Think mint, and and you probably picture a garnish for your iced tea—or you might think of mojitos, mint juleps, or just about any mint-accented cocktail, like those found in the recent release Infused: 100+ Recipes for Infused Liqueurs and Cocktails. 

 

You might think of Thin Mints Girl Scout Cookies, York Peppermint Patties, or mint chocolate chip ice cream. Mint is all that, and more. Say something is "minty" and, instantly, everyone knows what you mean. Mint is even in mystery books. If you don't believe me, check out Mint Julep Murder (Death on Demand Series #9).


Mint has been popping up in pop culture for ages. Shakespeare's works mention a number of mints, including rosemary, lavender, mint, savory and marjoram. A recent book on mints, 

Mints: A Family of Herbs and Ornamentals, notes that "a sprig of a form of wild thyme . . . was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen, and peppermint was discovered in a wreath that dates back perhaps as far as the Twentieth Dynasty (1570-525 B.C.)." And remember the Simon & Garfunkel song Scarborough Fair, in which the duo sings of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme? With the exception of parsley, all the plants in those lyrics belong to the mint family.

 

Yes, mint accounts for more than the plants that produce those familiar spearmint and peppermint flavors in your chewing gum and toothpaste. The mint family is expansive, and is a valuable source of ornamental plants, from tender annuals and herbs to hardy perennials and some woody shrubs, vines, and trees. There are over 200 genera in the mint family, and more than 6,000 species, many originating in the Mediterranean region, but now found all over the world. 

 

Not only are mint plants ornamental, but many have additional value as culinary herbs and spices. For example, marjorum and oregano (Origanum), savory (Satureja), and basil (Ocimum) all belong to the mint family. Additionally, many plants in the mint family contain essential oils that make them highly aromatic, especially when the leaves are crushed; not only mint itself (Mentha), but also lavender (Lavandula), thyme (Thymus),  lemon balm (Melissa), horehound (Marrubium), rosemary (Rosmarinus), and sage (Salvia). These fragrant plants are valuable not only in the garden but also in perfumes and potpourris. And yes, they're all mint.

 

Many plants in the mint family grow so vigorously they are considered invasive, especially Mentha. The perennial obedient plant (Phystostegia) earned its common name because of its poseable stems, not its obedient habit, but cultivars are often more easily controlled than the species. In some cases, as in the ground covering Ajuga and Lamium, the spreading habit is a plus. Even Lamium and Ajuga can become weedy if planted in their native form, but cultivated forms abound that have superior ornamental characteristics and more controlled spreading habits.

 

Colorful flowers are a feature of many mint plants, including bee balm (Monarda), lavender (Lavandula), obedient plant (Phystostegia), annual and perennial forms of sage (Salvia), catmint (Nepeta), the Lamiaceae also contains many plants with exceptional foliage. These include Ajuga, coleus (Solenostemon), Lamium, Plectranthus, Perilla, Salvia and Stachys, just to name a few.

 

Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) combines several ornamental features, including attractive flowers and licorice-scented foliage, and the award-winning cultivar 'GoldenJubilee' tops these off with vividly colored foliage. Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), which will grow into a shrub, offers both striking foliage and spiky lavender-blue flowers. Like many mints, Russian sage will draw bees to your garden—a good thing for flowers, but bear this in mind if anyone with bee allergies will be near the plant bed.

 

Most mints are easy to transplant, adaptable to a variety of soil and climate conditions, and easy to find. Some mints are susceptible to powdery mildew, so give them plenty of air circulation—don't crowd these plants. Once established, most mints are tolerant of heat and drought.

Message Edited by becke_davis on 08-05-2009 12:25 PM
Comments
by on ‎08-05-2009 04:46 PM
That's an awful lot of useful information, thank you.
by Moderator becke_davis on ‎08-05-2009 05:00 PM
I'm never sure what's too much and what's not enough, but I figure you can pick and choose. This way I've got beginning and experienced gardeners covered!
by on ‎08-05-2009 05:02 PM
I've got one. Want a way to make friends with a pet rabbit? Offer it a sprig of mint in you fingers, instant friendship.
by Moderator becke_davis on ‎08-05-2009 05:17 PM
Really? Rabbits like mint? Didn't know that. Now, I could tell you that my cat likes lemon balm more than catnip -- is that a fair info trade?
by on ‎08-05-2009 06:47 PM

Like it. They love it, calms a scared rabbit just like a tranquilizer. Hmm lemon balm, I'll have to try that I think one of my cats is allergic to catnip, all it does is make her sneeze.

 

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎08-05-2009 06:53 PM
Well, it won't do your lemon balm plants any good (my cat likes to sit in the middle of them), but the cats like it. Or at least mine does, but he is also friends with raccoons.
by on ‎08-05-2009 06:59 PM

(chuckle) Does it snap back when smushed? I've never grown it before.

 

Reminds me of my grey tabbys tendancy to "forget" that the catus slaps back.

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎08-05-2009 09:27 PM

It gets pretty shrubby -- not like rosemary, but fairly big. So when a fat cat sits on it, you can practically hear it groan. It does come back up, but slowly and not completely. I guess it's like me -- when it's down, it has to think a bit about coming back up again!

 

Just got back from the store and found a cute bunny rabbit sitting in the front yard by the driveway. It didn't even move when I went over to watch it. It had found a patch of clover (which tells you something about my lawn) and was too busy munching the flowers to be bothered about me! 

by Par4course on ‎08-06-2009 08:27 PM

Wow!  I didn't know all of those plants were related.  I have a lovely chocolate mint plant - I keep controlled in a pot - and a leaf of that in a cupof hot cocoa is lovely.  My real surprise is the news about drought tolerance - I have to keep the roots fairly moist on my mint. 

The other plants you mentioned - sage, rosemary, and thyme - seem to do fine at drought tolerance.

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎08-06-2009 08:34 PM
Not all species and cultivars are drought tolerant but quite a number of them are. My plain old mint - peppermint, spearmint -- don't like to completely dry out, but other plants in the mint family, like those you mentioned, seem to hold up just fine.
by FindingLydia on ‎08-22-2009 12:18 AM
Wow! All great "senti-mints" :smileywink: Thanks for the info... I was just wondering about the mint I planted in my back yard!!
by Moderator becke_davis on ‎08-22-2009 12:23 AM

"senti-mints"

 

I love it! 

by FindingLydia on ‎08-23-2009 04:06 AM
Thanks!
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Welcome to Garden Variety, a common ground for gardening enthusiasts in the B&N community. Each day, our resident experts, guest bloggers, and B&N staff produce articles on evergreen topics and growing trends in the realm of landscaping. From seasonal plants and edible gardens to book suggestions and landscape innovations, this is the place where ideas flourish.

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