There is arguably no other herb as versatile as mint: whether it is a savoury dish or a dessert, this aromatic herb adds taste with its amazing range of flavours from soothingly mild to pleasantly sharp. It is the perfect finishing touch to put on just about anything that needs a bit of green garnish and sometimes shines through as a star on its own.
Its distinct flavour has made it popular in every culture. Mint adds mellowness to raitas, enhances curries, lends flavour to barbeques and salads alike, refreshes drinks and creates a mouth-watering fusion of sharp and gentle flavours when added to chocolate desserts. A glass of mint lassi on a hot day will leave you refreshed and mint tea on a cold winter evening is something I always look forward to.
This herb is not only popular in the cooking world but is also a well-known digestive aid. It improves circulation, helps in chills, colds, fevers and congestion. Mint tea is used to ease heartburn and nausea.
Is there any reason not to grow this miracle herb in your garden? Absolutely not! So here is how to get started.
Growing mint in your garden
Mint, most commonly known as pudina in the subcontinent, belongs to the family Lamiaceae. The most popular types of mint species are peppermint and spearmint. Mint is a fast spreading perennial that grows best in moist and nutrient rich soil. It thrives in partial shade and a cool place. Summers bring delicate white flowers to these lush, green plants.
Grow mint in your kitchen garden to make use of its anti-parasitic qualities. Mint helps repel aphids, ants, fleas, rats, mosquitoes and while attracting bees that pollinate your garden. Still, the plant is prone to certain diseases, one of which is mint rust, a fungal attack that makes dusty orange or pale yellow spots appear on its stems. It is best to replace the plants with new ones if you see such symptoms.
Mint has invasive roots, so confine the plant into containers where its roots will not spread horizontally and bother other plants.
Although mint plants produce seeds and can be grown using those seeds, it’s an unreliable practice. There is a much faster way to grow your plants by taking root or stem cuttings.
For stem cuttings, simply select a healthy stem and make a cutting of about 8cm. Pinch off the new growth and plant this new stem into the soil. Water and cover with a plastic bag to retain moisture, so that the new seedlings will not dry out. For root cuttings, water your plant a day ahead. Carefully take out the plant and use a sharp gardener’s knife or a cutter to divide the roots and re-pot each new plant into large containers.
In a few weeks you will have your own new dense mint plants. Simply pick some sprigs to add a little minty surprise to your favourite appetiser, meal, beverage, or dessert.
Go plant some mint and enjoy every bit of this remarkable herb!
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, September 18th, 2011.