|Chocolate Mint (Mentha sp.)|
The mint family, Lamiaceae, is abundant in our kitchen as oregano, marjorum, basil and others fall into the family with the 'mints' (spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, apple mint, etc). This is a relatively distinct and recognizable family of plants because they have square stems; a characteristic that is not overly common in plants. I am often reaching out and rolling plant stems between my fingers if I think they may belong to the mint family and smelling for that infamous 'mint' smell on my fingers. ;) Mint flowers appear in mid to late summer and are some shade of purple, ranging from almost white to a dark lavender.
Mint prefers cool, moist locations but will survive almost anywhere. It should be planted with forethought and planning because it spreads easily and is often considered a weed in gardens. Mint put out runners above or below ground and many species will also root from the stem wherever they touch the ground. I planted my chocolate mint in a large pot with the bottom cut out. I then buried the pot in the ground. The pot keeps the mint contained so that I can enjoy it's culinary delights without cursing its weediness! Every couple of years I lift the plant out and do some major thinning before I replant it.
Mint leaves can be harvested throughout the growing season for kitchen use or all cut back at one time for preserving. Leaves can be dried, frozen or steeped in hot water and processed into jelly or syrup. "Green" jelly is a kid favorite in my house & I enjoy mint syrup over crushed ice as a hot evening treat. I also have a refreshing fresh fruit and mint salad that we enjoy during the summer berry season. Do you have any favorite uses for fresh mint? I'd love to hear about it.
Happy Herb Gardening! :)