Peppermint is a cross between Mentha
aquatica (Water Mint) and Mentha spicata (Spearmint).
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 offspring "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 from watering
all the time, 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 by relocating the pot.
Both Peppermints like to grow in 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 need 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.
Peppermint contains an incredible list of
chemical compounds. It is important to realize that all
these chemicals work together to give Peppermint and, any other herb for that matter, its
unique taste and healing properties. It seems impossible that a single element removed from the plant and
inserted into a tablet, could possibly work as well as or have the same
great flavor that the Peppermint from your own back yard does.
Peppermint like most variegated plants make for 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.
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 sends stalks upward. These
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 age of 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 tall as 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 (Peppermint's parents) have quite a few forms and these
forms have produced other Mentha piperitas that are worth adding to your
collection. These include
Bergamot Mint and
Chocolate Mint. Peppermints in all
forms have a lot of menthol in them, which can be overpowering when the
leaves are used
fresh. We prefer the leaves dried. This mellows the
menthol and makes them more palatable. It also makes it easy to blend with
other dried herbs.
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