My favorite porch drink is a cold iced tea served with a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint from my garden. The citrus flavor paired with the minty taste is so refreshing on a hot summer day.
There are over 600 varieties of mint (Mentha), but only the most popular ones are sold in our area. Most of the big box stores and home and garden centers have Peppermint (Mentha X piperita) and Spearmint (M. spicata) available. Occasionally, one can find Apple mint (M. suaveolens) and white-leaved Pineapple mint (M. suaveolens var. variegata), which have a fruity taste.
After you make your selection, it’s time to plant. Mint likes full or partial shade and can grow between ½-2 feet tall. Plant clumps of mint one foot apart for best results. Mint will spread quickly after it adapts.
I have lived in two locations where I planted in full sun, and it thrived, and in a partial shade setting where it also thrived. When my husband and I bought our first home, my mother shared her mint with me. I have had the same mint everywhere I’ve lived. Mint is best divided in the fall and spring. Simply dig up a clump and divide. Immediately replant in rich soil, and water as needed until it’s established.
Mint is a perennial. If you plant it in partial shade, the mint will last until November or December here in North Louisiana. The shade protects the plant from the first early frosts and extends its growing season. Another consideration when making a site selection is the fact that if mint thrives, it tends to spread everywhere. If you have a large garden, just plant it and let it multiply, however, if you have a limited amount of space, plant in a pot so you can control it.
Beware, even if you plant in a pot, it can spill over and attach to nearby soil and spread. Mint is also attractive as a ground cover in the landscape.
As your mint becomes established, it may produce more than you need. It’s a great gift to share with those who don’t garden. When the weather begins to get cool, I harvest my mint by placing it and water in ice-cube trays and freezing so that I always have fresh mint for my tea during the winter months too.
Besides serving mint in iced tea, many people serve the fresh leaves and flowers in salads and desserts. It can also be used on meats.
To get your minty summer started off right, try this cool, refreshing mint dip recipe that I found in my copy of The Encyclopedia of Herbs by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz:
Cucumber, Yogurt and Mint Dip
½ cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
10 fresh spearmint leaves, finely chopped
1 3/4 cup of yogurt
Salt to taste
In a bowl, mix all ingredients together; refrigerate for two hours and then serve with pita bread cut in triangles or your favorite cracker. This makes a wonderful summer hors d’oeuvre.
I hope you will enjoy this recipe served with your mint tea on a hot day this summer. This article is written by Dora Ann Hatch, Master Gardener and retired LSU AgCenter Agent.