When we think of mint, our minds immediately picture a vibrant, green sprig atop a scoop of raspberry sorbet; the bright component in a classic, creamy yogurt sauce; or, of course, mint jelly paired with braised lamb. The herb we know as “mint” is actually a genus of the broader mint family, Lamiaceae, which also includes many of our favorite culinary herbs, like oregano, thyme, lavender, and sage. Mint, or mentha, is grown practically everywhere in the world; therefore, it makes appearances in almost every cuisine. This versatile culinary herb is delicious both dried and fresh.
But bring up the topic of mint with many a gardener, and you’ll be greeted with a resounding, “Don’t plant mint! It will take over your yard!” With thoughtful preparation and placement, however, mint can be a wonderful and containable addition to your culinary garden.
The most commonly planted varieties of mint are spearmint, which is sharper and more intense in flavor, and peppermint, which has a more delicate and sweet flavor. I’m also a fan of apple mint for my iced tea and chocolate mint to accompany my desserts.
Is Mint a Perennial or Annual?
Mint is a hardy perennial that is one of the first to arrive each spring. It also grows year-round in warmer climates; no dormancy period is needed. Mint thrives in both cool and warm climates, and it also retains its potency of flavor over the years.
Mint is easy to harvest. In fact, regular harvesting is encouraged, in order to prevent legginess. You may opt to harvest most of the plant at once, clipping away up to 2/3 of the length of the stems, or you may clip away only what you need. For the best potency of flavor, harvest just before the mint flowers. Its aroma will be at its peak.