What do you know about the mint family, Lamiaceae, the sixth- or seventh-largest of the flowering plant families?
Mint provides most of our common culinary herbs (e.g., basil, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, sage, thyme, summer and winter savories).
Plus, there are dozens (perhaps hundreds) of traditional medicinal herbs, not to mention many aromatics for use in flavorings, perfumes, and cosmetics.
You’ll also find mints among our favorite landscaping plants. Think salvias, agastaches, and lavenders, bee-balms, hyssop, and Russian sage. All summer, they produce nectar-rich blossoms, which attract bees and beneficial pollinators along with an occasional hummingbird.
A favorite in my summer herb garden is the bright red bee-balm which seeds itself all over the place, makes a great cut flower, and serves as a tasty tea to boot.
Many, if not most mint-family members, contain strongly aromatic oils (think lavender, rosemary, basil, thyme, and sage), which account for their many uses as seasoning, flavoring, and perfuming agents.
There are many safe uses for mint-family herbs besides beautifying your gardens. Here is just a sampling:
- Food: The peppermints are especially good culinary mints, ideal for chopping into salads, sprinkling over fruits or combining with basil or cilantro to make mint pesto. We like to add a couple tablespoons of fresh chopped mint to peas, green beans, carrots, cauliflower, or zucchini to create a minted vegetables!
- Drinks: Freeze a few trays of strong mint tea, then use the ice cubes for cooling summer drinks! Add mint leaves or cubes to mojitos, iced tea, or fresh lemonade.
- Tea: Why buy mint tea when it’s so easy to make? What we usually call the “mints” (peppermint, spearmint, apple mint, etc.) are traditional tea herbs. Just steep your fresh mint leaves in boiling water for about five minutes and serve. It’s a great digestive aid after dinner. Apple mint is one of my favorites with more mint flavor and less aftertaste.
- Hair rinse: Add one part strong mint (especially rosemary) tea to one part cider vinegar for a conditioning rinse you can either leave in or rinse out. The vinegary smell dissipates after drying.
- Facial astringent: Add a few finely minced leaves of fresh peppermint or other mint to a cup of witch hazel. Store in a glass jar for a week or more, shaking occasionally. Strain the herbs from the mixture after a week.
- Mouthwash: Chop a quarter cup of fresh mint, bee-balm, lemon balm, basil, thyme, or oregano leaves and infuse in a quart of boiling water. When cool, strain the herbs and store in the refrigerator.
- Mint bath: Steep a handful of mint leaves in a pint of hot water for about ten minutes, the strain. Add to bath water for an invigorating, stress-free soak.
- Ease sunburn pain: Make a strong peppermint tea and refrigerating the mixture for several hours. To use, gently apply to the burned area with cotton pads.
- Breath freshener: Just chew on a few mint leaves! Sage teas and extracts have been used for centuries as a mouthwash for oral infections. Don’t use chew mint-family herbs if you’re breastfeeding, as even small amounts or sage and peppermint may reduce milk supply.
- Scent up a space: Keep your home smelling fresh by adding a few drops of mint essential oil to your favorite unscented cleaner or just take a cotton ball and dap onto a light bulb.
- Moth repellent/scented sachet: Tie a few branches of strongly scented mint (peppermint, sage, lavender, rosemary, bee-balm) together, or pull off a handful of leaves, and stuff them into the leg of an old nylon stocking. Suspend by a string inside a garment bag, tuck into bags of stored woolen clothing, or just place in your drawers to let your clothes soak up the scent. Refresh periodically to keep the scent fresh.
- Bug repellent: When ants come into the kitchen during the summer, place a few stems of mint, gently crushed, near suspected entry points really does deter ants. You need to replace the mint with fresh material every few days. Also, keep pets flea-free by stuffing a small pillow with fresh spearmint and thyme and placing near your pet’s bed
Of course, mint isn’t only used to deter bugs; it also attracts the beneficial insects. Bees and butterflies and hover flies love mint, which is rich in nectar and pollen, and this benefits pollinated plants and crops.