Anytime you plant mint in garden beds, it has the tendency to spread rapidly, sending out runners to quickly take over any space it can access (not limited to garden soil, it often creeps into cracks between pavers or in concrete). Mint’s prolific nature makes it a great option for growing indoors, controlled in containers. It requires little care other than keeping it watered, providing the grower with a plentiful year-round supply of fresh, aromatic mint leaves.
Uses for Mint
Not only is this fragrant herb easy to grow, but its wide range of uses makes it a welcome addition to any windowsill arrangement or indoor garden. For the most part, the uses for mint fall into either culinary or medicinal applications.
Sprigs of fresh mint are commonly added to cold drinks such as lemonades, iced tea, and even simple iced water to impart a refreshing, minty taste. Mint is also the staple of cocktails such as juleps and mojitos.
Mint pairs well with a variety of foods, ranging from meat dishes to even fruit concoctions. Mint jelly is a staple with grilled or roasted lamb; it is incorporated into grain salads such as tabbouleh and couscous, and mint is used for dips such as tzatziki.
Mint plants contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, lending themselves to offer many healing properties as a phytomedicine. Throughout history, they have been used to treat a range of ailments from gastric discomforts to skin irritations and pain relief.
Commonly grown varieties of mint
There are many different types of mint – about two dozen species, and more than seven thousand varieties in the plant family according to the Encyclopedia Britannica – that vary slightly in their flavor and characteristics. All types of mint have broad, green leaves that release a particular, distinctive menthol-based scent when bruised.
The two most commonly grown types of mint are peppermint and spearmint.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is the most recognized member of the mint family. This is for one specific reason: it contains more menthol (up to 40%) than other varieties and is well-suited for medicinal uses and flavorings. Peppermint oil helps to calm nausea, relieve headaches, clear sinus congestion and helps to fight infection. It is also a key flavoring agent in chewing gum and toothpaste.
While it may be the most well-known of the mints, it was not originally a native species but was instead the result of an experiment. In 1750 England, peppermint was first cultivated by hybridizing watermint and spearmint. The resulting plant was so delicious and hardy that it has been with humans ever since.
Peppermint is easy to grow–some might argue too easy–but there are steps you can take to optimize it. Plant in a container that is large enough to allow the mint to do its thing: spread out and fill every available space. Mint requires moist soil, so it may be best to avoid a terra cotta pot that will dry out more rapidly. You can find self-watering pots that are an ideal choice for a plant like mint that likes to stay moist at all times.
Despite the fact that peppermint will tolerate partial shade, full sun it will increase the levels of oils in the leaves, rendering it more potent. Frequent pinching will ensure healthy, vigorous growth, and if it ever appears to be growing weaker and more spindly, consider re-potting with new soil or giving it a little treat of fertilizer or compost.
Peppermint has a strong, spicy flavor that makes it perfect for using fresh in hot tea, just placing a few sprigs in the mug before you pour water over. Moroccan mint tea is simply mint added to black tea during the brewing process. This is the right variety of mint to use for making a mint liqueur or syrup or preserving in sugar. It’s best suited for sweet dishes, especially those with chocolate like a cake, ganache, or hot chocolate.
Spearmint(Mentha spicata) is the original mint plant, native to the Mediterranean and mentioned as early as the 1st century AD in none other than the Bible. Romans introduced spearmint to England in the 5th century and the Pilgrims brought it to the New World on their first voyage out. That should give you some idea of how important the herb has been to humans.
Spearmint is a slightly sweeter variety of mint, with a considerably lower menthol content than peppermint, which makes it ideal for use as a flavoring agent to flavor things such as toothpaste, gum, confections, as well as soaps and shampoos. It has been used medicinally for millennia to treat minor ailments such as digestive disorders and fevers and has been shown to inhibit the growth of tumors. (Winston, J. Craig 1999)
Unlike peppermint, spearmint has pointed leaves, hence the name spearmint. Also unlike its round-leafed cousin, spearmint prefers indirect light or part-shade. Plant in a pot that is large enough to allow the mint to spread out and sprawl. During the warmer months, apply a liquid fertilizer monthly to encourage strong growth. Pinch frequently, and divide plants every few years by cutting the root ball up and repotting sections in new containers.
Preserve excess spearmint by drying the leaves to use as a tea. It may come as some surprise, but the milder, sweeter qualities of spearmint make it perfect in savory dishes. It’s a perfect fit for a tzatziki sauce served with lamb, minced and added to a tabbouleh salad, tucked into spring rolls, wrapped into dolmas, or muddled into a refreshing mojito.
