How To Grow And Use Mint

The perfect garden starter plant, mint produces an ample harvest that can be used in a multitude of ways around the home.

by Lisa Steele
PHOTO: Lisa Steele

Mint is probably the easiest plant you could ever consider growing in your garden. In fact, it’s so invasive, you’ll likely spend more time ripping it out from places you didn’t want it growing than you will pampering it. Therefore, it’s best to plant mint in a container, bury a barrier underground about a foot to block the roots from spreading and sending out runners, or situate it far apart from other crops so it doesn’t overtake your entire garden.

There are many varieties of mint, including spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, apple mint and orange mint: Even catnip, lemon balm and pennyroyal are in the mint family. Spearmint is generally used in cooking, while peppermint or chocolate mint is usually preferred for baking or sweet dishes. All the various types of mint share the same square stem and fragrant leaves, and will flower in a spike at the top of the stem if not trimmed. The different varieties of mint will cross-pollinate and develop into hybrids if allowed, so it’s best to plant them apart from each other.

Growing Mint

Mint grows prolifically, so contain it by growing it in pots. (
Lisa Steele

Mint is easily transplanted by pulling up a section—roots and all—and replanting it in a new location. Alternatively, you can trim a few inches off the top of the stem and root it in a glass of water before planting. Mint enjoys growing in full sun in dry, even, sandy soil and is a perennial in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9, but grows in nearly every climate around the world. Flowers will appear on the stems generally beginning in late-summer. For the most intense flavor, it’s best to harvest the leaves before the plant bolts, but because mint is such a prolific grower, you’ll find you can trim and snip your plants all summer long and still leave plenty for later.

Harvesting and Using Mint

There are many ways to use mint, from sweet and savory dishes to preserves to fly repellents. (
Lisa Steele

Use It Fresh

When it comes time to harvest, trim the largest leaves from your plants in the early morning after the dew has dried off the leaves but before the heat of the sun has warmed them. Mint leaves can be used fresh and brewed into hot or iced tea—just fill your coffeemaker’s basket with freshly cut leaves and a split vanilla bean and brew—used to garnish desserts, such as cakes or cupcakes; or even in a vase as greenery for a flower bouquet. If you like pesto, you can even substitute the traditional basil with mint. Fresh mint leaves also add an extra level of deliciousness to plain homemade vanilla ice cream.

Preserve It For Later

If your mint harvest is overwhelming, you can always preserve it for later use or for gifts by making it into a mint jelly or by drying it. To dry, spread the leaves in a single layer on a screen or cookie drying rack and air-dry them—it should only take a few days—then crumble them and store them in an airtight canister. Dried mint leaves are a common ingredient in many Mediterranean dishes, both sweet and savory, and especially good with peas. Both the jelly and the dry rub pair excellently with lamb.

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Freshen and Cool

Mint helps with digestion and freshens breath. Homemade dog treats using mint as an ingredient can help your furry friend’s breath not be quite so stinky. Mint also lowers body temperature naturally, which is one reason drinks like the mojito and mint julep are summer favorites, especially in the South. Muddling some fresh mint leaves into water, iced tea or lemonade will not only impart a fresh taste to your beverage, but also help keep you cool in a hot day.

Repel Insects

Mint helps repel insects and rodents, so a sachet of dried mint leaves tucked into your pantry or kitchen cabinets can help keep pests at bay. Planting mint around the foundation of your house, barn or chicken coop can help keep insects and field mice out, and planting some around the edges of your garden will help repel bugs there, too.

For an easy, all-natural fly repellent at your next picnic or barbecue, try soaking a few cotton balls in vanilla extract and then placing them in a mason jar with a handful of fresh mint leaves. Some cheesecloth over the top of the jar to allow the fragrance to escape will keep those flies away from your food. This fly repellent also works well around the barn or coop area, set on a shelf or other surface near where flies are congregating.

Mint is such a versatile and easy plant to grow, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t have a place on your farm. Plant some this season, then watch out—you’ll have an ample harvest to use throughout the year for many different purposes!

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