The Tasteful Garden: How to grow and cook what you love to eat

The Tasteful Garden: Lavender mint makes a dandy refresher

CorrespondentsNovember 15, 2013 

The leaves of lavender mint, one of Debbie Moose’s favorites, are green with purplish undersides.

COURTESY OF DEBBIE MOOSE

Carol Stein grows it

The Mentha family of plants includes thousands of varieties of mint, many of which go beyond the usual chewing-gum flavors.

Citrus lovers may enjoy orange, grapefruit, lime or lemon mint. Ginger, pineapple or banana mints enhance tropical gardens. Apple, chocolate and marshmallow mints are fun for the kids.

The leaves of lavender mint, one of Debbie’s favorites, are green with purplish undersides. The scent reminds me of my favorite herb – lavender, which many gardeners find difficult to grow.

Most mints have ribbed heart-shaped leaves in various shades of green and make lovely backdrops for colorful summer flowers or the gorgeous pineapple mint, with its ruffled variegated yellow, green and bright white leaves.

Honeybees, butterflies and other pollinators enjoy mint flowers, which range from snow white to pink to deep lavender.

Mint prefers partial shade and rich, moist garden soil. But mints can be invasive bullies because they send out runners and spread wildly. That’s why I don’t plant mints in their preferred locations. I choose sunny areas with well-draining, loose soil, which slows down their wanderlust growth habit for a few seasons. At some point, all types of mint will migrate to more suitable conditions, but my practice reins it in a bit.

You can also keep mint in its place by planting in containers. It will grow in any size pot, indoors or out. But don’t place the pots directly on garden soil, because the roots will quickly tunnel out through drainage holes in search of greener pastures.

Harvest mint in spring and summer, then allow it to flower a few weeks before first frost to attract precious pollinators. Deadhead spent blooms before seeds drop, because the seeds often don’t carry the same characteristics as the parent plant.

Debbie Moose cooks it

I fell in love with lavender mint over the summer. While mint and lavender can be strong flavors on their own, this herb combining them somehow brings out the best qualities of both, mellowing them out.

There are so many worlds beyond the usual mints to explore. So if you think you don’t like mint, think again. Many varieties actually taste very mildly of traditional mint when the other flavors are involved, which makes them great for flavoring drinks.

Norma DeCamp Burns concocts unusual herbal tea blends using the herbs and flowers she grows at Bluebird Hill Farm ( bluebirdhillfarm.net/) in Chatham County. I asked her for advice on drying and combining herbs, now that it’s time to harvest your mint.

“Using several mints together creates a full-bodied flavor,” she says. “Some mint-related plants, such as bee balm, and many of the basils and some of the sages add interesting textures, colors, flavors and flowers to mixtures.”

Burns says to let your nose guide you – if the flowers or herbs smell good together, they’ll probably taste good together, too. Scent can be a better indicator than taste, because an infusion can taste very different from the flavor of the raw herb.

To dry your mints, select only perfect, unblemished leaves from your plants and place them in a basket. Place the container in a dry place away from direct light but where air can circulate – underneath a gently moving ceiling fan would be great. Toss the herbs around in the basket every day or so.

Don’t wash the herbs before drying them unless they’re very dirty, because the water can cause mold. Of course, only use herbs that have not been sprayed with insecticides or other garden chemicals. Depending on the humidity and the amount you’re drying, it should take about a week.

Burns does not recommend drying herbs in a microwave because she thinks it hurts the flavor and texture. “Microwaving is powerful and it fries the herbs,” she says.

Reach Carol Stein and Debbie Moose at tastefulgarden@hotmail.com.

Lavender Mint Refresher This simple infusion will make you throw away those expensive flavored waters that are often full of useless calories. Keep it in the refrigerator and use as-is, added to tea for extra flavor or (unsweetened) in a spray bottle for a refreshing spritzer on a hot day. Use fresh, unblemished leaves. Leaving them on the stems is OK. 1 cup fresh chemical-free lavender mint (see Notes) Strip of lemon rind (about 1 inch long and wide) Sugar or natural sweetener to taste (optional)

BRING 1 quart of water to a rolling boil. Place the lavender mint and the lemon rind in a heat-safe bowl. Pour the boiling water over the lavender mint and lemon rind.

LET the bowl sit, lightly covered with a towel, for 30 minutes. Taste the infusion and see if the flavor is strong enough for you. If not, let it sit a bit longer.

REMOVE the lavender mint and lemon rind, pour the infusion into a pitcher and add sweetener if desired. Cover the pitcher and refrigerate. It will keep 3 to 4 days.

Yield: About 4 cups

NOTES: Mix conventional mint with the lavender mint for more minty flavor. Experiment with infusions of other herbs and flowers, such as rose petals or lemon balm. But be sure anything you use has never been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service