Mint, the plants of the Lamiaceae family and the Mentha, Mentheae, and Nepeta genus encompass a wide variety of hundreds of easy growing, relatively carefree plants. From use in teas to medicinal remedies, mint’s usefulness is as far-flung as the number of plants in the genus.
We are dedicating today to mint and have created a comprehensive guide to this useful herb. You’ll learn:
- How to grow mint in an herb garden
- Growing mint indoors
- Growing mint from seed versus purchasing seedlings
- Types of mint plants
- Uses of mint leaves
- Mint plant benefits
How to Grow Mint in the Herb Garden
Almost all of the mint plants adapt well to full-sun or partially-shaded growing conditions and are perennials. They love to stay moist but prefer well-drained and amended soil.
It’s an easy-to-grow plant that will offer success even to most beginner gardeners, and you will reap an abundant yield with just a little care.
One fact that’s important to mention is that mint plants are a relatively invasive lot. It is best to allow them plenty of space in their own bed and plant them about one foot apart from each other. Otherwise, you may end up with mint throughout your entire garden!
A 2018 article published by North Carolina State University suggests that mint is ideal for a container garden to prevent this invasion.
Your seed packet or plants will most likely state that the plants grow best in USDA zones 4 through 9. However, the USDA Plants database shows that some at least one variety grows in every 49 out of 50 states. Hawaii also has mint plants, including native mint that has morphed into a more attractive, but less aromatic member of the mint family.
Benefits of Growing Mint Outdoors
- Easy to grow
- Prolific crop
- Easy to dry and store for winter
- Handy breath freshener at your fingertips
- Adds edibles to your landscape plan
- Help to repel mosquitoes – plant them in containers near your porch, crush to release oils
- Attracts important pollinators like butterflies and bees while in bloom
Mint Plant Care Indoors
Have you wondered how to grow mint indoors? Many people do this, as they enjoy plucking the fresh leaves from the plant all year long.
With mint plants, indoors or out, you have a natural breath freshener and palate cleanser at your finger tips. More than refreshing, mint is also nutritious and medicinal, so plucking a few leaves as you pass by is like popping vitamins straight from nature.
Fortunately, mint is as carefree as a houseplant as it is in the herb garden.
Growing Mint in Containers
- Large pot or planter with plenty of space to spread out
- Warm, sunny spot; indirect sunlight is fine
- Quality potting mix
- Keep soil moist but not soggy
- Fertilizer helps plants thrive
Just as mint plants like to spread out in the garden, they don’t want a crowded planter. Select a container with a wide mouth or a rectangular shape to give them elbow room, and plant in a high-quality potting mix.
Place your potted mint plant in a warm, sunny spot or indirect light. Water mint so that the soil remains moist. But, take care not to overwater them! Fertilize them every few weeks, and they will grow in abundance.
Benefits of growing mint indoors
- Fresh mint available year-round for seasoning and medicine
- Provides sweet and natural fragrance—there’s nothing quite like a peppermint plant indoors!
- Easy to take care of when compared to other houseplants
- It won’t take over your herb garden
- Handy at your fingertips for:
- culinary clippings
- breath freshener
- health supplements
- medicinal concoctions
Growing Mint from Seed Versus Purchasing Plants
Whether you decide to grow mint from seeds indoors and transplant to the great outdoors or purchase plants from the nursery and start with big, healthy plants is entirely your choice. There are advantages to each method.
Benefits of Growing Mint from Seed
- Seeds cost less than plants.
- Protected from unexpected late-season cold snaps.
- Fun for kids (and adults!), watching new seedlings sprout and grow
How to Grow Mint from Seeds
Here are some tips for starting mint from seeds
- Start seeds ~10 weeks before last frost if you plan to plant outside.
- Invest in a seed-starter planting mix.
- Place seeds about ¼” in the planting medium.
- Keep soil temperature at 70° or higher and moist but not soggy.
- Plants emerge in about two weeks.
Benefits of Buying Mint Plants for Your Herb Garden
On the other hand, you might find it a simple matter to buy mint plants instead of growing your own!
- Larger plants are hardier, so you’ll save time and give the plant a jumpstart in life
- You’ll be able to enjoy harvesting and using more mint sooner.
