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Monkton Elm Garden Centre: The many uses of mint

PUBLISHED: 10:47 11 July 2017 | UPDATED: 10:47 11 July 2017

(c) Moussa81 / Thinkstock

(c) Moussa81 / Thinkstock

Moussa81

Chocolate mint, apple mint, ginger mint; the experts at Monkton Elm Garden Centre fill us in on the many varieties of that cooking, chewing and - well, many other things - essential

At Monkton Elm, we stock a wide range of herbs, and we are always on the lookout for exciting and new flavours to give our customers something a little different.

As most of us are aware, a sprig of garden mint (mentha spicata or spearmint) popped into the cooking pot livens up fresh peas and new potatoes perfectly, and peppermint (mentha piperata) makes a refreshing herb tea. But did you know that there are more than 600 varieties of mint, each having their own unique flavour?

These varieties can be substituted for ‘common or garden’ mint in many recipes, so it’s worth experimenting. Mint is used in many sweet and savoury recipes, and is used extensively throughout the culinary world, and is an important ingredient in many ethnic dishes.

Chocolate mint is a stunner. A rich chocolatey scent, coupled with attractive dark leaves and stems makes this a chocoholic’s delight. Use as a tea, ‘muddle’ (bruise) a sprig in the bottom of your mojito to release its flavour or use as an ingredient in chocolate cakes and ice-cream – any recipe that includes chocolate is sure to be enhanced.

Hillary’s Sweet Lemon mint would definitely make a lovely mint tea. It has a lemon spearmint flavour which is derived from its parents – crisp apple mint and cool lime mint - that could also work well in a lemon sorbet recipe. It was named after Hillary Clinton when she became First Lady of the United States.

Apple Mint has round, slightly downy leaves and is widely regarded as having the finest flavour for making mint sauce. It is also a perfect garnish for fruit salad. Gardeners interested in ‘companion planting’ could try growing apple mint near peas and tomatoes, as it aids their growth and enhances flavour, although as one of the tallest and most vigorous of mints, location would need careful consideration.

Ginger mint has a spicy flavour and a wonderful scent. Pep up your morning smoothie by adding a few leaves to the blender. It has wonderful variegated yellow and green leaves.

Basil mint can be made into pesto and is far easier to grow than the real thing.

Mint can be invasive as it has a vigorous root system. Grow in containers, using John Innes No. 3 compost, and keep well-watered. If growing in open ground, bury an open bottomed bucket into the soil with the rim about 3cm above ground. Plant mint into this and it will be contained. Mint plants flower if not picked regularly leading to cross pollination, and any different flavours will blend together eventually, so keep picking leaves as often as possible. Surplus leaves can be frozen in a zip lock bag, or hang up stems in a cool airy place to dry, crumble the leaves then store in an airtight jar in the dark.

Growing mint is pretty easy; mint grows best in a cool, moist, sunny position, out of the hottest sun. Try an east facing spot so it catches the morning rays.

Mint is easy to propagate by taking cuttings, and indeed, this is the best way of ensuring new plants stay true to variety. Stems can even grow roots in a glass of water, and can then be potted on to establish properly.

Watch out for mint rust, which is quite a common disease here in the UK. There is no chemical control available if using mint as a culinary herb; dig out and dispose of infected plants. Try growing fresh stock in a different part of the garden.

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