What do you think of when you hear the word “peppermint”? Do you think of the cooling cup of peppermint tea from the Stash tea line? Or the curiously strong altoid mints you keep in your purse? Or perhaps you consider the fragrant herb that you brush past on the way through the garden gate at your neighbor’s house. Are you growing peppermint in your garden?
Peppermint is crazy easy to grow. In fact, it grows so aggressively that most garden books advise you to enclose the roots of peppermint in a pot to prevent it from taking over your garden bed. This is good advice if you garden on a small lot with minimal garden space, or if you live in a zone where mint thrives, with lots of water. Here on the mountain, in zone 3, with summer frosts, mint is one of the few herbs that will actually grow and overwinter, so we let it take over where it will. Mint here has its own bed, away from the vegetable garden, where it can thrive and where I can expect abundant harvests.
Which varieties of mint should I grow?
Are all mints peppermint? No there are many varieties of mint. Mint family plants can be identified by their square stem, and opposite leaves. Most have strong scent and flavour. Peppermint plants have a cooling taste and fragrance and are the first plant that comes to mind when we say “mint”. But mints hybridize easily.
There are several varieties of mint to choose from depending on your gardening zone. Richter’s herbs lists 35 different mint varieties. Many of them were hybridized by Jim Westerfield in Illinois. These are more tender than the varieties that I can grow in zone 3, but definitely worth it if you are warm enough.
Jim Westerfield’s Sweet Pear Mint™ actually tastes like minted pears. If you are in a zone 5 to 9 it’s a great mint variety to grow – available from Richter’s herbs. (If you are in the USA, Richter’s ships with a phytosanitary certificate.) It’s one of my favorite mints. Unfortunately, it is a short lived perennial here in zone 3 — when I can get it to overwinter.
Chocolate mint has the fragrance of peppermint patties. It has a strong peppermint taste and aids digestion. Chocolate mint grows in zones 4 to 9. It dies back every year in my zone 3 climate but makes vigorous growth when the snow disappears. It is by far my favorite mint.
Applemint is another vigorous grower in zone 3. It grows 3 feet high and takes over the area where it is planted. The foliage is silvergreen. It is a good variety for cooking and for stomach aches. And its vigorous growth means you can cut it several times even in a short growing season. If you grow this variety, put its roots in a bottomless bucket to keep it contained, unless you have a forest garden where it can populate.
Note: If you grow several mint plants side by side, over time their flavours will mingle and they will lose their distictive tastes.
How to plant mint
Mint likes water, so plant it where it will get the drips from the garden hose. Don’t relegate it to a corner of the garden where you’ll forget to water it. As I said, enclose the roots in a bottomless bucket if you want to contain its vigour. Or give it a spot in your garden away from where you want to grow vegetables. Dig a hole to hold the bucket where you want to plant your mint. Sink the bottomless bucket in the ground and fill with soil. Firm the soil well. Then hollow a hole for the mint. Plant your mint, spreading the roots over the soil horizontally. Firm your mint plant in well. Water it. That’s how easy it is.
Mint grows fast. You’ll be able to begin harvesting your mint in the same year that you plant it.
Peppermint is easy to propagate
You won’t have much success growing mint from seeds. Mint hybridizes easily with other mint plants. So you’ll have better success with a favorite mint, propagating clones, rather than saving seeds. Start with a mint that you really love the flavour and fragrance of.
Divide already established plants in spring or fall, or take cuttings during the growing season and root them in water.
Mint roots easily from cuttings. Take a 4 inch cutting and strip the last inch of its leaves. Soak it overnight in water and then just place it in a growing medium. It will root in two weeks and start sending up new growth.
Mint can also be grown easily from a root division. Even a small sprig of mint with a piece of root attached will grow vigorously. Definitely divide your mint in spring or fall, but you can also pot up some mint in the middle of summer, provided that you give it enough water. Mint loves to be divided.
Harvest your mint any time after the first stems appear in spring. When you nip off the growing tip, the stalk of mint will branch and send up two sprigs in the place of the one you harvested. Do this frequently during the growing season to inhibit flowering. Once the mint flowers, growth will slow down.
For winter teas harvest your mint plants before the flowers open so that the strongest flavour is in the leaves. You can also harvest the flowers for sweet tea, but the flavour is lighter, and less intense.
Fresh or dried?
You can use your peppermint harvest fresh or you can dry it for winter use. If you are making tea with fresh mint leaves, use twice as much as you’d use of dried mint.
Drying mint leaves for winter is easy. You don’t even need a dehydrator. Simply harvest your stems of mint. Gather the stems in a bundle with about 12 to 15 mint branches, per bundle. Tie the bundle together with an elastic band or a string. Hang it up in the shade in a place with good air circulation. Your mint leaves will be dry in about a week.
Store your mint
To store your dried mint, brush the fully dried mint leaves off the mint stem over a tray or baking sheet,. Put the dried leaves in a mason jar. Cap with a tight lid. It will stay strong and fragrant for at least a year if protected from heat, light, air, and moisture, like other herbs and spices. Dried mint doesn’t need refrigeration to stay strongly flavoured.
When you want to use the leaves for herbs or tea, crush the leaves. By storing the leaves whole and crushing them right before use, you retain the volatile oils in the leaves, until you need them.
Medicinal actions of peppermint:
Mint reduces pain, aids digestion, stimulates, and helps you think better. Grab a cup of mint tea to reduce the afternoon sluggishness, without the caffeine hit. (Thank you, I think I will.) Warm mint tea can help you when you have a cold or a cough. It helps you breathe easier and reduces that scratchy throat feeling. It clears mucus, too.
Have period cramps? Drink a cup of peppermint tea and it will ease the pain.
Getting the benefits of mint can be as simple as brewing a cup of hot peppermint tea, infusing peppermint leaves in vodka or vinegar, or using peppermint essential oil.
Mint leaves infused in vodka can be used as a beverage, used as a cooling toner, or as a liniment for sore muscles.
Check out these other ways to use mint in food and medicine:
Preserving Mint for Food & Medicine from Homespun Seasonal Living
Mint: An Aromatic Biblical Herb from Shatul Wellness
5 Herbal Teas from the Garden that you may have Overlooked from Joybilee Farm (including peppermint).
Summer salad recipes: Israeli salad recipe with fresh lemon-mint dressing from Joybilee Farm
How to Make and Use Mint Infused Honey from Homespun Seasonal Living
Lemony Lavender Mint Tea from Homespun Seasonal Living
DiY Mint Teas from My Healthy Green Family
12 Great Ways to Use Mint and Tips for Growing It from Learning and Yearning
More ideas for using fresh mint leaves from The Nerdy Farm Wife
The Medicinal Mint Family from The Herbal Academy of New England (my favorite herb school)
Indulge Your Sweet Tooth With Real Peppermint Hot Cacao also from HANES.
Learn more about herbal remedies, including essentail oils
Learn more about herbal remedies and essential oils from an herbalist’s perspective in my new Book, The Beginners’ Book of Essential Oils, now available in paperback, in Kindle, or in a printable digital format.(pdf).