Newest Review: ... happens, don't despair - they will grow back when the weather gets warmer. PESTS AND DISEASES Mint attracts whiteflies, which in tu... more
More than just a sauce for lamb
Member Name: Stewwydablue
Advantages: Once established it needs little attention
Disadvantages: Can spread if not curbed
Mint grows wild in the UK, and is often overlooked for it's culinary uses. There's more to mint than mint sauce with lamb; there are so many different cultivated varieties available now that its usefulness in the kitchen has spread as much as the plant itself spreads, if left unchecked.
Thought to originate from the Mediterranean and Middle East areas, mint has been used for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks recognised that mint had medicinal properties and used to wear sprigs of it on their clothes to make them feel invigorated.
These days mint is used in cooking, perfumes, soaps and shampoos, medicine, insecticides and aromatherapy.
GROWING YOUR OWN
Mint is a bully, a thug, a hooligan. If you have it in your garden and haven't taken steps to stop its spread then pretty soon you will have nothing but mint growing. It spreads by sending underground runners out which pop up all over the place, and can also spread by seed but the seeds can be erratic in their germination and don't always produce a "true" offspring.
The best way to grow mint is to take some plants (including those all important roots) from a friend or neighbour and transplant into your own garden. To stop the roots spreading, the best way is to either grow it in a pot, or, if you sink a large pot into a soil border it can be grown amongst other plants without it spreading as you have constricted the roots.
I've tried growing mint from seed and haven't had much of a return - when they do actually grow they're not always what it says on the packet as they tend to revert to their wild form. I think this is why most mint seed packets have around a thousand seeds in them.
There are all sorts of types of mint that clever people with white coats and green fingers have cultivated, ranging from apple scented mint, chocolate, ginger, black pepper, spearmint, banana, pineapple and lemon flavoured mint. All in all, there are roughly about 50 types of mint available in the UK, with many more worldwide.
Once established, it can be pretty much left alone and doesn't require much in the way of fancy care. The leaves can be harvested whenever, but they will die back to ground level over winter. When this happens, don't despair - they will grow back when the weather gets warmer.
PESTS AND DISEASES
Mint attracts whiteflies, which in turn attract ladybirds to eat them. Ladybirds will also eat greenflies and other aphids so it's quite useful as a sacrificial plant. Mint can be affected by rust disease, which looks like red spots underneath the leaves. If left, rust will kill off your mint plants, so remove any affected leaves straight away - don't add them to your compost heap but burn them instead. If a mint plant has rust really badly, then cut the plant down to ground level. It should grow back with healthy unaffected leaves.
Whole books have been written on the uses for mint, so I'll try to be brief and just cover the main culinary uses. You can make mint tea by steeping a few sprigs of mint in boiling water then sweetening with honey - I've had this in central Asia and can honestly say it blew my mind - it was so sweet and aromatic and knocked the spots off our "English cuppa". The country where I drank it also lightly flavoured it with cardamom and cloves - most people have jars of these in a spice rack in our homes in the UK so give it a try.
Mint jelly is more of a thin runny jam, made like a jam but used as more than just jam on toast. It goes brilliantly as a substitute for apple or cranberry sauce with meats, and can be used as the base for mint flavoured stocks / soups.
Have you ever tried wrapping a small mint leaf around a raspberry or strawberry - the flavours work really well. We do this, and we also add a small amount of chopped mint leaves to fruit salads.
Mint dries very well if hung in a dark kitchen corner, and also freezes well too. Before you freeze, wash the leaves to remove any little bugs then either cut off the leaves into food bags or chop and add to an ice cube tray with a drop of water in each cube hole. Store dried mint in a dark airtight jar.
Mint has many medicinal properties - it is a decongestant, an antiseptic, it aids digestion, contains antioxidants which keep cells healthy and reduces the risk of cancers, freshens the breath and has a cooling effect on insect bites when rubbed onto the skin. I suppose mint is worth the hassle of trying to stop it from spreading when you consider how many uses and benefits it has.
I wouldn't recommend growing from seed, buy a plant from a garden centre (they are relatively cheap to buy in this way) for an instant mint fix in your garden. I know I look a bit weird when I do this, but try rubbing a leaf between your fingers then smelling them - it's gorgeous!
Summary: A very useful plant, smells divine