When I was a little kid, I often spent long summer days at my grandmother's house in rural Pennsylvania. She had a path leading through her side yard which was always lined with tall, fragrant mint. Several times each week throughout the summer, she would make fresh mint tea, which she would serve cold. So, when I drink my own mint tea today, it brings me back to the most golden moments of my childhood.
Now that I'm grown and have kids of my own, I want to pass on to them the best experiences that I had as a child. However, I am not just seeking to re-create a golden past: I also want to improve upon the legacy I was given by discovering new varieties and exploring new culinary possibilities. I have also found that the climate and soil in the Carolinas is much different than my homeland in rural New York and Pennsylvania. Here, we have to take special consideration for the long hot summers and dense red clay.
The mint that my grandmother grew is usually called "Heirloom Mint" or "Apple Mint" today. It has a hairy appearance and it is a variety of Spearmint. It has a strong flavor, with a slightly woody aftertaste. The problem is that it tends to develop "rust" in hot, humid climates and dense soils. One way to deal with this is to improve your soil quality and mulch your spearmint in the fall to help prevent fungal infections during stormy seasons. Despite these special considerations, I still have one mint bed that is dedicated to preserving my grandmother's strain of "Heirloom Mint."
My other mint beds are dedicated to growing Chocolate Mint, which is technically a variety of Peppermint. Unlike spearmint, it does not develop "rust" or other fungal infections because its leaves are completely smooth. It is well adapted to Southern climates and it thrives in either partial sun or full sun. It also has a much more potent fragrance than Heirloom mint. If I brew a pot of Chocolate Mint tea in the kitchen, it can often be smelled everywhere in the house. This is a variety worth picking up because it has all kinds of uses.
Melon salad with chocolate mint: Cube watermelons and mix with fresh or frozen berries. Wash and chop 1/2 cup of chocolate mint and mix into the salad. Mix in yogurt and honey if desired.
Jelly: Chocolate Mint may be used to make fantastic mint jelly.
Freeze: It may be frozen for the winter (Most of the essential oils and flavor will leave the plant when dried).
Israeli Salad: Finely dice tomatoes and cucumbers. Sprinkle finely chopped chocolate mint, lemon juice, and pepper. Toss and serve.
Chocolate mint makes a great herbal tea for cold and flu season. It helps to clear the sinuses and is much more effective than store-bought remedies like Vaporub or cough drops, which try to mimic this minty remedy with synthetic chemical fragrances.
Anxiety: The fragrance of Chocolate Mint has a remarkable calming and regenerating effect. Bob Jones associated the fragrance of peppermint with purification.
Saving Mint for the Next Season: All mints can be effectively frozen by simply placing them in Ziplock bags and marking the date. If you prefer to wash it first, then you will need to let it thoroughly dry before freezing it. If you're a perfectionist, you can remove the leaves and freeze them on cookie trays first. However, I usually freeze the sprigs and brew the tea with leaves and stems together.
Starting mint from seed is a disaster. Ask a friend for some extra roots or buy a nursery plant. If you go to Morningstar Fellowship Church in Fort Mill, I will gladly share some of my roots with you. I literally have it growing onto my garden paths all the time and end up throwing away bushels of it.
Mint spreads like wildfire. In year one, it doesn't spread much. In year two, it becomes bushy. In year three, it will be coming out of your ears. Plant it in a place away from your other garden plants or dedicate a large pot to mint alone.
Cut the mint down the ground after the first frost. (Harvest your mint for the winter in mid-summer, when the flavor is best).
Mint will grow in just about any soil. However, it will do best if you till in some rich compost and peat moss before planting. Softer soil will also allow it to spread much faster.
Chocolate Mint is one of my favorite herbs. Its fragrance is potent and rejuvenating and it is virtually disease-proof.
If I brew a pot of Chocolate Mint tea in the kitchen, it can often be smelled everywhere in the house.
The first picture on this page is one of my mint beds in year three. This is one of the mint beds in year two. Notice how much fuller the mint beds become from year to year.