- It’s easier than growing and transplanting seedlings.
You can find varying sizes of mint plants for reasonable prices at your local farmer’s market without spending a lot. Plus whenever you shop there, you’re supporting local growers.
9 Common Types of Mint Plants
There are literally hundreds of varieties of mint plants. So for this article we’re featuring the most popular mints, members of the Lamiaceae family. This is, by far, not a complete listing of the mint family. Indeed, there are entire books dedicated to that expansive topic!
“As for the garden of mint, the very smell of it alone recovers and refreshes our spirits, as the taste stirs up our appetite.”~Pliny, Roman Philosopher
1 – Spearmint
Spearmint was a prized plant throughout Europe for medicinal and culinary use for centuries. Therefore, spearmint made the voyage with the first Pilgrims to the New World. Since then, it’s been a favorite herb for teas, seasonings foods, and as an ornamental plant.
Spearmint grows as much as two feet high and produces showy, spiky purple flowers that are as pretty as they are aromatic.
- Scientific name: Mentha spicata
- Also known as: garden mint, lamb mint, common mint, mackerel mint, sweet mint
- Native to: the Mediterranean region and Balkan Peninsula
- How to use spearmint: Season salads, soups and stews; brew herbal tea; add to hot chocolate; mix cocktails, extract the essential oil
2 – Watermint
Because it prefers to grow in freshwater marshes, creeks, and storm ditches, the water mint takes its name from those locations. Like the other mints in this article, watermint is edible.
Water mint is a graceful looking plant that appears almost like a ground cover in those preferred wet environments. However, one whiff will tell you that you have found watermint.
However, it requires some particular care in selecting watermint leaves that are free of mildew, rust marks, or other water damage when you harvest it.
- Scientific name: Mentha aquatica
- Native to: marshy areas in Northern Europe and Western Asia
- How to use water mint:
- add the leaves to salad
- make a topical medicine to ease muscular pain
- dry the leaves to make a tea for relaxation, to calm upset stomachs or indigestion
- crush and rub on exposed skin to deter mosquitoes and other pesky insects who seem to loathe the aroma.
3 – Peppermint
Peppermint is a familiar mint to most of us. The peppermint plant is a hybrid of watermint and spearmint.
First documented as a species in London, England in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus, peppermint was later proven to be a hybrid that arrived from Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
Peppermint grows as high as 3 feet tall and produces clusters of purple blossoms. The dark, lush green leaves have red veins that create an pleasingly fragrant ornamental plant.
Interestingly, the peppermint doesn’t produce seeds to reproduce. Instead, it grows runners that quickly invade an entire garden if left unchecked.
- Scientific name: Mentha x piperita
- Native to: Eastern Europe, the Arabian peninsula
- How to use peppermint: season foods, add to cocktails, freshen the breath, dry for a tea that alleviates congestion and improves digestive function, and extract the essential oils.
4 – Chocolate Mint
Chocolate mint is a variation of the hybrid peppermint. Why do we call it chocolate mint? The name stems from the chocolate aroma and flavor of its leaves, reminiscent of chocolate covered mint patties.
The chocolate mint’s bright green leaves are smaller than other mint family members and have a slightly pointed tip. The plant is also smaller, growing to about two feet tall.
This variety of mint is especially hardy and is known to be capable of overtaking an entire herb garden in just a few short weeks. Therefore, confine it to garden containers.
- Scientific name: Mentha x piperita ‘Chocolate’
- Native to: Undetermined
- How to use chocolate mint: Flavor sweet treats, ice cream, or cocktails; chew to refresh breath
- Make your own chocolate mint flavoringhttps://commonsensehome.com/easy-chocolate-mint-extract/
Chocolate mint flowers open from the bottom up!
5 – Pennyroyal
Pennyroyal is a mint family member used primarily in natural healing than for culinary use or shaken cocktails.
Indeed, the medical community warns that pennyroyal is generally unsafe to consume without the close supervision of a knowledgeable practitioner. This warning is because pennyroyal is highly toxic to the liver.
