Magazine article Sunset

Growing Mint for Tall, Cool Drinks. or for Soups, Salads, and More

Magazine article Sunset

Growing Mint for Tall, Cool Drinks. or for Soups, Salads, and More

Article excerpt

Growing mint for tall, cool drinks. Or for soups, salads, and more Crush a leaf and savor the aroma: the cool, sweet, and zesty scent is a summer refresher--mint. Rich with menthol oils, the fragrant leaves give punch to favorite hot-weather foods and beverages--fruit salads, cold soups, tabbouleh salad, lemonade, and iced tea. In most parts of the West, there's still time to plant for all harvest. We show and describe seven mints and two mint relatives, all easy to grow and use.

Take your pick Although dozens of mint varieties are known, you'll probably find about a half-dozen kinds in the herb section of most nurseries. Plants vary in foliage, growth habit, and fragrance. Most have subtle but distinct differences in flavor. To let your nose decide which one you want, pinch a leaf and sniff the aroma. Pronounced menthol taste makes common spearmint (Mentha spicata) and peppermint (M. piperita) dependable choices. For top flavor and form, 'Mint the Best', a relatively new spearmint selection, and black-stemmed peppermint (M.p. nigra) are worth looking for. Another spearmint, curly mint (M.s. crispata), has puckered, or crisped, leaves. Plants grow less vigorously than common spearmint, and the stalky, tightly leafed stems make attractive garnishes in cold drinks. English mint has dark green foliage and a clean, grassy flavor. Red-stemmed, big-leafed orange bergamot mint (m.p. citrata) combines peppermint zest with a mild orange fragrance. Apple mint (M. suaveolens) has softly felted, light green leaves with a fruity aroma. Pineapple mint (M.s. 'Variegata') is a colorful, low-growing version; new leaves have strongest flavor. For slightly different taste, try two mint-related herbs. Licorice mint (Agastache foeniculum, also called anise hyssop) has a distinct anise taste; you can toss the flavorful flowers (the purple ones shown at left) into fruit salads. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) brings a clean, citrus flavor to soups, sauces, meats, and hot teas. Both plants grow into handsome 2-to 3-foot-high perennials. Unlike true mints, they don't spread by aggressive runners; lemon balm self-sows readily.

Mints are obliging Few plants are as easy to grow. With minimal care, mints fill out and spread rapidly--often too rapidly. …

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