Variegated plants are intriguing garden companions. Their highlights make darker plants pop and add an interesting complement to bright flower colors.

There are two kinds of variegated plants: those that are a true species and those that are variegated due to a virus or other environmental factor.  Most variegated herbs fall into this second group. These virus infected plants are referred to as sports. A sport is a stem, or, more correctly, a bud of an all-green plant that goes awry and produces a variegated branch or stem. These mutations are often selected by growers, rooted, and given a new name (Variegated Peppermint, for example). Over time this kind of variegated plant may have both all-green and variegated stems. Since there is less chlorophyll (the energy making part of the plant) in variegated leaves, a sport propagated plant may be overcome by green shoots. Removing these green shoots when they appear will keep them from over whelming the variegated parts of the plant.  In the photo above you can see an all green stem trying to invade this nice pot of Variegated Peppermint. In some plants, even with proper pruning, the variegation eventually dies out. (Golden Lemon Thyme is a good example of this.) Variegated Peppermint is extremely resilient and with occasional pruning will stay variegated for many years.

Variegated Peppermint Plant

Peppermint is a cross between Mentha aquatica (Water Mint) and Mentha spicata (Spearmint). Peppermint seeds are rare and, when they do occur, they usually do not germinate. If a seed did sprout it would most likely be a less desirable form of mint. Sometimes we call these "rank mints" because they can be foul tasting and have a very unpleasant odor.  Our Peppermint is the variety most often used for peppermint oil production. It was originally obtained by us from the Mint Repository in Oregon and is sometimes referred to as Black Mitcham or Black Peppermint. Mitcham is a location in the United Kingdom where Peppermint has been grown commercially for oil production for centuries. The climate there, which is cool and sunny in the summer, is ideal for mint. Even though mint prefers these conditions, with a little understanding, it can thrive almost anywhere in the United States. For instance, here in the Southwest, where we can have many summer days over 100, we give our Peppermint shade in the afternoon. While the mint does not mind our sun and high temperatures, it does mind going without water. Keeping the plants consistently moist is necessary to develop succulent stems. So to give ourselves a break we grow it in partial shade. The key is to balance the amount of shade with the quality of the oil produced in the plant. Too much shade and not only does the flavor suffer, but the plant also becomes more susceptible to disease. You know your mint plant is in too much shade when the tall stems become lanky instead of rigid. Peppermint will also grow a lighter shade of green in too much shade. Variegated Peppermint is a little different and  should be protected from sun that is too harsh. The white and cream sections of the leaves are very susceptible to sunburn. This normally doesn't hurt the plant but it is disfiguring and if left unchecked will cause the plant to grow very slowly or die. Because we always grow Peppermint in a container it is easier to find just the right spot simply be relocating the pot.

Both Peppermints like well drained potting soil to which organic fertilizer has been added. Each plant needs as much room as you can provide. It is better to have a very wide container instead of a very deep one. Six inches is deep enough. There is never enough width! Most mints will have to be split up and repotted each spring to keep them healthy.  See our Great Mint Repotting Caper for more on proper soil, division and replanting.

 A trio of mint in color bowls.
Chocolate Mint Flower Stem

Although Variegated Peppermint is a slower growing plant than Peppermint, these two do grow similarly. These mints have two phases of growth. The first occurs in early spring as it emerges from dormancy and heads upward. These stems grow tall and will become flower spikes. If you are harvesting for drying, it is best to cut these stems just as the first few buds open. The flower on the left is really too old. The problem is not the flower so much as the age of the leaves. As the leaves age the essential oils change composition and the flavors are not as pepperminty. So we use the stage of the flower to gauge the appropriate time to harvest the leaves. You can actually cut the stems at anytime but usually we like to let them get as tallas possible without waiting too long. The second phase of growth occurs after flowering. At this time the plant starts sending out long runners that stay at ground level. If these runners find moist soil they root and the plant gets bigger (thus the reason for the wide pot). Read our Mint Care and Tips page for more on how to tame your mint.

