Jumbo rosemary planters at the Getty
Museum in Los Angeles (the white flowers
are and allysum. Photo courtesy
Last night we tried a new restaurant. At the table, folded into our napkin, was a sprig of rosemary. There was a sprig of rosemary in our water glass. The food we ordered came garnished with rosemary.
“There must have been a sale on rosemary this week,” we said to our companion.
“No,” he said, “the planters out front are full of it.”
We looked, and rosemary was indeed growing high in terra cotta pots on the outdoor patio. Had we been moving so quickly that we forgot to stop and smell the rosemary?
We decided to hunt down a rosemary plant this weekend, to see how many different things we could do with the sprigs. Then, we received a tip on growing mint that caused us to switch gears. We’ll get to the rosemary later; today’s tip is an encouragement to use more mint—and different types of mint.
The mint you plant will soon bear enough leaves to keep you in beverages (including cocktails), desserts, salads, soups and garnishes for the entire growing season.
TYPES OF MINT
Much of what you find in the market is spearmint. But there are other wonderful varieties of mint to enhance your cooking: Head to your gardening store.
Apple mint, with fuzzy leaves and fruity tones, is popular in mint jelly (which is also called apple mint jelly), but has universal applications.
Chocolate mint has a delightful minty chocolate flavor that has been compared to Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies. It rocks dessert recipes and chocolate mint tea.
Orange mint tastes like candied orange peel with lavender notes (two of our favorite flavors).
Peppermint has a strong, classic menthol taste.
Spearmint, also called yerba buena, is a strong and popular flavor and fragrance that is easily released with light crushing or bruising of the leaves.
Sweet mint has extra-large leaves that many cooks prefer for easier chopping.
Mints are fast-growing, spreading plants. You need to give them room to grow outdoors, or you can contain them in a pot—outdoors or indoors.
Mints send out runners that spread above and just under the ground, quickly forming large, lush green patches. In the right place, mint makes a sensational, seasonal ground cover. You can also contain mint in tight places such as between pavers of a walkway.
Mint perfumes the air wherever it is planted: It delivers an aromatic treat each time you walk past it.
Here are mint-growing tips from Bonnie Plants, a national plant wholesaler committed to green gardening. The company makes eco-friendly gardening products and biodegradable peat pots and fiber pots that have already prevented millions of pounds of plastic from entering landfills.
MINT GROWING TIPS
1. POT IT. The most popular way to grow mint is in a pot where you can keep it contained and handy near the kitchen for a constant supply of sprigs. Choose a potting mix that retains water to be sure soil stays moist.
2. PLANT IT. If you have outdoor space, select a damp area in your garden in either full sun or partial shade. Mint prefers fertile soil with a pH from 6.0 to 7.0. It is vigorous on its own but will appreciate a little fertilizer every few weeks, especially if you harvest a lot of mint.
You can also mulch around the plants to keep roots moist; plants will die back in dry soil. Keep plants in check by harvesting the tips regularly and pulling up wayward runners in the garden. Mint’s small flowers bloom from June to September. Trim them before the buds open to keep the plant compact.
A pot of mint ornamenting the front lawn. It can also grow inside. Photo courtesy BonniePlants.com.
WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR BOUNTY OF MINT
When cooking with mint, it’s best to use the leaves. Mint stems are tougher than leaves and not as flavorful.
Cocktails: Spearmint is popular in both the Mint Julep and the Mojito. For other drinks, match the flavors of mint to the flavors of the cocktail (orange mint in citrus-based cocktails, for example).
Desserts: Dry the leaves to flavor desserts: cake, ice cream/sorbet/granita, meringues and other cookies, and quick breads (chocolate mint is especially wonderful with desserts).
Hot Chocolate: You can steep sprigs of mint in the milk before you add the cocoa powder or chocolate; or crush a sprig into the finished cup as a flavorful garnish.
Garnish: Mint is one of the most popular garnishes—and you’ll have lots of it!
Hot Tea: Steep in hot water for an uplifting herbal tea. Mint tea has been a home remedy for millennia: to alleviate stomach pain and as a mild decongestant for the common cold and allergies. During the Middle Ages, powdered mint leaves were also used to whiten teeth; the legacy remains in mint-flavored toothpaste.
Iced Tea: If you make your iced tea from scratch, steep mint in the hot water. Otherwise, add a sprig to the cold tea. Crush the sprig in your hand before adding to the glass or pitcher: It releases the oils that contain the aroma and flavor.
Jelly: Use fresh leaves to make mint sauce for fish or lamb, or dry the leaves to make mint jelly. Orange mint and apple mint are especially lovely in these applications.
Salads: Add fresh leaves to salads. We snip the mint into small pieces with a scissors. It adds spark to each bite of salad.
Sauces: Add leaves to savory or sweet sauces. Chopped mint and garlic in Greek yogurt makes a delicious and cooling sauce; add cucumber and dill to turn it into the popular spread, tzatziki.
Water: Crush fresh leaves into water for a refreshing cold beverage. You can also freeze fresh mint leaves/sprigs into ice cubes.
If you have lots of mint, share the wealth with neighbors and friends.
For more info and tips on mint and other herbs visit BonniePlants.com.