Wild (and Not So Wild) Mint


I’m a big fan of mint. Mint grows wild here in the foothills of the Appalachians, and many other places as well. A lot of people hate mint–it takes over garden areas and is almost impossible to get rid of once it gets started. I’ve never understood the problem–I love mint, no matter where it pops up. It can fill a bare spot, act as fragrant ground cover choking out more annoying weeds, and it will grow almost anywhere that you can’t get anything else to grow. If you really want to control it, a container planting is best, but I’ve never planted mint in a container in my life. I can’t get enough mint–spearmint, apple mint, chocolate mint, orange mint, you name it, I love mint.

And so, despite the proliferation of mint in my gardens and in contrary spirit, I’ve been picking it from the wild.

Lassoing wild mint is just so much more of an adventure, you know.

I discovered wild mint sprouting near the creek below the house. This is a very pretty section of creek that I don’t spend near enough time enjoying, so this was a chance to walk amongst the mint and savor this bit of bank. Lilies and irises grow here in the spring.

It’s a quiet, cool place for cats to sip.

You can’t really make a mistake picking wild mint–the fragrance will hit you as soon as you get near it. You can use wild mint the same way you would use cultivated garden mint, of course.

Mint tea is purported to be good for many things, such as stomachaches and colds or flu, to calm stress, and to lessen headaches. Directly rubbing the leaves on your chest is said to be a cure for congestion, and rubbing the leaves on your teeth will relieve an ache. Chewing the leaves freshens your breath, and arranging mint in vases in your house is not only beautiful but repels insects and rats. I have mint in vases and jars in my house almost every week (and I don’t even have a bug or rat problem). Mint is a fragrant–and free–bouquet. I especially like to make cuttings with the flower heads. (You can also add dried mint to potpourris.)

Mint should be picked in mid-morning or early evening–never in the heat of the day–for the best oil retention. Also, be sure to gather mint that hasn’t flowered yet (unless using for a decorative purpose).

Mint tea makes a tasty beverage even if you’re not into the medicinal effects. Simply rinse the mint in cold water, drain, place in a pot, and cover with fresh water.

Bring to a boil and simmer until it’s as strong as you want it to be. Strain the leaves and filter the tea. Add sugar, chill, and pour over ice!

Mint, like most herbs, should be dried on the lowest setting of your dehydrator or in a very, very low oven. (Better to use a dehydrator if you have one so you can control the temperature.) Drying at higher temperatures will destroy the oils that give the flavor and aroma. It takes a long time to do correctly, but it’s worth the effort.

You can also dry mint the old-fashioned way, hanging it in bunches. When I dry this way, I place the bunches inside a paper bag while they’re hanging to keep out dust. When the mint is thoroughly dried, try to not crush the leaves until right before using to retain the oils.

I’ve always loved homemade mint jelly with lamb (an Easter staple at my house growing up), but there’s more to mint than jelly. Use dried mint as you would any herb–mint complements chicken and pork, not just lamb. Mint, fresh or dried, is also delicious in salads, pastas, rices, and other vegetable dishes as well as desserts. (And don’t forget the homemade mint ice cream.) Many sweet mint recipes start with a mint extract or a mint simple syrup.

To make a mint extract–fill a jar loosely with fresh mint leaves, gently “bruising” (crushing the leaves between your fingers to release the oils) as you put them in the jar. Add vodka and let steep for six to eight weeks, the same way you make homemade vanilla extract with split vanilla beans. Mint extract, like vanilla extract, lasts indefinitely.

Be careful if you’re making mint extract with wild mint. That’s the kind of mint that really likes to party. Take away the car keys before giving it any alcohol.

For a mint simple syrup–you can use a 1:1:1 ratio–one cup mint leaves, one cup water, one cup sugar. Bring water to a boil; add sugar and mint. Reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes. Cool; strain leaves. Store in the fridge. (Tip: Add a pinch of cream of tartar to the boiling mixture and the syrup won’t crystallize in storage.)

If you have too much mint this time of year, get busy! There are so many ways to use it. And if you’ve somehow made it through life without a patch or ten of mint in your gardens, don’t despair. Take a walk down a country road and lasso some mint from the wild!

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on August 7, 2012  

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  1. 8-7

    I use dried crushed mint leaves in my dog’s bedding, between the cover and the pillow. Fleas hate it, and the dog smells nice!. Fresh may be best, but I find dried works well enough. One more way to identify mint–plants in the mint family have square stems.

  2. 8-7

    It’s nice to see Maude enjoying her life on Sassafras Farm.

  3. 8-7

    Princessvanessa: I worried for her…she kept stickin’ her nose in the lye when we were mixing soap!

    Suzanne, you forgot Mojitos. :devil2:

    Also, why is post-flowering mint bad to pick for purposes other than arrangements?

  4. 8-7

    Murphala, like other herbs, once it flowers, it’s not as aromatic or flavorful–the plant’s energy goes into the flowers.