Apple Mint(Mentha rotundifolia) is also known as wooly mint. The downy-haired leaves of apple mint have been used for thousands of years in Africa, Europe, the Americas, and Asia as a medicinal and culinary herb. This variety is cuter than its hairless cousins, with its fuzzy, velvety-green leaves. It is also less invasive than other mint varieties and is sometimes used as an ornamental plant for this reason along with its attractive foliage. The flavor of apple mint is sweeter and more subtle than other mints, with no bitter aftertaste at all.
Like almost all mints, apple mint will tolerate full sun to part shade but performs best with ample light and consistent, high levels of moisture. Apple mint enjoys being in a pot that is large enough to accommodate its desire to wander. Fertilizing from time to time will help to keep apple mint plants healthy and robust, as will frequent pinching.
This particular variety of mint lends itself to sweet and exotic dishes, making an aromatic garnish for fruit salads and desserts. It’s also an ideal candidate for apple mint jelly or for use as a surprising addition to a savory salad. Muddled slightly and placed in a jug with ice water, it will make a refreshing summer beverage. Unlike some other mints, apple mint retains a glorious fragrance when dried and can be used in sachets to scent clothing drawers or in potpourri mixes or in crafts. Don’t, however, use it as a garnish, as the fuzzy leaves can be off-putting.
Orange Mint (Mentha piperita citrata) is known for its pungent fragrance redolent with notes of bright citrus and sweet lavender undertones. Also known as bergamot mint, this variety is frequently used to extract an aromatic oil that is used to scent perfumes and cosmetics. It has been rumored over the years to be the secret ingredient in the liquor Chartreuse–an herbally-flavored digestif first produced by Carthusian monks in the 1700s.
Growing orange mint in a container is no different than any other mint–give it space, and plenty of it. Full sun suits this variety of mint just fine, but it will perform well in partial shade, if necessary. This mint will thrive with little care aside from frequent watering and pinching the stems at regular intervals. Fertilize if the stems become spindly and weak, and repot or divide and pot up every few years.
The aromatic, sweet flavor of orange mint makes it a favorite in desserts: blended into whipped cream, pureed and added to ice cream, creme brule, or fruit tarts. This is also a natural fit for beverages such as cocktails, lemonade, and teas. Minced leaves can be added to salads, dressings, sauces, and jellies, and whole leaves make a beautiful garnish.
Pineapple Mint (Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’) is without question the most beautiful of the mint cultivars. With creamy variegated leaves that set it apart from any other mint, it adds a lacy and delicate look to any indoor garden. Like its parent species, apple mint, pineapple mint is aromatic and citrusy with sweet, tropical undertones.
Much like its minty family members, pineapple mint requires a pot that is large enough to allow it to spread out. It can thrive in full sun or part shade, but absolutely must be well-watered and prefers moist soil. Unlike other mints, this is a variegated species, which will grow at a slightly slower pace than its family members (all variegated plants grow more slowly than fully-green plants). If a pure green stem with all-green leaves appears, it must be pruned back immediately to avoid the green growth overtaking the plant and outcompeting the variegated stems.
The fruity, sweet flavor of this exotic mint pairs well with tropical fruits like mango and of course, pineapple. Use it to liven up a fruit salad, or to infuse glasses of water or iced tea. Muddle the leaves and add it to a meat marinade or wrap it in parchment paper with fish before it goes into the oven. Salsas and chutneys will benefit tremendously from a few chopped up sprigs of this herb, as will Pina Coladas or mojitos.
|Mint Variety||Light Levels Needed||Appearance||Uses|
|Peppermint||Full sun is best, but will tolerate part shade||Bright green rounded leaves||Tea, syrups, infusions, chocolate desserts|
|Spearmint||Indirect light to part shade||Dark green pointed leaves||Savory dishes, salads, meats, drinks and teas|
|Apple Mint||Bright, indirect light||Light green, fuzzy round leaves||Sweet dishes, infused water, jelly, fruit dishes|
|Orange Mint||Full sun to part shade||Smoother, rounded leaves||Creamy desserts, fruit tarts, sauces, dressings|
|Pineapple Mint||Full sun to part shade||Fuzzy rounded leaves with white margins||Fruit salad, water, meat and fish, salsa, chutney, cocktails|
Indoor growing conditions
The environmental conditions (temperature, lighting, and humidity) found within most homes are well suited for growing houseplants and herbs alike. Most indoor plants prefer warm, sunny locations and thrive when given optimum conditions. The right sunlight exposure, ambient temperature, and relative humidity encourage vigorous plant growth and the best tasting foliage.