WARNING: For cautious external use only as pennyroyal is highly toxic to the liver for both humans and animals, so avoid ingesting pennyroyal.
However, when used under supervision, it is reputed to help rashes, blemishes, and constipation. Dosing must be precise as pennyroyal is toxic enough to be lethal.
Pennyroyal also serves as an effective pest repellent. Gnats and mosquitoes seem to be averse to the aromatics of this herb.
The leaves are a bright, green oval shape. Pennyroyal grows to about two feet in height. Like most other mints, it produces tall purple blossoms.
- Scientific name: Mentha pulegium
- Also known as: pennyrile, mosquito plant, pudding grass, squaw mint
- Native to: North Africa and the Middle East
- Use: Only under direct supervision of a medical provider as the toxicity of this plant is dangerous
6 – Catmint
Catmint was probably named for the felines who seem inexplicably attracted to this mint species. For many felines, the catmint is intoxicating and sends them into a frenzy.
And, anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s not just domestic cats love catmint. Leopards, cougars, and even lions all respond in a similar manner in nature preserve environments.
Here’s a video of a female Amur leopard at the Twycross Zoo in the UK interacting with a catnip toy.
The catmint plant has green leaves with a brown undertone, and it grows to two or three feet high. The small white flowers have pink or purple tips that fall off in the late summer.
Like other mint plants, catnip requires very little care. They attract pollinators that do most of the hard work for you!
Catnip has great medicinal use in treating headaches, stress, and stomach pain. Additionally, they are a great repellent of pests, including mosquitoes, fleas, mice, and Japanese beetles.
You can find a good article on Japanese Beetles on BackyardGardenLover.com.
There’s a lot more to catmint than happy cats! To learn even more about the many uses of catmint, check out this GardensAll article.
- Scientific name: Nepeta cataria
- Also known as: Catnip, catswort, catwort
- Native to: Central Asia, Europe, China, and the Middle East
- How to use catmint: Entertain your feline friends, dry and use as a tea or tincture to fight infection, extract essential oils for an effective pest repellent
7 – Apple Mint
In America, we have a saying about making lemonade when life gives us lemons. However, Cubans claim that when life gives you too much apple mint, make mojitos!
Apple mint is the fruity, minty herb made beloved in Havana inside their signature cocktail, the mojito. Many refer to it as the mojito mint plant.
Named for its fruity undernote, apple mint is an invasive species. Some gardeners even control them by mowing them; the plants recover from this well and become less invasive after this controlled cut.
Both the light green, broad, serrated leaves and the stems have a wool-like coating that earns them another name, “woolly mint.” The plant grows to almost two feet in height and shoots out tall spikes during the early summer.
By late summer and into the autumn months, those spikes give way to frilly-looking pink and white blossoms.
Medicinal uses include antiseptic, headache reducer, and improved digestion.
- Scientific name: Mentha suaveolens
- Also known as: pineapple mint, mojito mint, woolly mint, fuzzy mint
- Native to: Mediterranean Sea region
- How to use apple mint: Other than mixing mojitos? Try making mint jelly or tea, flavor soups and salads, use it to keep rodents out of your home (they apparently hate the smell), and use it as a medicine.
8 – Wild Mint
As the name suggests, wild mint is precisely that—wild. It grows naturally with little care, and you’ll find it across the nation growing in fields and on roadsides. It’s at home in even adverse conditions such as its native Siberia!
The plant shoots up to 39” tall, and the leaves grow in pairs. The small, compact flowers are lavender.
So, wild mint is not considered a garden ornamental mint by most. However, that fact does not detract from its usefulness as a medicine. This mint can be used as a topical antibiotic, fights strep bacteria, and reduce flatulence.
Its use dates back to the ancient Aztecs and Native Americans as an all-around favorite medicine.
- Scientific name: Mentha arvensis
- Also known as: corn mint, field mint
- Native to: Eastern Europe, North America, Siberia
9 – Bee Balm
A recent post here on GardensAll proclaimed bee balm as “the crowning glory of the mint plant family!”
Why did my colleague gush such hefty praise on this plant? The plant produces tall, showstopping spikes punctuated by bright bursts of red, purple, or pink in the early to mid-summer.
