Introduction to Jekka’s marvelous mints

The Empress of Oregano, the Tsarina of Tarragon and the Queen of all Herbs shares her mints with us.

Words & Pictures: Jekka McVicar

The scent of chopped spearmint transports me back to my childhood, kneeling on a chair, chopping the mint on a little wooden board to make mint sauce as my mother cooked the Sunday lunch.

Today, outside my kitchen, I have a large patch of Tashkent Mint, an excellent spearmint, which I use virtually every day from early spring until late autumn in sweet and savoury dishes, to make hot and cold teas, tisanes, and, in summer, crushed with ice to make a delicious cold drink.

All the mints mentioned here are, with the exception of the desert mint, the hardy herbaceous varieties. The flowers in summer can vary from white to mauve and the leaves, which are all highly aromatic especially when crushed, can vary from being pointed to smooth, hairy to crinkly, depending on the variety. One thing in common with them all is that they are very attractive to bees and butterflies.

They are, by their nature, all invasive in the garden, so the site needs to be chosen with care. Mint is a promiscuous plant, which is why there are so many different varieties, and it also means that there are very few that come true from seed. To get the best and most reliable flavour it is best to take root cuttings in late autumn. The best flavour and healthiest plants are those that are grown so the plant can spread naturally, which admittedly can be difficult in a small garden.

Plant in rich well drained soil in a sunny position. If you do not have the space, Mint grows well in containers using a soil based potting compost. However, to keep the plant productive, do repot every year in the autumn to prevent the roots rotting during the winter.