The Many Benefits of A Bountiful Mint Crop
Mar 7th, 2012 | By Jerry Greenfield | Category: Food, Jerry's Column, Top Headline | Print This Article
Would a burst of minty freshness feel good right about now? If the mere thought of peppermint or spearmint gets your taste buds tingling, odds are good that you’re an avid fan of mint and will, no matter what I say, insist on planting some in your survival garden.
But before you decide which section of this year’s garden is going to be devoted to your favorite herb, I’d like to ask you a few questions. How many family members share your mint-loving gene? Will you and your crew consume a lot of mint over the next few years? How about your friends? Do you have several dozen friends who would be pleased to receive the gift of mint this year, next year, and the year after that?
Oh, and let’s not forget the neighbors. Are your next-door neighbors the type of people who will be grateful when your mint plants sneak under the fence and make themselves at home in their yards?
To effectively supply your family, friends, and neighbors with a lifetime supply of mint, all you need is a few plants and some time. Just put your mint in a shady, moist spot and hang on for dear life. Within a year or two, this highly invasive herb will be pummeling your parsley, strangling your asparagus, tormenting your tomatoes and generally popping up wherever the mood strikes. When it comes to conquering land, mint is the Genghis Khan of garden plants.
The secret to mint’s maddening marauding manner is the fact that it propagates itself by way of rhizomes. A rhizome, sometimes called a rootstalk, is a horizontal plant stem with shoots that grow aboveground and roots that grow below. These runners are how mint reproduces itself. The key to keeping mint from taking over your garden is to keep these rhizomes in their place.
From my way of thinking, the best place for rhizomes is in a pot.
So, if you’re going to grow any type of mint, I suggest sinking the plant in a large flowerpot in a moderately shady section of your herb garden. Feed it with a little Protogrow after you’ve transferred it to the pot and make sure the soil stays moist. But, whatever you do, don’t forget that it is there. Mint is tricky and determined to spread. Every month or so, I strongly recommend lifting the pot out of the ground. This will detach any rootstalks that have begun to make their way into the surrounding soil. Do whatever it takes to remember this monthly task, otherwise your mint will find a way to spread.
Keeping your mint in a container above ground is also not foolproof if you neglect it. It just takes one or two plants getting bent over enough to touch the ground to let mint start sending its rhizomes on their merry way throughout your garden. Before you know it, you’ll be shocked to discover that your container-grown mint is choking your cabbage, battling your beans, and, well, I’ll let you take it from here. I’ve had enough fun with this concept for one column.
If you’ve made it this far down in this scribble, you might be thinking that I hate mint. Despite having fought many battles with this determined herb, I actually respect all forms of mint.
Mint is loaded with vitamin A, vitamin C, and some vitamin B2. It contains a wide range of essential minerals such as manganese, copper, iron, potassium and calcium. Many folks claim that this savory herb relieves symptoms of indigestion, heartburn, and irritable bowel syndrome by relaxing the muscles in and around the intestine and, as an added bonus, inhibits the growth of many different types of bacteria and fungus.
Mint also comes with a few interesting stories.
Mint gets its name from Minthe, a beautiful river nymph who the ancient Greeks believed once lived near the river Cocytus. Cocytus was one of five rivers that flowed into the Greek underworld. As you might remember, the Greek underworld was ruled by a god named Hades. Hades was married to Queen Persephone. Well, as the ancient Greeks told the story, Minthe caught the eye of Hades and this upset Persephone. As far as I can tell from my reading, none of this was Minthe’s fault but, since logic is hardly necessary for an old myth, Persephone either took revenge on Minthe or saved her from seduction by turning her into a plant. When Hades discovered this transformation, it was his turn to be upset. Unable to reverse the spell, he gave Minthe a sweet scent and the ability to become stronger whenever someone stepped on her.
Be that as it may, we do know that the Greeks used mint in medicine and in temple rituals. Another Greek myth had the gods Zeus and Hermes wandering through the countryside incognito and being snubbed by villagers. A humble couple named Baucis and Philemon took them in and, before feeding them, rubbed the wooden table with mint. Thus, in several Mediterranean cultures, mint has become a symbol of hospitality.
Since mint can be inhospitable to certain insects, some people suggest placing it in places where you need to repel aphids, flea beetles, and various cabbage pests. Although my experience shows this advice to be somewhat effective, I strongly recommend caution when placing mint anywhere near your veggies, even when you are growing it in containers. If you are confident that you are going to maintain a diligent watch on this very invasive herb, you might want to give it a try, but be forewarned that anything less than thorough inspection on a weekly basis can give mint a good head start to conquering your entire garden.
The taste and fragrance of fresh mint is certainly one of the delightful parts of summer but you have to remember to treat this invasive herb with the respect it deserves. If you exercise due caution, growing mint can be a pleasure; if you treat it lightly, you will forever regret the moment you set that first mint plant in the ground.
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