Today is National Mint Julep Day. Observed annually on May 30, the mint julep is the traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby. If you want to join in the celebration today, you need bourbon, sugar, water and mint leaves. While a trip to the store is necessary for the bourbon and sugar, mint can be harvested in your own backyard.
Mint (Mentha spp.) is so easy to grow care is needed to keep it from growing too vigorously. A perennial herb with ambitions to cover any available ground, it spreads by long stems that root wherever they come in contact with soil.
Plant mint in full sun or part shade in moist, but well-drained soil. A layer of mulch around plants will help soil retain moisture and keep the leaves clean. In the garden, plant mint in an area surrounded by physical barriers like a sidewalk, garden wall or driveway to keep it in bounds.
Some have success with sinking large pots of mint in the garden, leaving a couple inches of the pot above the soil to contain it. When I tried this, the mint was so motivated to break out into the garden its stems scaled the pot edges and escaped into the garden.
Planting mint in containers kept on a sunny deck or patio keeps plants in check and close by for a convenient supply. Water plants often enough to keep the soil slightly moist but not soggy. Frequent trimming keeps plants more compact and producing abundant new leaves.
Begin harvesting leaves when plants have grown several stems that are at least six inches long. Use them fresh, freeze them in ice cubes, or dry them. To dry mint, hang a bundle of stems upside down or lay them in a single layer on a screen. Remove the leaves from stems once they are dry and store in an airtight container.
At the end of the season, take a few cuttings to grow indoors in a sunny window. Stems will root in a glass of water or plant cuttings horizontally in potting mix.
Use mint leaves to flavor water, iced tea, brewed hot tea, lemonade, fruit punch or to make mojitos or mint juleps. Flavor yogurt, ice cream, sherbet and fruit salad with mint. Use mint in marinades for summer vegetables.
There are many varieties of mint, each with their own distinct taste. Spearmint is the mint most often used in mint juleps.
Blue Balsam Tea mint is a variety of peppermint.
Chocolate mint smells and tastes like the mints that come with the check at a restaurant.
Young leaves of pineapple mint smell like…you guessed it…pineapple. The variegated leaves are pretty in containers.
In honor of National Mint Julep Day, plant some mint and garden with me!