Mint is an ancient symbol of hospitality. There’s an old story in Greek mythology of two mysterious travelers who walked through Asia Minor searching for anyone who would take them in for a meal. After being snubbed by everyone they met they came upon an elderly couple, Philemon and Baucis who brought them inside eagerly and rubbed their table with mint leaves to make sure it was clean and fresh for their guests. The two strangers were Zeus and Hermes, gods in disguise who were testing mankind and subsequently rewarded the couple and changed their home into a magnificent temple.
Types of Mint
Mint comes in a dazzling number of varieties but the main types are
- Spearmint – Also known as lamb mint, pea mint, or garden mint. It grows to about two and a half feet in height. It repels flies, and has light green leaves and violet flowers
- Peppermint – Sometimes called white peppermint, is grass-green with violet flowers and is not only good for freshening the air and in tea, it also kills flees on contact. If an infestation ever breaks out it’s safe to spray a mixture of it on your dog as a cure.
- Black Peppermint – This is a like a super charged version of standard peppermint. The leaves are a deep green, the plant has purple veins in it and strong scented purple flowers.
- Orange Mint – Also called Bergamot, it has a lemon-orange scent with smooth grass green leaves and lavender flowers. It is used as a room deodorizer.
- Apple Mint – It has the ubiquitous purple flowers of a mint, smells like an apple, but has gray-green leaves covered in down.
- Pennyroyal – This is a type of ground cover and creeps along in a matted growth with a strong scent. Pennyroyal is actually poisonous if ingested but is a great aromatic.
- Corsican Mint – This is the variety used to create creme de menthe and is very delicate. It only grows to one inch high, cannot stand full sun, and dies in the snow.
There are thought to be over 500 different varieties of mint cultivated today, the list above represents my favorites and also the ones that I believe are easiest to cultivate.
History and Folklore
Mint also appears in Greek mythology as a nymph named Menthe. Hades fell in love with this nymph and his wife, Persephone, became jealous and changed the nymph into a plant. Over time her name changed to Minthe, then to Mint. Romans would crown themselves with peppermint wreaths and mint grows wild in Israel. In the Gospel of Mathew Jesus rails against the Pharisees when the demand taxes to be paid to them in mint. Both spearmint and peppermint are often included in love sachets and as a protection herb, these are the two most common types of mint.
Mint is in my opinion the easiest herb to grow, or, to put it better, mint is the hardest herb to get rid of. As a perennial it will return every year, almost no matter what you do it will return every year. Most varieties will tolerate a degree of sun (less than twelve hours a day) and will grow to somewhere between two and three feet tall. It does not do well in places where night temperatures drop below forty degrees or so. All mints are sterile hybrids, they do not produce seed and only reproduce through division, cutting, or layering. I’d suggest planting mint in containers but they need to be rather big – at least twelve inches deep. You have to watch out for runners if you grow mint, these are little roots that grow under the ground and can surface yards away from the mother plant and produce more plants. Rocks can be used to contain the plant rather well but I’d recommend getting large pickle buckets (you can get these from restaurants) and sinking them into the ground as containment. It does require fertilization once a year as it drains the soil of nutrients efficiently. Fire ash can actually be fatal to the plant but a little Miracle Grow spray will do fine. All mints are susceptible to rust and should be planted six inches apart to ensure good ventilation. Almost every type of pest attacks the mint plant, to get rid of them fill a spray bottle with soapy water and spray over the affected plants.
Mint can be cut at any time down to two inches and it will still survive. I like to let it reach a foot in height before cutting it successively in half each week until it reaches two inches. Once cut it can be hung in small bunches to dry or you can use a professional dehydrator with a screen. Drying in the oven or microwave destroys the essential oils. It can be stored in jars of almond oil to create an essential oil that is actually quite valuable, especially Bergamot.