an hour then strain and serve over ice. This allows a subtle hint of mint. Longer steeping yields stronger flavor.
Freeze finely chopped peppermint (2 tsps) into ice cube tray compartments. Add water or lemonade to fill the cube compartments and freeze. Use the cubes in beverages immediately or up to two months later if kept in plastic bags in the freezer. You are ready for mojitos anytime or you can add them to spice up steamed veggies: baby carrots, new potatoes are the ones I do with a little butter and lemon or lime juice.
Another of my favorite uses for chopped peppermint is to combine it with parsley, bulgur wheat and lemon juice to make your own tabbouleh salads
Dried: wash your fresh peppermint under cold water and pat it dry. Then allow it to dry for a few days in a warm dry not at all humid place. You can hang several stems upside down in paper bags for a few days until the leaves are crispy.
Add it to summer beverages and allow to sit overnight. Strain, and serve over ice. Dried mint is stronger than fresh so this makes a minty lemonade for those of us who love that menthol flavor in tea or ginger ale or lemonade.
Slip a few leaves into your facial mask for a subtle pleasant minty lift that distracts you from thoughts of pandemics.
Steep dried mint into boiling water and add honey for a soothing mint tea great for sore throats.
Make the dried leaves into a “Mint Potpourri” and house them in little fabric pockets to ward off spiders and add fragrance to closets or drawers.
Mint Jelly: This recipe from Simply Recipes is one of or favorites because it uses tart Granny Smith Apples as its base so it needs no added pectin! This delicious jelly will always add a little zip to your roast lamb, fish dishes, or chicken.
The oils in mints are strongest when picked from mid summer leaves when the plants are receiving 14 hours of sunshine a day. Pinch off blooms to retain tenderness in new leaves and bushier plants. Older tougher leaves are stronger tasting and less pleasant, but still make great dried preparations for potpourri’s that are said to repel spiders.
Growing mints in your garden allows a fragrant green colony of plants that are pleasant to humans but not to deer, squirrels, mice, or ants. If you don’t mind their love of life and desire to take over the adjacent spaces, they are terrific 2 to 3 foot high covers serving to hide in front of air conditioner boxes. If you mind their spreading tendencies, sink pots into the soil that impede the roots from trespassing beyond the container limits. I just create “peppermint pots” that offer free aromatherapy when I water them in the evening.
Sigh. Bliss, bliss.