Indirect sunlight exposure
Unlike many herbs and houseplants, mint thrives in indirect sunlight versus full sun and thrives in partial shade. Choose east-facing windows in spring and summer, and west-facing windows in fall and winter.
If you’re using grow lights, do your best to imitate the effects of indirect sunlight. Be sure to use mild intensity lights in scheduled periods.
For the healthiest plants, keep mint containers in rooms where the temperature is between 65 - 70℉ during the day and 55 - 60℉ at night. Protect plants from cold drafts to prevent negative responses from environmental stress. Be sure to keep your hardiness zone in mind when scheduling and planning your herb garden.
Indoor plants are not a fan of dry air, and herbs are no exception. Maintain a humid environment with adequate air flower to keep foliage healthy. Plants can be grouped together to increase the relative humidity, but be sure to allow some spacing between plants for air movement. If you live in a very dry climate or are using direct sunlight, be sure to be diligent with your watering to compensate.
Supplies for planting
Like many other herbs, mint needs only the basic supplies to grow it indoors.
Mint is known for its prolific growth and rogue runners; to accommodate for this look for wide, shallow containers. Wide containers provide plenty of space for new shoots to pop up without causing constriction of the roots.
Plants from the mint family like conditions that keep the root zone moist; mint does best when its “feet” are slightly wet. When choosing containers for growing look for plastic containers versus terra cotta; plastic containers keep the growing media damper than porous containers that allow better air movement. Having moist soil is very important.
Coconut coir and potting soil are two of the most common options for indoor gardening. They are both lightweight with good water and nutrient holding capacity.
Coconut coir is composed of the brown and white fibers found between the shell and the outer coating of a coconut seed and is popular in indoor gardening. Potting soil is a combination of “soilless” materials made with peat moss or coconut coir, pine bark, perlite, and vermiculite.
This quickly growing plant does best when grown from cuttings taken from existing plants versus planting seeds.
How to grow mint indoors from stem cuttings
Propagating mint from stem cuttings is easier and more reliable than trying to sow new plants from seed. While this means mint is a lesser chosen option for growing as a microgreen, propagating from cuttings saves money.
- Take a 5 to 6-inch stem cutting just below a node. Remove all of the leaves from the bottom 2 inches of the stem.
- Place the cut end of the stem in a glass or jar of water, allowing it to grow until new roots form and reach a couple of inches long.
- Fill container(s) with the pre-moistened growing media of your choice.
- Carefully plant newly rooted cuttings in the substrate, spacing at least 10 inches apart.
Basic care for growing mint indoors
Keep the growing substrate/soil moist. Don’t let the surface of the growing media dry out between waterings as you do with other plants. Mint likes moist, but not waterlogged, conditions around its roots due to its Mediterranean stream bank origin.
Rotate plants every few days to prevent them from bending towards the light. This phenomenon is known as phototropism – where plant growth hormones are laterally redistributed to the shade side of the plant, triggering cell elongation, encouraging the plant to grow towards the sunlight (Whippo, & Hangarter, 2006).
Avoid fertilizing plants (this recommendation is from Park Seed). Mint plants grow quickly without a need for additional nutrients. Fertilizing plants can cause them to lose their robust flavor.
Pinch plants regularly to keep them from getting leggy. This removes apical dominance and enhances the growth of lateral branches (Beura, Mtaita, Mutetwa, & Masaka, 2016), creating bushier plants.
Remove flowers to prevent loss of flavor and prolong leaf growth. Pinch off buds as they develop, encouraging plant resources to go towards developing new foliage.
How to harvest mint
Depending on the health of your plant, you can harvest mint 2-3 times per growing season. The leaves are delicate enough that you can simply pull the leaves off as needed. Take care with the integrity of the mint stem as your harvesting.
Growing mint indoors opens up a wide realm of potential uses for the herb, ranging from flavoring iced tea to relieve an upset stomach. Mint plants do well in containers - probably better than being planted in the ground since containers keep them from spreading uncontrollably – and require almost no care other than watering and pinching back.
- Beura, E., Mtaita, T., Mutetwa, M., & Masaka, T. (2016). The influence of pinching on the growth, flowering pattern and yield of butternuts (Cucurbita moschata). International Journal of Horticulture and Ornamental Plants, 2(1), 19-25.
- Whippo, C. W., & Hangarter, R. P. (2006). Phototropism: Bending towards Enlightenment. The Plant Cell, 18(5), 1110-1119.
- Craig, Winston J. (1999-09-01). “Health-promoting properties of common herbs”. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 70 (3): 491s–499s.
Feature Image: Yotoen