Thanks to the gorgeous weather we’ve been having, our Chef’s Garden is filled with fragrant mint! Just brushing up against the dark green leaves is enough to bring your temperature down to candy cane levels of freshness. Our chefs live to use different kinds of mint in everything and anything from chilled summer soups to steamed vegetables, Southern iced tea and mint juleps! There are many culinary uses for mint and luckily, it isn’t hard to grow!
Varieties of Mint
The spearmints or green mints are the ones most often used in cooking. They include Banana Mint, Mint the Best, Kentucky Colonel Mint, Curly Mint, Lemon Bergamot Mint and Macho Mint. The peppermints or red mints are very strong flavored and should be dried before using or used sparingly, if fresh. Peppermint contains menthol which spearmint does not. This makes the peppermints the ones to use for soothing upset stomachs. They include Moroccan Mint, Orange Bergamot Mint, Chocolate Mint, Lavender Mint and, of course, Peppermint. The gray mints are also excellent cooking mints and they include Eqyptian, Habek, Apple and Pineapple Mint.
This summer, you’ll find the following mint varieties growing in our garden:
- Spearmint is wonderful in hot or cold teas, as garnish on fresh fruit, or muddled in tall cool cocktails.
- Chocolate Mint truly smells like a peppermint patty! Excellent in sparkling water, raspberry iced tea or blackberry-infused martinis.
Growing Mint at Home
Most mints are hardy perennials that not only grow like crazy, they can be quite invasive if planted too close to other herbs. Mint also likes sunny spots with late afternoon dappled shade and consistent moisture so watering mint every day is essential. When planting multiple varieties of mint, it’s best to plant them in different beds or pots to avoid cross pollination that will reduce the distinctive flavors each provides. Unlike other herbs in the garden, it’s not about getting mint to thrive, it’s about keeping it contained! One thing’s for sure, butterflies and bees love mint flowers! However, if your mint is flowering it’s not producing leaves or has ripened beyond it’s best flavor.
Drying Your Own Mint
You can dry (dehydrate) fresh mint leaves by washing the mint stems in cold water (warm or hot water can remove the oils you want to retain!). Drain and pat dry. Then air dry the mint stems by hanging then in a paper bag in a warm well-ventilated area. (The paper bag catches any leaves that fall, rather than having them make a mess on the floor.) When the leaves are dry and brittle, remove them from the stems and store in an airtight container away from the light. Note: if you live in a very humid area, air-drying this herb may not be an option for you, as things tend to mold quickly in such climates. Try using a dehydrator on it’s lowest setting (below 100 degrees (F)) instead. Make sure the leaves are completely dry and brittle, or they may mold after you place them in storage. We don’t recommend storing mint in paper bags or containers, as they absorb the herbs oils.