If you’re looking to get started with gardening and are not sure where to start, I recommend herbs. Herbs are easy to care for whether you have space for an indoor or an outdoor plant. You can also enjoy using the harvest from your herbs in the kitchen.
I will use spearmint as an example. Spearmint (Mentha spicata) is a very common garden herb, and it is easy to grow. Spearmint is shade tolerant and water loving. Often you see mint growing under hose spigots or near other water sources because of the cool, damp conditions. You can often grow mint from a cutting of another mint plant, or you can buy a mint plant at a nursery or garden center. There are other varieties of mint other than the standard spearmint such as peppermint, chocolate mint, orange mint, pineapple mint, and so forth. Most of what I am going to write should apply to these other varieties as well.
When starting mint from a cutting, you can keep the cutting in a cup of water or wrapped in a damp paper towel until you are ready to plant it. Many people prefer to root their in mint in this way as well. I’ve found that you do not have to root mint in water before trying to get it to root in soil, but sometimes it helps. You can also keep the paper towel moist until the mint grows roots as well. This can take 3-5 days. Or you can plant the mint cutting directly in the soil, burying it enough to keep the cutting upright. Be sure to water well (1-2 times per day) until the mint plant becomes established (about 2 weeks).
When buying mint from a nursery, be sure to also buy a pot at least 50% larger than the pot that the mint is being sold in. You will also need a little potting soil. I suggest this because often herbs that are at the nursery are going to quickly outgrow their plastic or paper pot, and you will need to transplant them to a larger pot within a month of purchasing them.
Here’s a warning: Do not plant mint in the ground (unless you want to have mint forever)! Mint is an invasive plant, or in other words, it will get into everything. Mint is better planted in its own container separate from other plants. The reason is that mint propagates itself vegetatively. It sends out runners and can plant itself in new places. It can be very hard to get rid of if it gets into a part of your garden that you do not want to have mint.
Plant Care Tips
Now, assuming that you now have an established mint plant that has been transplanted into its own separate pot, where will you put that mint plant to ensure that it is as successful as possible? I recommend putting the mint in partial shade. A sunny windowsill should do if you are keeping your mint plant indoors. As mentioned before, mint does tolerate shade fairly well, so if you have a tricky shady spot in your garden where nothing else wants to grow, put your mint there. Partial shade is ideal, however, because partial shade also means partial sun, and plants do love the sun (photosynthesis, ya know?).
Your mint plant’s water needs will vary depending on the conditions it is growing in. If your plant is outdoors in full sun in the middle of summer, chances are you will be watering daily or every other day. If your mint plant is in full shade, then chances are you will only be watering 1-2 times a week or less. Is your mint plant indoors on your windowsill? It may need less water because it is indoors, however, if you don’t have air conditioning or the plant is right next to the stove (not recommended), then the mint plant will need more frequent watering.
In general, I recommend watering on a three times per week schedule during the warm months. That is usually not too much and not too little. You may have to experiment with watering schedules because everyone’s growing conditions will be different. Just check the soil with a finger to see if it is wet or not. You don’t need it to be soaked all the time, but you do not want it to be bone dry either. Moist as a wrung out sponge is a good reference point for appropriate soil saturation feel.
To put it simply, give your mint plant sun and water and have a little patience, and you should have some mint you can use within 4-6 weeks.
To harvest mint you will need a sharp pair of shears. Kitchen shears or hand pruners will do. Cutting herbs with sharp shears is highly preferred to snapping herbs off with fingers. This will be much gentler on the plant and it will result in a clean wound which is easier for the plant to heal from than a rough tear or a bruise.
Harvest your mint with a cut that is diagonal to the stem. This will allow the cut to heal more cleanly, and it is less likely to become infected. You can harvest stem by stem if you are only using small amounts of mint at a time. If you need a lot of mint, you can clearcut the mint. Clear cutting means you cut the herb almost down to the soil level all at one time. Generally, herbs recover more quickly if there is some plant matter left intact. I would suggest not harvesting more than 50% of the plant at a time. Either way, mint is a relatively fast growing plant, and it will likely bounce back pretty quickly from a harvest.
Mint Simple Syrup
Simple syrups are a reduction of sugar and water that are used in beverages including coffee drinks and cocktails. There are many different recipes for simple syrups online, but what I’ve learned is that they are generally all a 1:1:1 ratio.
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup mint
Wash the mint. Destemming the leaves is optional since you will be straining out the pieces of mint later. Combine the water, sugar and mint in a pot on the stove. Bring it to a boil. Once it is boiling, turn down the heat and simmer for a couple of minutes until the syrup begins to thicken. Let cool for about 30 mins. Strain out the mint pieces and store the syrup in a jar in the refrigerator. In my experience, the syrup loses potency the longer it sits, so try to use up in the first couple of weeks.
I referenced this recipe for instructions: Mint Simple Syrup on Allrecipes.
“Mint to Be” Whiskey Sour
I love whiskey sours! When my boyfriend made them for us the other night he added a surprise twist- our homemade mint simple syrup. Here’s his recipe:
Makes 2 cocktails.
3 shots of Bulleit Bourbon (or whichever whiskey you prefer)
Juice from 1 lemon
1 shot mint simple syrup
1 egg white
Combine ingredients in a shaker. Shake. Serve over ice. Enjoy!
Emily’s Mint Latte
We had family over for brunch recently, and my boyfriend’s sister was there visiting from out of town. To go along with our yummy quiche, we made mint lattes with (yep, you guessed it) our homemade mint simple syrup. You can just as easily add it to a brewed coffee or tea, but if you have an espresso maker, I recommend going for the latte.
Espresso maker with milk foamer
Milk (whichever is your preference)
Mint Simple Syrup
For a hot latte, add a couple of tablespoons (this you can adjust to your preferences) of mint simple syrup to your milk. Foam the milk and simple syrup together until the steaming container is hot. Pull a shot espresso. Pour foamed milk and syrup over the espresso. Garnish with a mint leaf, if desired.
For a cold latte, fill a glass with ice and add your mint simple syrup. Pull a shot of espresso and add it to the glass with ice. Add cold milk and fill the glass up to the top. Garnish with a mint leaf, if desired.