“The bee balm plant attracts bees and butterflies that will efficiently pollinate your entire garden and are imperative for the eco-system.”
While this mint makes a showy ornament for the garden, it’s use does not end there. The bee balm has been used for centuries by the Native Americans in New York State, earning it the name Oswego Tea after the Oswego people.
The Oswego used this plant to treat fevers, sleeplessness, and to purify the body and mind in sweat lodge ceremonies. Additionally, this plant repels gnats.
Interested in learning more about bee balm? Find additional bee balm bits in this article on GardensAll.
- Scientific name: Monarda fistulosa
- Also known as: wild bergamot (not to be confused with the bergamot orange), Oswego tea, Indian nettle, Golden Melissa
- Native to: North America
Mint Leaves – Preparation
When you harvest mint, you will primarily use the mint leaves. This part contains the fresh and unmistakable essence that contains health benefits and fantastic flavors that you love.
No matter the mint plant you’re using, the harvesting of mint leaves is the same.
How to Prepare Mint Leaves for Use:
- Harvest the leaves.
- Wash the leaves in cool water to remove any dirt or debris
- Inspect the leaves for signs of rot, mildew, or pest damage. Those little holes are where insects have happily munched on your mint. Discard damaged leaves.
- Place mint leaves on a clean cotton towel in a single layer and allow them to air dry for a few moments.
- Your mint leaves are now ready to use or dehydrate.
Mint Leaves – Uses
10 Uses for Fresh Mint Leaves
So, do you still have too much mint? Dehydrate it in an electric dehydrator. Then, you will have mint stored away for the wintertime.
- Make mojitos, mint juleps, or to use as a garnish in other cocktails.
- Garnish your iced tea.
- Add a squeeze of lemon and mint leaf to a tall glass of ice water.
- Mix it with watermelon and cantaloupe in a melon-mint salad that’s delicious but easy on the waistline.
- Add to any soups or stews for a bright flavor note.
- Mix it with non-fat plain Greek yogurt, strawberries, and blueberries as a parfait that will impress your guests.
- Pair it with basil and a cheese platter and pass it around.
- Make mint leaf ice cubes to drop into your lemonade or water.
- Ease indigestion by adding 5 mint leaves to the bottom of a mug, muddling, and steeping them for four minutes in hot water. Sip away the discomfort.
- Make homemade, preservative-free mint ice cream for a treat for the kiddos (ok, it’s really for yourself).
10 Uses for Dried Mint Leaves
- Toss dried mint leaves and Epsom salt into a foot tub for therapeutic foot soak
- Make herbal peppermint tea to help make it through cold and flu season:
- 2 tsp dried mint leaves in a stainless steel tea diffuser
- pour 2 cups of boiling water over it and steep for 10 minutes
- Hand-craft your own potpourri and give it as holiday gifts.
- Fill sachet bags with dried mint leaves for:
- freshening drawers
- place in attic and basement areas to repel mice and moths
- Add mint to your curries for an even more complex flavor
- Simmer mint leaves on top of the stove to freshen your home.
- Treat sore muscles with a poultice made from dried mint leaves:
- mix 2 Tbsp dried mint leaves with enough hot water to form a thick paste
- cover the injured area with mint paste
- Stir 2 tsp dried mint leaves into your quinoa or rice for added flavor
- Infuse 1 tsp dried mint leaves in a cup of hot cocoa for natural chocolate mint
- Grind the dried mint leaves into a powder using an herb mill or Vitamix dry mixer, use for:
- cooking powder
- add to salad dressings
- smoothies and green juice blends
- place into capsules with other medicinal herbs for homemade supplements
Mint Oil Benefits – Essential Oil and Tinctures
One of the best ways to preserve your mint harvest is to make an essential oil tincture. Mint oil can be used in any capacity where you would normally use fresh or dried mint leaves or powder.
