Every garden should have peppermint growing for herbal tea, spearmint for Asian dishes, culinary mint for traditional mint sauce and any of the countless others growing just for their foliage and fragrance.
All mints are moisture-loving plants and, except for a few, are perennials that are usually propagated by cuttings or division. Although mint seeds are available, they don’t always grow true to seed so it is far better to buy a plant or take a cutting from a friend’s plant.
Most gardeners who have grown mint know of its invasive tendency as the smallest piece of mint will spread throughout the garden if the conditions are suitable so all varieties of mint are best grown in large tubs or, in fact, old washbasins and concrete sinks. Any large container or tub with drainage holes is suitable as long as a premium potting mix is used which will hold moisture well and contains slow release fertiliser.
Mint grown in WA produces lush, aromatic leaves. It is best grown in part shade as the harsh summer sun can make the leaves a yellow and leathery, especially if the soil doesn’t remain damp. Some believe that mint should be grown in full shade but in our cooler months, autumn to early spring, the humidity may cause it to develop rust.
Mint rust is obvious from numerous small pustules on the underside of the leaves that contain thousands of spores that, when released, will travel on a breeze, clothes or even a pet to infect any other mints in the vicinity. Fortunately mint rust will only affect mint plants. It is not easily treated with chemicals but ensuring that the plant stays healthy goes a long way to stopping it from occurring in the first place.
Rust on mint is easy to control without the use of chemicals. Simply cut the plant down to only a few centimetres from the soil, seal all of the pruned leaves and stems in to a plastic bag and discard in to the bin – do not put in the compost. Cover the remaining stems totally with about a centimetre of potting mix or compost. Water the container well with seaweed extract and within a few weeks the mint will start sending up fresh new shoots that will be stronger and more lush than ever.
In fact, this treatment should be done to mint at least twice every year to encourage fresh new growth but especially if the leaves start to yellow or the stems become leggy.
Mint has many more uses than just the traditional mint sauce for lamb roasts. The Romans, for example, believed that eating mint increased intelligence and Norse healers would feed their warriors mint before going to battle so that they could tell by the smell if the soldiers had been stabbed in the intestine. Persian women used to feed their husbands mint to keep them faithful but this might not be very effective since their husbands would surely be even more attractive once they had fresh, minty breath.
For everyday use, try adding chopped mint to buttered potatoes or rolling cubes of feta cheese in finely chopped mint for extra flavour. For a little indulgence, steep a few mint leaves with green tea and sip whilst relaxing in a warm bath infused with a bunch of your favourite mint. Or for a touch of Thai, include a spearmint leaf with a few strands of garlic chives in fresh spring rolls.
When selecting which mints to grow, take a leaf and rub it between your fingers to release the aroma. It will taste as it smells. With fragrant varieties available that include apple, ginger, chocolate and Eau de cologne the choices can be overwhelming.
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