Almost everyone recognizes the taste and smell of mint. Perhaps because it is often used in toothpaste, and breath-freshening candies. It is one of my most favourite herbs, especially for a refreshing tea that soothes away gas and pain and rattled nerves!
I can't even recall when I first met up with the plant itself, and discovered that I could easily grow it and make myself mint tea, or shred bits of mint leaves into my salads, and other dishes. I can't say the mint-flavoured toothpaste excited me much, but I sure do love my mint tea. Especially when I make a large pitcher full and then add ice cubes. Whenever I serve this to guests I hear praise, and requests for more.
You can be sure I don't mind it spreading in my flowerbeds and multiplying at all. I encourage that!
In Jethro Kloss's book, Back to Eden it says simply, "Very quieting and soothing. Eases pain. Excellent for suppression of urine, suppressed menstruration, nausea, vomiting, and gas in the stomach and intestines."
Kloss gives the botantical information as "Monarda punctata, with the common names of American horsemint, origanum. Medicinal properties: stimulant, carminative, sudorific, diuretic, emmenagogue." When I looked those up, I discovered that he was referring mainly to horsemint and that stuff grows predominately in the southern and eastern United States. The kind I'm growing here is Spearmint. (Yes! like that chewing gum).
Mint generally can be used in a beverage (mint tea), and helps calm down nausea, pain, indigestion and bowel gas. Spearmint, Kloss says more specifically in Back to Eden is useful for colic, gas in stomach/bowels, dyspepsia, spasms, dropsy, nausea and vomiting, painful or scalding urine, and piles, and excellent to stop vomiting in pregnancy, quieting for the nerves.
(He added a big warning never to boil Spearmint; I wonder why).
When I went to write about mint, I did some further research and made even more interesting discoveries. Just in case this means something to you, I'll give you the basic scientific information on mint; its kingdom is plantae, its division is magnoliophyta, its class is magnoliopsida, of the order, lamiales. Its family name is lamiaceae, its genus is mentha, and its species is M. spicata. Lastly, its binomial name is mentha spicata.
The most common types are hybrids and have names we know as spearmint, peppermint, ginger mint, and large apple mint. I read there is also one called chocolate mint. I look forward to meeting up with that one!
Generally, these common types grow about 30 to 100 cm, with stems and leaves that range from hairy to quite hairless, and with an underground rhizome root system that spreads and pops up more mint plants every few centimetres. Spearmint, for instance, has longer leaves with a serrated edge. Some of the others have shorter and more ruffled looking leaves. All of them grow their flowers in long slender spikes with clusters of tiny pink or white florets around the spikes. The colour depends on the particular type of mint. All of them emit their lovely lingering fragrance when you grip or crush the leaves in your hands.
Here's another list I found of the latin species names along with their common names. You may recognize the ones from your area.
And there are more varieties of mint! Whew! All this in trying to identify the mint I've got growing so well! I've discovered there is far more information out there than I really wanted to know! Judging by the photos I saw, I have narrowed mine down to Spearmint, or Lime mint, or a woolly, curly whatever... I've decided to get back to what seems more important to me. But if you need to know all kinds of names and scientific stuff, go do some research. There's plenty of information on the internet.
We won't go into all the folklore on mint, for it goes back into Greek mythology. However, I noticed that it was grown in medieval gardens and was used in cooking as far back as the days of Charlemagne (742-814). He insisted that it be grown by the acres full, along with 77 other herbs in his famous gardens. - Now, don't you wish there were photos of that?
You will find recipes that call for mint to flavour meats, like lamb, but also with early potatoes and peas, as well as in salads and my simple tea, and oh, sure, even as jellies.
You can plant a stem of mint just about anywhere, and it is likely to take root, and eventually take over. It thrives best though, in well-tilled, moist soil, (not water-logged), and it likes some shade. Try it on the north side of your house, or under some trees, or if you want to control it, plant it in a container. You can take those pots inside when there is danger of frost.
I've discovered that the roots will winter through in our cold Saskatchewan weather, and in the spring be spread all over my flower beds, and maybe even popping up on the lawn. Because it grows and spreads so fast, I'm deliberately letting it fill my front flowerbeds right now, so that they will look green while I'm waiting for my slower plants to get established. When the mint seems to get out of hand, I can always pull it up and harvest it for use in the kitchen.
There is not much you need to do, but you can mulch the mint plants, as it helps to keep the soil moist. Some people like to add bonemeal to the soil. (I have not bothered with that expense). You can pinch out the flowers, as that they are suppose to reduce the amount of leaves that grow after that. Again, I have not done that, and not lacked for leaves.
I do try to do a thorough harvest-picking early in summer. This makes the plants fill out the more. So then I can do another picking at the end of the summer. Maybe even a third in the fall.
Mint is only susceptible to rust. If you see orange blots on the underside of the leaves, remove all the affected plants and burn them before the disease spreads to everything else you have growing there.
To harvest mint for my teas I go out and pick a big handful or perhaps even fill an ice cream pail when I see lots. One can use a scissor to cut off the upper lengths of mint, or just pinch them off with your finger nails. I like to leave the root and a few inches of the stems as they will soon sprout more leaves.
I wash them in the kitchen sink, to get rid of the dust and dirt, and then spread them on a large sheet of wax paper. I spread that out somewhere near a fan. (I have one going in the basement most of the summer to air it). In a day or two I can turn them over, and check for dryness.
When the leaves are brittle enough so that I can crush and crumble them in my hands, - I do that, and push the reduced crumbs of mint into a washed vitamin bottle. When all the dried leaves are put away, I make labels for my bottles and put them where I can find them when I want to make my teas.
Sometimes I have dressed up some of the jars and spent extra time on the labels so that I can give my little jars of mint away as gifts.
First, I fill a kettle with water and boil it. As that comes to boil, I prepare my mint.
An old-fashioned spice or tea-ball works for me. If the holes are on the large side, so the leaves will drift out, I line it first with a torn off but clean piece of paper towel. That acts as a filter, but doesn't hinder the flavour. I line the tea-ball with the paper and then with a teaspoon, fill the ball with dried, crumbled mint leaves. (If I want to mix flavours I might add a teaspoon of another complimentary herb).
Then I close the tea-ball and hang it in the teapot or pitcher in which I am making this tea.
(Optional). A heaping teaspoon, or squirt of honey to taste goes into the pot. You could also let each person add sugar or honey in their tea cup.
Pour the hot water from kettle into the teapot or pitcher, and let it steep a few minutes. Sample the tea. If not as strong as you like, let it steep a bit longer.
To turn this into iced tea, I just take out the tea-ball and add ice cubes. as many as the pitcher will allow. Sometimes a few minutes in the fridge will help chill it down faster. Then pour into glasses and serve.
It is so refreshing! And if you have just eaten a meal that gives you the discomfort of gas or flatulence, the tea will soon soothe away that tummy ache. (If you are drinking mint tea for that purpose you would be better to drink the hot tea, as cold beverages tend to seize up the bowels).