Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
Spearmint is the most frequently found herb in people's garden and is often known as Common or Garden mint. This is partly because it is fairly indestructible (a good thing in most people's view) and because the British have always loved a little mint sauce with their roast lamb. Now we throw the net wider and include mint in feta salads, fruit salads, to garnish drinks and to add to jellies or salsas making it an indispensable member of any herb garden. Its familiar bright green leaves are pointed with serrated edges. Slightly smaller than apple mint, spearmint sports similar but slightly deeper purple flowers in the summer and is just as rampant. It dies right back in the winter.
A herb garden essential
The bright and refreshing taste of mint, monopolised by the toothpaste industry, is hard to beat for its refreshing flavour. You are best to grow it in a large pot or, even better, to sink a bottomless bucket into the ground (leaving a 5 cm rim above ground) into which you plant it because otherwise it has a tendency to send runners out in every direction and colonise your entire herb area. The leaves taste best before mint has flowered so pick the leaves fresh and use them straightaway. They can also be frozen. It is a good idea to cut down mint plants before they flower to encourage young, lush new growth that you can then keep harvesting. Strangely if you plant one type of mint next to another, the doyenne of herbs - Jekka McVicar - advises that they lose their individual scent and flavour so grow your fancy mint plants separately to keep them distinctive. Aesthetically pleasing in itself, you could try interspersing it with more low lying herbs like the thymes Silver Queen and Golden Queen. More practically, spearmint deters aphids from attacking your roses, so grow some in and around your rose garden too. It will almost act like a mulching ground cover and will protect your roses at the same time.
- Height: 45- 60 cm
- Spread: indefinite unless contained
- Colour: bright green, pointed, serrated edge, mauve/purple flowers
- Flowers: July-August
- Uses: culinary, herb garden - good for cooking and tea
- Spacing: 30 cm
- Scent: spearmint
- Habit: upright, vigorous
- Life: hardy perennial
MInt was such an important herb to the Egyptians that it was placed in the tombs of the dead as long ago as 2500 BC.