The vigorous herb, spearmint, is a hardy perennial that originates from Europe. It is grown for its wonderfully flavorful and fragrant leaves. Oil of spearmint is used to flavor gum, candy, toothpaste and mouthwash and its dried leaves make a nice medicinal tea. It has been valued for food and medicine since ancient times and was used in Egypt, Greece and Rome.
The clump-forming herbaceous perennial is an aggressive plant that spreads quickly by underground creeping stems called rhizomes. So, plant it only where you want it to spread. Its upright stems are lined with crisp bright green lance-shaped leaves that are highly fragrant. Fragrant spiky whorls of lilac-pink blooms top the leafy stems in summer. These draw bees in droves and are quite attractive.
Spearmint is very easy to grow and adaptable. It thrives in full to partial sun and evenly moist soil with average to good drainage. Because of its aggressive habit, it is best planted in a trough or container. Divide plants every couple of years.
There are several appealing spearmint cultivars such as the curly-leaved variety crispa and large-leaved sweet ‘Kentucky Colonel.’
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Annual – Edible
Choose a site in full sun to part shade and moist soil. Or, since plants can be invasive, grow your mint in containers filled with potting mix enriched with compost.
If you want an entire bed of mint, start with one or two purchased plants and set them about 2 feet apart in a sunny location. They’ll quickly fill in the open area between plants.
Use a light mulch to retain moisture and keep leaves clean. Container-grown plants should be watered regularly to keep soil evenly moist. Other than that, mint needs little care.
For the most intense flavor, clip topmost mint leaves before flowers form. You can also gather leaves at any point during the growing season. Frequent harvests cause plants to branch and become bushy, so cut growing tips of plants often. Give a boost to steamed vegetables, such as peas, carrots, white or black beans, or eggplant, by adding fresh chopped mint leaves just before serving. Mix fresh leaves from mint and basil to weave a cooling flavor into spicy Thai and Vietnamese dishes. Dry mint leaves and flowers by bundling stems and hanging them upside down in a dark place. When leaves are dry, crumble from stems and store in airtight containers. To preserve mint leaves with bright green color, freeze them in plastic storage bags. Capture the refreshing taste of garden-fresh mint for use in beverages and baked goods by creating a syrup. Boil 2 cups of water and 2 cups of white sugar in a pot until sugar dissolves. Add 2 cups of washed mint leaves; stir and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Allow the mixture to cool; strain syrup and pour it into a glass bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Store syrup in the refrigerator up to one year.