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Jekka's advice on growing mint and her top 10 mint plants

by Alistair McVicar |

Mint, from the family Lamiaceae, is a wonderful perennial herb that can be put to use in mint sauces, teas, cocktails. It can be found in our herbal infusion Mint Fiesta and our Gin, 6 O'clock Jekka's Edition.

The name ‘Mentha’ is said to have been derived from Greek mythology. One story is that the nymph Minthe was being chatted up by Hades the God of the Underworld. His queen Sephony became jealous and turned the nymph into the plant Mint. 

Which mint is the best mint?

Our collection of mints in Jekka's Herbetum exceeds 40. The general characteristics of mint is that it dies back over winter and can be picked between late spring and mid-autumn. It is a good idea to pick regularly to keep plants compact and to ensure lots of new shoots. Always pick from the top down to the next growing shoot.

Mint also makes an excellent companion plant as it deters pests, including whitefly, ants and mice, and the flowers attract bees, butterflies and hoverflies.

The four main groups of mint are:

Mentha spicata: Spearmint is the quintessential mint and can be found growing around the world. The leaf flavour is warm and sweet with light menthol notes. Great with potatoes and mint sauces.

Mentha x piperita: Peppermint has a much more pungent flavour than spearmint and is the hybridisation (x) of water mint, Mentha aquatica and spearmint, Mentha spicata (as mentioned in a previous blog on understanding herbs). The leaves can be used in puddings, cakes, oils, vinegars and tisanes.

Mentha suaveolens: This mint has a milder and rounded flavour that is more spearmint than peppermint and is lovely for making jellies and jams as it holds its flavour when cooked.

Mentha longifolia: These mints have long leaves and are renowned for either flavour or for amazing flowers, which are wonderful for bees, pollinating insects and butterflies.

If you are just after a straightforward garden mint growing outside the back door, and useful in all types of cooking, we suggests Mentha spicata, Spearmint.

How do you grow mint?

Mint generally grows well in any soil, but prefers its roots in shade with the sun on its leaves. It grows and expands by underground rhizomes. As a result, mint grows quickly and will cover the ground with runners if it is permanently moist.

As it is easier to grow than to eradicate it is good to always plant with roots restricted, either in a container or pot plunged into the ground. We sink pots of mint into Jekka's Herbetum beds (that you can visit on our Open Days). It grows best with a good supply of water, without being water-logged, and planted in areas with part-sun to shade.

When growing in pots, each year you should repot pot bound mints by upturning the container, removing the rootball and splitting it in half. Repot a portion in the same container using fresh compost and give half to a friend (or pot elsewhere).

Jekka's top tipAvoid growing different varieties of mint close together, whether in pots or the ground, as they can lose their individual scent and flavour.

Jekka's top 10 mints

Mint jelly recipe

For the adventurous cook we have a recipe for Jekka's "After Eight" macaroons using our Mint Fiesta herbal infusion. Otherwise, try the recipe below for our lovely mint jelly, from Jekka's Herb Cookbook (adapted from Bergamot Jelly on pg. 49) which goes wonderfully with lamb.

Makes approx. 2 * 350 g jars

Ingredient:

  • 1 kg gooseberries, topped and tailed
  • 1 bunch of mint leaves
  • 900 ml cold water
  • approx. 450 g sugar
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 4 tbsp chopped mint leaves

Steps:

  1. Wash and sort the gooseberries and add the good ones to a large pan with the bunch of mint leaves and the water
  2. Bring to the boil and simmer until the fruit is soft and pulpy.
  3. Pour into a jelly bag and leave to drain overnight.
  4. Next day, measure the juice and add 450 g of sugar for every 600 ml of liquid.
  5. Pour the juices and sugar into a heavy pan, bring back to the boil and boil steadily until setting point is reached, about 20-30 minutes. Setting point is when the liquid has reached 110 Deg C, or when you put some of the jam on a chilled saucer and it wrinkles slightly when you draw your finger across it.
  6. Skim off the surface scum, stir in the lemon juice and the chopped mint leaves.
  7. Pour into warm sterilised jars and seal when cool. This will keep in unopened jars for 1 year.
  8. Once opened, store in a fridge and use within 1 month.

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