Choosing culinary herbs for your garden is a pleasant task.
I put mint in the "fun-to-have" category, as opposed to, say, tarragon, which falls in the "must-have" category in my herb patch.
However, when you see the list of mints - apple, chocolate, orange, lemon, pineapple, ginger, Persian and more, then becoming a connoisseur of mints may be a worthwhile undertaking some summer.
From a very large family, including about 25 to 30 species and hundreds of varieties (as they hybridize easily and frequently), mint without a qualifier generally refers to spearmint (Mentha spicata). This and peppermint (Mentha piperita) probably are the two best known mints, adding refreshing flavor to jellies, sauces, candies, gum, ice creams, and other desserts and drinks.
Mint has a strong flavor, and choosing a variety or varieties is dependent on personal taste and culinary use. For dishes other than sweets and desserts, opinions vary. But for most, spearmint is considered the crown jewel of the mint world. However, others think that the milder-tasting apple mint is best to cook with.
Mints are hardy and easily grown. They range in height from 1 to 3 feet, with small flower spikes in shades from white to pink and violet.
Unlike most herbs with a Mediterranean ancestry, mints like a little shade and moist soil rich in nutrients. If grown in full sun, they should be well watered in dry weather.
You usually will see 'vigorous growth habit' as a descriptor and, for that reason, mint can be too much of a good thing. Instead of coaxing it along, you really need to keep the fast-spreading roots contained; otherwise, it will overrun neighboring plants.
Mint really wants to be a ground cover. If you don't harvest it regularly and often, it will benefit from a good shearing of half to a third of the plant in mid-season to encourage fresh new growth and a bushy plant. This also keeps it from invading your entire garden. Propagate by taking root or stem cuttings, or divide the plant in spring and autumn. Remove all flowering stems to avoid cross-pollination between species.
Known for centuries to be used for culinary seasoning and medicinal uses (such as easing upset stomachs, relieving hiccups and nausea and preventing fainting), mints traveled with explorers and settlers to most countries of the world where they now are both cultivated and naturalized.
Mints even are a part of ancient Greek mythology through Menthe, a nymph beloved by Pluto who was turned into mint by Proserpine, Pluto's jealous wife. Long regarded as a sacred herb, mint was laid in rooms and places of recreation, pleasure and repose. With the start Proserpine gave it, mint became a symbol of hospitality.
I suppose that carries to this day, as a tall glass of tea or lemonade with a lovely fresh sprig of mint is a welcoming sight to any visitor.