Mint is one of those versatile herbs that lends its flavor to a huge variety of foods. Growing a mint plant is very easy; it’s a hardy plant that will actually take over your garden if you let it.
Mint is a perennial that can be grown outdoors or indoors. Growing mint indoors is advantageous because you can limit its spread while always having fresh mint on hand. It’s a natural air freshener, too, and will fill your home with a sweet, fresh scent.
Ways To Use Mint Leaves
By now we know the danger of oxidative stress in the body; some experts point to this condition as the source of most human illness. Mint contains some of the highest concentrations of antioxidants of any food, meaning that it can truly improve your health. (1)
Mint can be eaten raw, steeped as tea, cooked, dried, and its essential oil can be used as an herbal remedy.
Most mint leaves are fully edible and used in cuisines throughout the world. Different types of mint add flavor from subtle to strong with hints of other flavors. You can grow a few of your favorite varieties to use in cooking, jellies, chutneys, candy, and teas.
There are over 1,000 varieties of mint—here are some of the most popular:
- Apple (“woolly”) mint – aromatic and delicate
- Chocolate mint – sweet with lovely reddish-brown leaves, tastes like a chocolate mint candy
- Ginger mint – a spearmint hybrid with yellow stripes on the leaves, the essential oil is a potent antiseptic but can be toxic in large doses (2)
- Lavender mint – with red stems and a floral flavor
- Lemon balm – calming, tart and sweet
- Licorice mint (anise hyssop) – smells and tastes like black licorice; bright purple flowers are great in a salad or tea as well as the leaves
- Orange mint – floral undertones
- Pennyroyal – great for repelling insects but not to be taken internally
- Peppermint – needs no introduction
- Pineapple mint – mild, slightly bitter
- Spearmint – refreshing
- Watermint – subtle earthy flavor
To dry mint leaves, cut stalks right before the flowers bloom. Hang upside down until dry, then store the leaves in an airtight container.
Most (but not all) mints can be made into tea from fresh or dried leaves. Make sure the varieties you’re growing are safe for ingestion.
Mint essential oils can be used topically when mixed with a carrier oil (e.g., almond, coconut, jojoba, olive, sesame) in a ratio of 4 drops mint per tablespoon of carrier oil. The oils can be used for aromatherapy using a diffuser, steam bath, or simply sniffing the plant.
Warning to breastfeeding mothers: peppermint can slow milk production. (3)
15 Reasons to Grow A Mint Plant
Get your soil ready!
1. Improves Digestion
All the edible members of the mint family are good for digestion, which is part of the reason why they’re put on your plate as a garnish. Digestion begins in your mouth, and mint stimulates the salivary glands to receive and break down food. (4) Phytochemicals in mint also inhibit pain receptors in the colon; relieve diarrhea, gas, and bloating; and ease constipation. In particular, peppermint is known to relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
2. Treats Headaches
The menthol in peppermint oil is known to be effective in alleviating headaches. When spread across the forehead and temples, “… a 10% peppermint oil in ethanol solution significantly reduced the clinical headache intensity already after 15 minutes (p < 0.01). This significant clinical reduction of the pain intensity continued over the one hour observation period…There was no significant difference between the efficacy of 1,000 mg of acetaminophen and 10% peppermint oil in ethanol solution.” (5)
3. Fights Nausea
The same phytochemicals in mint that promote digestion also relieve nausea, even in cases when drugs can’t. (6) Can be taken as a tea, oil rubbed on the forehead and temples, or munch some leaves. The paradox of mint is that it is both stimulating and calming at the same time.
4. Boosts Memory
A British study found that peppermint tea not only enhanced mood but improved short- and long-term memory, alertness, and cognition. (7)
5. Heals Sore Nipples of Breastfeeding Mothers
Applying peppermint oil to nipple fissures promotes rapid healing when applied topically after nursing. (8) Peppermint can be slightly painful if applied to open sores, so make sure to only use 2-3 drops of peppermint diluted in a tablespoon of coconut oil.
6. Halts Hiccups
A peppermint tincture or a tea composed of cardamom and mint leaves will stop a bout of hiccups. To take, hold your breath as long as possible, take a big gulp of lukewarm tea, swallow, and breathe. Your hiccups should be gone in no time!
7. Boost Weight Loss
Just the smell of mint alone can curb your appetite!
8. Improves Respiratory Function
A 2013 study of 12 healthy men who drank half a liter of mineral water with .05 ml of peppermint essential oil every day for 10 days concluded:
“The results of the experiment support the effectiveness of peppermint essential oil on the exercise performance, gas analysis, spirometry parameters, blood pressure, and respiratory rate in the young male students. Relaxation of bronchial smooth muscles, increase in the ventilation and brain oxygen concentration, and decrease in the blood lactate level are the most plausible explanations.”(9)
9. Eases Cough
A steam or hot bath with mint leaves or essential oil will ease muscle aches and the menthol in mint relieves congestion. The phytochemicals in peppermint are mild anesthetics to soothe an irritated throat, so make sure to drink mint tea too! Click here for recipes for homemade mint (and other) cough drops.
10. Stimulates the Immune Response
As we mentioned at the beginning, mint plants are rich in antioxidants. By scavenging free radicals throughout the body drastically, these antioxidants reduce the risk of illness and disease. Stress is also a common precursor to illness; mint promotes calmness and has analgesic and anaesthetic properties. (10) In addition, mint is antiviral, antitumor, and antibacterial.