  5. 8-7

    I have some EXTREMELY aggressive mint growing by the front steps of my house. It has choked out every other plant and the roots are like IRON. Nothing gets rid of it. I essentially can’t plant anything else there, ever. This has gone on for years. Oh, and when I took some of my other plants out and thought I had NO roots of the mint with the transplants, well, that was a joke. Then it ruined two other places around my house. If anyone knows how to get rid of mint once and for all, please tell me your method. Don’t get me wrong, I love mint, but forever more after this, it will be planted in a container. And, I don’t have enough land to sacrifice it to huge mint patches. On a farm, that would be more reasonable, but here, it’s a problem.

  6. 8-7

    I’m with you – I love mint as well and even grow it in my herb garden. I just keep an eye on it and pluck out the unwanted sprigs that come up everywhere. You MUST try this Jamie Oliver suggestion to use mint on fresh pineapple! Bruise some mint leaves by grinding it with a few spoons full of sugar (in a mortar and pestal if you have one)and then sprinkle the “minted” sugar on fresh pineapple spears – the taste is heavenly!

  7. 8-7

    In my first garden, I planted many herbs including multiple types of mint. Of course, the mints, and other invasives escaped the garden surround and added to the green of my sparse country grass. I was pleased. Any one walking in the grass was treated to an aromatic delight. But mowing was my favorite time. That really brought out the scents. The whole neighborhood could scent my escapees when I mowed. The crushed and cut mints also drew all the neighborhood cats who came and rolled in the grass. (Cat nip is a mint. But some of the cats preferred the chocolate mint, and their fur smelled so good after a good roll!) Good Memories.

  8. 8-7

    I love mint too. My nephew makes a melon salad with a mint/ginger dressing…oh my! I recently heard that mint, along with about any other herb you choose to mix with it, cut roughly and placed in nesting boxes is a good way to deter pests from your laying hens. Not to mention it makes the coop/barn smell good! Years ago, I bought and planted choc. mint in my garden. I thought it was a beautiful plant, still do, but holy cow did it take over fast! I pulled it all out (yeah, right) and threw it in a hole where the pool used to be. The whole circle is FILLED with HUGE mint plants. It really is beautiful growing where it can’t hurt anything else.

  9. 8-7

    I haven’t tried it with mint, but I’ve had good results drying my other herbs in the microwave (don’t have a dehydrator). You just put a paper towel on a plate, cover with a layer of herb leaves and microwave a minute at a time, mixing the leaves up with your hands after every minute.

  10. 8-7

    I have been finding more and more uses for mint in my cooking in recent years… it is wonderful when finely chopped (fresh) in a fruit salad… it is also wonderful in homemade tzatziki sauce as well as a nice greek marinade for chicken (balsamic/garlic/lemon/honey & mint) it is often that delicious mysterious flavour in many Middle Eastern & or Greek foods… I love it!

  11. 8-7

    Mint is not your friend! Just like a beautiful bear or lion posing photogenically on a calendar page, mint is pretty and its uses are many. I, too, grew mint near the kitchen so I could step outside to pluck sprigs for our sweet tea. Well, fast forward to the day we found it growing up through the concrete slab in our garage. It grew through the concrete slab! It would have needed to climb a mere two steps to gain entry to the kitchen and dining room. Of course, that would have been convenient even if unorthodox. Fortunately for us, we listed our house and moved away. Unfortunately someone else bought said house and I don’t want to know how they’re doing. I shudder to think of mint invading the rest of the house.

  12. 8-7

    When we visited a medicinal plant farm in Belize, they put springs of mint in a jug of cool water as a refreshing drink for that hot, humid jungle climate. It also cures the headache you can get from being overheated.

    Peppermint essential oil is also used for a headache cure, including migraines. At the first start of the headache, you rub a little peppermint essential oil into your temples and forehead. If your skin is very sensitive, you can mix it with olive or almond oil to dilute it. I’ve done this. It does relieve the headache, but sometimes not completely.

  13. 8-8

    Thank you Britishtea. My mint is growing up through the blacktop on my driveway adjacent to the house! It causing the cracks to get bigger. The roots and stems are very strong and woody. I cannot tell you enough how strong and resilient this plant is. I love it in tea, and just to garnish food, but, oh my, how I wish I hadn’t planted it in the ground near my house. Wild in the country is fine and in containers is fine, but don’t plant it where you can’t afford it taking over everything else.

  14. 8-9

    Virgin mint juleps
    4 sprigs of 6 – 8 leaves mint
    quart jar of ice
    sugar to taste

    Rinse mint, put in jar, add sugar, ice and water put lid on securely and shake. Very refreshing on a hot summer day!

  15. 8-9

    Put mint leaves in with fresh sliced peaches, sugar and blueberries, place in nice decorative clear glass bowl garnish with short 4 leaf sprigs, Voila beautiful and elegant desert or salad and so delicious too.

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