Water Mint and Spearmint have quite a few forms and these forms have produced other Mentha piperitas that are worth adding to your collection. These include Orange Mint, Lavender Mint, Lemon Bergamot Mint and Chocolate Mint. Peppermints in all forms have a lot of menthol in them. This can be overpowering when used fresh. They are really best if they are allowed to dry. This mellows the menthol and makes them more palatable. Interestingly, Spearmints have less menthol which makes them perfect for fresh use. This is why Spearmint, not Peppermint, makes it in to the produce aisle. For more on the different varieties of mint, please be sure to catch our two podcasts on Mint.

Variegated Peppermint can be used just like Peppermint. According to The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants, Peppermint tea is commonly used to relieve digestive issues and may help relieve irritable bowel syndrome and digestive headaches. It also states that the diluted oil may be used as an inhalant and chest rub for respiratory infections. Always apply a small amount of any oil to the skin in order to test for a reaction before applying broadly to the skin. According to Joseph Thomas in A Complete Pronouncing Medical Dictionary, Spiritus Mentha Piperta (Spirit of Peppermint or essence of Peppermint) was part of the medical pharmacopea in the US in the 1800's. The "recipe" for this prescription involved steeping dried Peppermint in alcohol, which may be why Peppermint was once referred to as Brandy Mint. This infusion was used as a carminative which is a preparation used to relieve gas. Peppermint is very strong and should not be given to children under 5. Essential oil should never be taken internally without professional supervision.

Peppermint is traditionally used as a flavoring for sweet treats. Steep a little fresh Peppermint in milk that will be used for ice cream. Or, make a simple syrup boiling the leaves with sugar, water and a bit of lemon juice. Try adding just a touch of this to mineral water for a refreshing summer drink or put a few tablespoons into your next batch of apple jelly. Enjoy peppermint in the yummy chutney recipe below.

Peppermint and Ginger Chutney

1 1/2 cups peppermint leaves
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon finely chopped hot chili pods
1/2 cup preserved ginger (ginger boiled in sugar)
2 teaspoons finely grated ginger
1 chopped garlic clove
1/2 cup chopped shallots

Wash the mint, shake dry, strip the leaves from the stalks, and chop finely.
Mix with the vinegar, salt, sugar and chili to form a paste.
Drain the preserved ginger well, dice, and add to the mint mixture with the fresh ginger and garlic.
Add the shallots.
If the chutney is too thick, thicken with 2-3 tablespoons cider vinegar.
This is excellent on lamb or chicken.

The Herbs and Spices Cookbook
by Christian Teubner

Peppermint and Variegated Peppermint can be ordered here.

Now you can make use of all your space. Our new vertical stacking MiniGardens can be used indoors or out. These well-made boxes are perfect for herbs, strawberries, bedding flowers and small veggies like lettuce or spinach. Each MiniGarden comes as 3 layers (9 pockets) which include: 1 water collection tray, 3 planting rows, 3 lids/trays, and 18 assembly clips. Each MiniGarden measures 25" L x 5 3/4" D x 23" H when assembled. One complete unit holds 2 cu. ft. of growing media. If stacking more than 3 units (9 rows), it is recommended to secure each unit to a wall with a washer and screw (not included) through each assembly clip. Available only in Terracotta.

We also offer a specially designed drip kit that is easily run through the the rows and down the outside to your faucet. Each MiniGarden Drip Kit includes: 25 feet of tubing, 10 emitters, 9 tees, 2 elbows and a faucet adapter. Sets can be connected together to supply more boxes. Add a timer and your MiniGarden will be all set.

To order a MiniGarden or Drip Kit, please use this link.

Mountain Valley Growers, Inc. 2011 Catalog

Have you ordered your vegetable plants yet?

New items found online and in our 2011 catalog include Diva Cucumber, a smooth thin skinned cucumber that is really divine, Orange Honeydew, which just sounds wrong but is oh so right, and the heirloom romaine lettuce, Parris Island. Back by popular demand is the Fresno Chili. It seems Jalapenos have become too bland for some folks and the Fresno takes it up a scoville unit or two. Be sure to take advantage of our multi plant discount for vegetables. All veggies are available 6 of one kind for 16.25 which makes the sixth one free!!

To order our certified organic veggies use this Vegetable Plant Order Form.  Order now and have them delivered at the appropriate time in spring.

We have also added new herbs, flowers and gardening supplies. If you haven't ordered this year's catalog, you can do so here.

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