From a refreshing tea to a classic sauce for roast lamb and new potatoes, mint is one of the most useful culinary herbs. It’s also one of the best herbs for attracting beneficial insects into the garden, such as hoverflies, lacewings and butterflies.
Growing mint through the year
Mint is a hardy perennial that’s not really worth growing from seed, as it’s so easy to grow from root cuttings or young plants planted in the spring or autumn. It prefers well-drained, fertile soil in light shade where the roots will stay moist but never become waterlogged.
Most mints are invasive, so you may want to restrict their root run by planting in a bottomless bucket sunk into the ground. Or growing them in a container in free-draining, soil-based compost.
Keep a couple of pots by the kitchen door – one to pick while the other grows.
Tending the crop
For the best flavour, keep cutting mint to stimulate new leafy growth. After flowering is over in late summer, cut back plants to just above soil level and feed with a high-nitrogen fertiliser to encourage a fresh flush of leaves for autumn picking.
In autumn, divide to make new plants. Lift a clump and chop it into pieces using a spade. Discard the old centre and replant the vigorous outer edges. Divide congested pot-grown mint in autumn. Sit containers on pot feet to avoid waterlogging over winter.
Mint, like most herbs, is best used fresh when the volatile oils are at their most intense. You can start harvesting as soon as greenery appears above the ground in spring and continue through to the first frosts. Nipping out the tips of the stems will encourage the plant to bush out.
Freezing mint is the next best thing to using it fresh. Wash and shake mint leaves dry, then finely chop. Fill an ice-cube tray with the chopped mint (there’s no need to add water). When frozen, pop the cubes into freezer bags and seal.
Preparation and uses
Add fresh mint to buttered peas and new potatoes or combine with sugar and white wine vinegar for a classic sauce to accompany roast lamb. Steep a handful of leaves in boiling water, with sugar added to taste, for a soothing mint tea.
Watch this quick 20-second video demonstration from our friends at olive magazine on how to chop fresh mint.
Check plants regularly for mint rust. Look for swollen stems with orange spots on the leaves. Dig up the plant and bin it. Mint rust remains in the soil for at least three years, so don’t plant other mints, tarragon or chives in that spot after infection.
Fresh mint in winter
Take root cuttings from a mature plant and press them down firmly into a pot of damp compost. Cover with more compost and leave on a warm, bright windowsill to sprout.
Mint varieties to try
‘Banana’ – has a peppermint taste with a hint of banana
- Bowles’s mint – mauve flowers and large leaves. Best for making mint sauce
‘Chocolate’ – produces brown leaves that taste like after-dinner mints. It’s non-invasive
- ‘Lime’ – lime flavoured, dark green/purple leaves and mauve flowers. Non-invasive
- ‘Tashkent’ – spearminty, crinkled leaves and purple flowers
‘Variegata’ – or pineapple mint has cream-green leaves with pineapple scent. Non-invasive