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The Outdoor Pharmacy, Part 2: Mint

If there is one flavor that just about everyone can conjure up a mental memory of, it’s mint.  From candy canes to chewing gum, it’s a popular treat.  Most of us associate mint with freshness and that is why most toothpastes are flavored with it.  The leaves tend to leave a pleasant aftertaste in the mouth.

Culinary Uses

In the US, we tend to use mint as a sweet flavor, but in other cultures, it is often a “savory.”  In Middle Eastern countries, you may find it combined with couscous or as a seasoning for lamb.  Occasionally, I come across a salad recipe that calls for it too.   I enjoy mint tea very much at night when it’s cold outside.  And one of my all-time favorite ice cream flavors dating back to childhood is mint chocolate chip!

Medicinal Uses

Mint is often used to treat stomach aches or indigestion.  It is supposed to alleviate headaches, colic, irritable bowel syndrome, gingivitis, muscle spasms, and rheumatism.  Taken as a tea, it can be used as a diuretic and is prized for its mild calming effect.  It is considered to be an “antipruritic” (an anti-itch agent) and is applied topically to insect bites and rashes.  “Menthol” is a form of mint, either natural or artificial, and is often used in cough drops and cold remedies to help ease breathing and soothe the throat.

Essential mint oil is used for relaxing muscles, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral effect, aiding digestion, for pain relief, to increase circulation, and to ease intestinal cramping.  Use caution with the essential oil since it is very concentrated and may produce burning if not diluted before applying to skin.

Other Uses

Mint is regarded by some as a natural insect repellent.  I have read a debate about the essential oils use to deter (or even kill) pantry pests such as roaches and mice, but the anecdotal evidence seems just about split down the middle.

Cultivating Mint

Mint is one of the easiest herbs to grow and will tolerate different growing conditions but prefers moist soil.  It is usually quite a hardy perennial and it spreads very easily-  most would say too easily.  Always confine mints to their own growing containers because they can spread in several ways.

Mint plants send out long runners (stolons) that will pop up elsewhere and form another plant.  They will drop seeds that will produce plants next year.  This is why I now have 3 potted mint plants- I accidentally let one go to seed and it dropped its legacy into the two adjoining pots and took them over.  Mint cuttings can also be rooted in a glass of water and then planted.

There are many varieties of mint and they will cross-pollinate with each other.  Not all resulting plants taste good.  Sometimes you can find it growing wild, possibly from a domestic escape.  The most common ones for the garden are peppermint and spearmint though they come in exotic cultivars like chocolate mint and apple mint too.

Mint definitely deserves a place in the preparedness garden.  Most garden centers carry starter plants during the growing season.  They are pretty hearty plants and can even be brought indoors when the weather turns cool.  Since they are hard to kill, they can be a real confidence booster as you begin to work on your green thumb.

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