11. Improves Your Mood
Because the aroma of mint induces a feeling of calmness without making you sleepy, mint can improve your mood. Whether applied topically, inhaled, or taken as a tea, lemon balm especially can reduce feelings of fatigue and anxiety. (11)
12. Supports Oral Health
Mint is antibacterial, reducing the formation of plaque and the proliferation of bacteria that can cause cavities and bad breath. Mint also stimulates the production of saliva, which keeps bacteria from settling on your teeth.
“Saliva is important for oral and dental health, because increasing salivary flow rate (SFR) increases pH, promotes enamel remineralization and buffer capacity, and reduces caries…Only the spearmint- and cinnamon-flavored gum [of 5 different flavors] significantly increased salivary pH,” writes a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Dentistry (12)
Rinsing with (unsweetened) mint tea after brushing is as good a mouthwash as you can get.
13. Insect Repellant
Insects, spiders, and mice don’t like the smell or taste of mint—any mint. Click here for make-at-home natural mint pest repellants.
14. Hair and Skin
Mint can be used to treat dandruff and promote hair growth since it cleans the scalp and stimulates new cells, sloughing off dead skin that is dandruff. Also, Crushed mint leaves applied under the eyes can get rid of dark circles by stimulating circulation. Lastly, mint’s antibacterial and antipruritic (itch) properties combat acne and relieve insect bites.
15. Freshens Breath
Mint leaves will not only ease digestion but also freshen your breath after a meal. This is because the chlorophyll in mint kills odor-causing bacteria in your mouth. (13) So chew it up or drink some mint tea after eating as a quick mouth cleanser.
How To Grow A Mint Plant At Home
Mint is remarkably easy to grow.
You can germinate mint seeds indoors at any time of year and either transplant outside or keep indoors. Keep in mind that if you plant mint outdoors, it will spread out at an alarming rate once it’s taken hold. Hence, a mint plant is ideal for a container; with a few big pots, you can grow different varieties throughout the year.
Most varieties of mint like the same type of growing conditions: full to partial shade and moist, well-drained soil. Mint will typically grow up to 1-2 feet tall.
A few tips for how to grow mint:
- If you grow more than one type of mint outdoors at the same time, keep the mint plants far apart. Mint has a tendency to cross-pollinate and that may affect the fragrance and flavor of both plants.
- When planting more than one of the same variety, space at least 2 feet apart.
- If planting in containers, feed with organic fertilizer or compost every 3 months.
- You can grow mint from clippings with rooted stems, planting them horizontally in soil. New stalks will grow from the stems.
- Mint is so easy to grow, you can stick a leaf in a glass of water and it will sprout roots quickly.
How to Take Care of Mint Plants
- Plant mint in the spring or in the fall in frost-free climates, setting seedlings 18 to 24 inches apart. (14)
- Mint prefers loose soil with a pH from 6.0 to 7.0. A light mulch will keep the soil moist.
- Planted in the garden, mint requires little maintenance for healthy growth—the care is in the management. Once established, pick leaves and stalks to your heart’s content and don’t be afraid to prune and pull when the plants start to bush out.
- Although a mint plant starts out looking like a little bush, once the roots take hold, they will send runners in all directions. To minimize garden maintenance, plant mint near natural or containment barriers, such as stone, paths, or enclosed beds. Alternatively, wrap the plant and its housing soil in a mesh bag and put the whole thing in the ground.
- In colder climates, a protective shield or bringing plants indoors will protect them from winter weather. The tops may die back but the roots will stay strong up to zone 5 (some mint varieties will withstand even colder temperatures).
- Transplant established mint every 3-4 years to keep the flavor and scent strong.
- Watch for harmful insects and slugs when the mint plant is young.
- Typically, you can harvest mint 3 times per season.
- Keep soil moist (not saturated)—don’t allow to dry out.
- Make sure the mint plant will receive sun but not full sun all day.
- Keep mint away from air vents so the soil doesn’t dry out.
- Use a big enough pot for the mint to spread a little.
- Fill with a good organic potting mix.
- Water the mint plant well after planting and place it in an area with indirect light, preferably an east-facing window during spring and summer or a west- or south-facing one in fall and winter. You’ll also want to locate your mint plant in an area with an indoor temperature of around 65-70 F. (18-21 C.) during the day and 55-60 F. (13-15 C.) at night. If you wish to grow mint plants in water, simply take tip cuttings of about 5 to 6 inches in length from an established mint plant. Remove the bottom leaves and place the cuttings in a water-filled glass or bottle. Set this in a sunny window with at least four to six hours of light each day. (15)
- Mist mint leaves and stems with a spray bottle between waterings.
Indoors or out:
- Pinch off buds before they bloom to extend the harvesting season.
- Don’t over-fertilize or the mint may lose its flavor—use half of the recommended amount.
- Pick leaves directly before you want to use them.
- To harvest more than a few leaves, do so when the mint is budded but not yet flowered. Cut the stem an inch from the soil.
The ease of growing mint—added to its beauty, fragrance, flavor, and so many healthful uses—make this a staple plant for any home and garden. We’ve only touched the surface of all that’s great about mint. Try it for yourself and let us know how it goes!