Mints are one the most popular herb families on earth. Peppermint, spearmint, apple, chocolate, Egyptian, Moroccan, Corsican, ginger, pineapple, banana … it’s a long list and includes around six species that are endemic to Australia.
The Mentha genus belongs to the Lamiaceae family, which includes other popular fragrant herbs such as bergamot, catnip, sage, rosemary and basil, plus the ever-popular flowering salvias.
There are about 25 mint species originating in Eurasia, North America, southern Africa and Australia. Many have now naturalized in numerous other locations across the globe.
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Mint and mankind have long been known to each other. There are many biblical references to mint as well as mentions of it throughout the history of the ancient Romans, Greeks, Egyptians and Chinese.
Growing mint plants is remarkably easy. Mint is found growing all over the world, so the trick becomes not how to grow mint, but how to thwart it.
Mint has remarkable adaptability to various growing conditions. It can be found growing thickly (and quickly) in full sun, however it’s happiest (and most invasive) in a cool, moist setting with good, bright, filtered light. As long as the runners are contained, you’ll be in good shape.
The aggressive part of growing mint plants happen just under the surface of the soil. These are the “runners”. Plant your mint in a pot and then bury about 2/3 of the pot where you wanted your mint plants to grow. The pot will act as a barrier to mint just growing wild over your whole garden.
The square-ish stem and slightly hairy leaves of most mints is a hallmark of the Lamiaceae family, making it cousins of such culinary superstars as Basil, Sage, and Catnip.
While there are ground cover mints, most range from 2 to 4 feet tall and offer small pink-violet flowers. All are herbaceous and all are perennial. Very perennial.
Light, Soil, and Moisture Requirements
Light: Full sun to full shade, variable by variety.
Soil: average soil, and well-drained.
Moisture: moderate to wet soil. The mint plant likes consistent moisture.
Gardening Tips for Growing Mint
Actually, this section is more about restraining the spreading nature of the mint herb; we don’t anticipate you having trouble growing it.
Unless you absolutely, positively want it to go everywhere, we recommend growing mint in an open bottomed 5-gallon container in the ground, or with some sort of buried metal or wooden barrier suggesting the limit of where you want to grow mint.
My folks grew it where we coiled the garden hose. The dribbling hose made the mint happy, the damage of getting smashed by the hose regularly kept it in check. It was a win-win.
You can start from seed or a seedling with equal ease, and it is extremely divide-able, should your neighbor have a variety you particularly covet.
Mint likes to grow in a sunny to semi-shaded spot with ample moisture. It will grow in a wide range of climatic zones but is often treated as an annual in colder climates, as it dies back over winter only to reappear when temperatures are favorable again.
It can be very invasive because the plants send out stolons (runners), which spread far and wide, developing new roots and shoots at every node.
Grow it in a container to keep it in check. Keep it in its own pot, too, rather than plant it with other herbs, as it would quickly overtake them.
Prune your mint back when it becomes woody. Continual harvesting and regular watering are key, along with regular applications of fish emulsion and liquid seaweed.
Whether you want contrast and pop or subtlety and texture, there are mints for you.
Great color choices include ‘Chocolate’ peppermint, which offers subtle chocolate undertones, and ‘Pineapple’ mint has wonderfully variegated cream and green leaves and a sweeter, fruitier aroma and palette.
For unusually fine grained texture, you can’t beat the teeny, tiny rounded leaves of the ‘Corsican’ mint. This one is a lovely, slower-spreading groundcover tolerant of the kinds of abuse accrued by the plants that line the garden path (hint, hint.)
These are some of the more popular and commonly found mints — by no means an exhaustive list.
1. Apple/Pineapple mint (Mentha suaveolens)
Flavor: Minty with undertones of apple and pineapple. Lovely for apple mint jelly.
To 50cm and spreading. Foliage quite woolly and leaves a rounded shape and either plain green or variegated. Mauve flowers.
2. Banana mint, Mentha arvensis ‘Banana’
Flavor: Minty with very strong undertones of banana.
To 40cm and spreading. Foliage downy and bright lime-green. Growth a little less vigorous than others in Mentha genus. Purple flowers.
3. Basil mint, Mentha x piperita citrata
Flavor: Sweet and spicy with aromas of Italian cuisine.
45–60cm. Upright growth habit. Purple flowers.
4. Chocolate mint, Mentha x piperita citrata ‘Chocolate’
Flavor: Peppermint with chocolate undertones.
60cm high × 60cm wide. Dark-green leaves with dark-red/purple stems. Lilac flowers.
5. Corsican mint, Mentha requienii.
One of the smallest, only 1–3cm high. Tiny round leaves that grow flat like dense carpet. Will tolerate light foot traffic. Lavender flowers.
6. Eau de Cologne, Mentha citrata
Flavor: Lemon perfume/aroma that’s quite sharp.
45–60cm, spread 1m. Green leaves tinged with purple. Lilac flowers. Original source for eau de cologne fragrance and still one of the most fragrant mints.
7. Egyptian mint, Mentha niliaca
Flavor: Mild peppermint, similar to apple mint.
To 90cm. Rare, with long, pointed, serrated leaves covered in fine silvery hairs, giving a silvery appearance. An ancient mint, used since the Pharaohs. Often thought to be referred to in the bible. Purple flowers.
8. Ginger mint, Mentha spicata species
Flavor: Spearmint with undertones of ginger.
60cm high × 40cm wide. Erect habit. Leaves serrated, heartshaped and stems reddish. Lavender fl owers. A true “double mint” because has both active constituents, carvone and menthol.
9. Hung Cay mint, Mentha x gracilis
Flavor: Spicy, zesty Vietnamese mint flavor.
10. Japanese Menthol mint, Mentha arvensis var piperascens
11. Moroccan Mint, Mentha spicata var. crispa
12. Old-Fashioned Garden mint, Mojito Mint, Mentha x villosa
13. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
Tiny mauve flowers. Traditionally used to repel fleas. Has toxic properties due to the active constituent pule-gone.
14. Peppermint, Mentha x piperita
15. Spearmint, Mentha spicata
16. Vietnamese mint, Persicaria odorata
17. White peppermint, Mentha piperita officinalis
18. River mint, Mentha australis
19. Slender mint, Mentha diemenica (means “of Tasmania”)
Cooking with the Mint Plant
And mint is an absolute necessity in Mint Juleps, Mojitos, tabbouleh, and an almost endless listing of foods, candies, and drinks.
- In ancient times, mint was used as a room deodorizer; it was strewn across hard compact dirt floors where people would walk on it, releasing the oils and aromas.
- For oral hygiene, it’s used in toothpaste and mouth freshener.
- It’s a great companion plant as it not only repels bad bugs but also attracts good ones such as bees and butterflies.
- As a personal insect repellent, the foliage can be directly rubbed on skin.
- In aromatherapy, the essential oils menthol and carvone are valued. It can be used as an infusion and added to cosmetics and perfumes.
- Mint makes a good living mulch. We have some growing under our fruit trees to suppress weeds, protect roots from temperature extremes and curb erosion. Plus the flowers attract pollinators. We give it a mow or let the ducks and geese at it to stop it spreading.