How to Make Mint Oil Infusion
Excerpted from HerbCraft.org
- Vodka or other high grain proof alcohol – enough to fill your choice of jar
- 45–60% alcohol (90–120 proof) if using dried mint leaves
- 90–95% alcohol (180–190 proof) if using fresh mint leaves
- Mint leaves
- If using FRESH: Large bunch enough to fill the jar of your choice, depending on how much mint you need to infuse
- If using DRIED: Enough to fill glass container
- Glass mason jar – size determined by how much mint you have to infuse
- Mint – pack into jar leaving only about 1/2″ of space from the top
- If using FRESH: Chop, tear and/or bruise leaves and stems to release oils.
- If using DRIED: pour dried leaves into your jar
- Alcohol – pour to cover the mint in the jar
- Cap – store in cool dark space for better longevity
- Shake daily for 2-4 weeks
Easy to make, mint oil stores well, lasts a long time and takes up less space in concentrated form.
Mint Medicinal Benefits
- Aids digestion / indigestion
- Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24100754
- Inhaling mint aroma can:
- increase mental alertness leading to improved mental performancehttps://sites.psu.edu/siowfa15/2015/09/17/does-peppermint-make-you-smarter/
- Significantly Improves memory, including in Alzheimers patientshttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18041606 https://jass.neuro.wisc.edu/2012/01/Lab%20603%20Group%205%20The%20Effect%20of%20Peppermint%20on%20Memory%20Performance.pdf https://www.dr-hatfield.com/educ538/docs/moss+2008.pdf
- Enhance exercise, strength and athletic performancehttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4103722/
Mint Plant Benefits
So, you’ve heard us forewarn you of the invasive nature of mint. Therefore, you may be wondering whether you should roll the dice and plant mint in your garden.
Mint is absolutely worth growing! Mint has culinary, nutritious and medicinal benefits that make this plant one to have on hand. However, just remember to grow mint in planters or dedicated beds to keep growth under control.
Advantages of Cultivating Mint Plants
- Mint is easy to grow.
- May repel ants, flies, mosquitoes, beetles, moths—depending on the mint variety.
- You can use it as an ornamental or centerpiece in your garden (think bee balm).
- Or, you can use it a ground cover if you have a big space to fill in (we suggest apple mint and peppermint).
- Your cat might decide to give you the time of day if you grow catmint.
- Mint will grow in areas of the yard where fussier plants will not thrive.
Final Thoughts on Growing Mint in Your Herb Garden
Mint is a versatile plant. You’ll be able to use it for color in the garden, to add flavor to your meals, as an herbal remedy, and to repel mice and mosquitoes.
Besides that, it requires very little care. While it might actually take a little bit of work to keep your mint in check, the rewards of growing mint are well worth your time and effort.
Do you want to learn more about natural healing and how plants can enhance your wellness? Please visit our page of articles devoted to medicinal plants.
Calming Chamomile, Mint, Lavender Herbal – Iced or Hot Tea
Recipe contributed by Laura LaChance Stubbs
NOTE: Quantities are approximate; you can vary according to your preferences. E.g., if you want a more minty tea, then reduce chamomile and increase lemon balm leaves, and same thing with lavender.
- 2 Qts water
- 1/2 cup dried Chamomile buds
- 1/4 cup lavender buds
- 1/4 cup lemon balm leaves (or substitute other mint leaves)
- 1 slice lemon (optional)
- Put water in a big pot on medium high eye for ~15 minutes.
- Shut off burner, cover and steep for ~1/2 hour.
- Strain through cheese cloth or strainer.
- Refrigerate to chill, (or serve warm if desired).
- Add a little more water if you prefer it less strong.
- Serve over ice in summer with a slice of lemon… or hot in winter.
1: For additional health and soothing benefits, add a 1/4 cup manuka honey. Manuka honey is delightful, but expensive, so we use it medicinally in our family.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28901255
2. You can also make cold herbal tea infusions by placing herbs in an herbal tea infuser pitcher.
1: For additional health and soothing benefits, add a 1/4 cup manuka honey. Manuka honey is delightful, but expensive, so we use it medicinally in our family.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28901255
Hi! My name is Deborah Tayloe. I’m a full-time freelance writer and blogger. I blog about my favorite things: gardening, cooking, and DIY. I live in a very rural area called Bertie County, North Carolina. Here, I have plenty of open space to pursue my gardening habit. I’m a regular contributor to GardensAll and publish my own blog, DIY Home & Garden.