Taste summer with versatile mint

MOST plants that grow and are ready to harvest together make good recipe companions, none more so than peas and mint. Peas are fairly straightforward, but which mint? We’ve all been seduced in the nursery by aromatic quandaries: chocolate mints or lime mints or eau de cologne mints? We’ve taken them home, planted them and then been overwhelmed by them, unable to imagine how to use them in the kitchen, in flower arrangements or even infused in teas.

Jekka McVicar has all the answers, on her website www.jekkasherbfarm.com

Jekka admits that mint is a bit of a herbal minefield, with a multitude of uses, and has listed her top 10 mints (see further below), but for those who are just after a straightforward garden mint growing outside the back door, she suggests Mentha spicata, spearmint.

Symbolising hospitality, mint is packed with vitamins, antioxidants and minerals and makes an excellent digestif, so welcome your guests with a mint tea, so simple to make: just pour boiled water over a sprig of your favourite leaves, stir and leave to infuse and sweeten with honey. Iced mint tea is refreshing, especially using Tashkent mint. Make tea as above, then refrigerate and pour over ice cubes in a long glass, decorate with mint leaves and lemon or lime slices. Even more welcoming perhaps is a mint julep (a measure of bourbon, two teaspoons sugar, half-a-dozen crushed mint leaves with soda and ice) or a mojito (a measure of white rum, the juice of a lime, 20 mint leaves, two teaspoons of sugar, diluted with soda and decorated with lime wedges).

Spearmint and hairy apple or Bowles mint are best in mint jelly, basil mint is good to flavour oil, and many of the citrus mints are delicious on fruit salads or as part of a green salad.

The classic combinations are mint with new potatoes, with baby broad beans or with garden peas.

To make a delicious and timely pea soup, take a small bunch of spring onions and one of wild garlic and sweat gently in butter with a potato, cover with vegetable stock until soft, then add 250g garden peas and simmer for three minutes. Liquidise, then add sugar and salt to taste, a tablespoon of lemon juice and four tablespoons of chopped mint. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and a sprig of mint.

Mint has ambitions to be ground cover. It’s easier to grow than to eradicate, so always plant with roots restricted, either in a container or pot plunged into the ground. It makes an excellent companion plant as it deters pests, including whitefly, ants and mice, and the flowers attract bees, butterflies and hoverflies.

It grows well in any soil, but prefers its roots in shade with the sun on its leaves.

Mint likes moisture. A pot near the garden tap is a good idea.

Jekka’s top 10 mints

Spearmint (Mentha spicata) is the best garden mint, especially with peas.

Apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) for mint jelly.

Eau de Cologne (Mentha x piperita f citrata) for a refreshing bath.

Swiss mint (Mentha spicata), excellent in teas.

Buddleia mint (Mentha longifolia) for arrangements and attracting butterflies.

Upright pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) repels flies and ants.

Black Mitcham peppermint (Mentha x piperita) as a digestive tea or inhalation.

Chocolate peppermint (Mentha x piperita f citrate) for chocolate mousse.

Moroccan mint (Mentha spicata var crispa) for teas and mojitos.

Basil mint (Mentha x piperita f citrata) for strawberries – with balsamic vinegar.

Although mint can be grown from seeds, cuttings are a faster, more reliable option. Cuttings can be planted directly when danger of frost is past. Mint can be grown in pots outdoors or indoors

Mint prefers damp, partly shaded areas and once established will grow for many years. Mint dies down in winter and sends up new shoots in spring.

Mint is a rampant grower and will take over a garden bed if not restrained. One way to contain mint is to use an old bottomless bucket pushed into the ground. The mint won’t be able to put its roots out sideways, so will take longer to spread. If grown in a pot, mint needs to be watered regularly to keep it healthy. © The Telegraph

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