Every garden should have peppermint growing for herbal tea, spearmint for Asian dishes, culinary mint for traditional mint sauce and any of the countless others growing just for their foliage and fragrance.
All mints, Mentha, are moisture-loving plants and except for a few, are perennials that are usually propagated by cuttings or division.
Most who have grown mint know of its’ invasive tendency as the smallest piece of mint will spread throughout the garden if the conditions are suitable so all varieties of mint are best grown in large tubs or, in fact, old washbasins and concrete sinks. Any large container is suitable as long as the potting mix used is able to hold moisture well.
Mint grown in WA produces beautiful lush aromatic leaves when grown with very little fertiliser and in part shade as the harsh summer sun can make the leaves a bit yellow and leathery, especially if the soil doesn’t remain damp. It will survive in full shade but in our spring and autumn, the humidity may occasionally cause it to develop rust.
Mint rust is obvious from numerous small pustules on the underside of the leaves that contain thousands of spores that, when released, will infect any other mints in the vicinity. Fortunately mint rust will only affect mint plants.
Rust on mint is easy to control without the use of chemicals. Simply cut the plant down to only a few centimetres from the soil, seal all of the leaves in to a plastic bag and discard in to the bin – do not put in the compost. Then cover the remaining stems with about a centimetre of potting mix or compost, water well with seaweed extract and within a few weeks the mint will start sending up fresh new shoots and will be stronger and more lush than ever.
In fact, this treatment should be done to mint at least twice every year to encourage fresh new growth but especially if the leaves start to yellow or the stems become leggy.
Mint has many more uses than just the traditional mint sauce for lamb roasts. The Romans, for example, believed that eating mint increased intelligence and Norse healers would feed their warriors mint before going to battle so that they could tell by the smell if the soldiers had been stabbed in the intestine. Persian women used to feed their husbands mint to keep them faithful but this might not very effective since their husbands would surely be even more attractive once they had fresh minty breath.
For every day use, try adding chopped mint to buttered potatoes or rolling cubes of feta cheese in finely chopped mint for extra flavour. For a little indulgence, steep a few mint leaves with green tea and sip whilst relaxing in a warm bath infused with a bunch of your favourite mint. Or for a touch of Thai, include a spearmint leaf with a few strands of garlic chives in fresh spring rolls.
When selecting which mints to grow, take a leaf and rub it between your fingers to release the aroma. With fragrant varieties available that include apple, ginger, chocolate and eau de cologne the choices can be overwhelming.