I love herbs and spices. Just like accessories can make or break an outfit, herbs and spices can rev up or brighten a dish. Yet I must admit from the get-go that I am not a wizard with them.
In fact, my absolute favorite herbs and spices are the American standards, tried and true and available in the grocery store. These happen to be easy to grow in the garden as well: think basil and thyme and rosemary and sage. While I do try to keep experimenting with herbs I’ve never heard of until recently, my absolute favorite is the one that grows most joyfully in my garden: mint.
Basil and Thyme and Sage – Oh My!
I have some great stories about growing herbs. That’s not surprising since growing and using fresh herbs has made my New Year’s list for many a year. I’ve never become the herb whisperer I hoped to become, but a lot of interesting things happened.
There was the time I spilled basil seeds all over the patio in France and came back the next season to find basil pushing up everywhere between the flat stones. Or the year I dug up wild thyme from the Bardenas Real in Spain and had it confiscated by the duaniers as I was crossing into France. The sage in my garden in France was growing strong but became a favorite meal of the field mice.
San Francisco Herb Garden
I don’t mean to say I’m a total failure with herbs. In my garden in San Francisco, there are fewer wild creatures and the herbs tend to grow docilely in the herb garden space they are allotted. And I do use them – basil and thyme and sage, as well as parsley, chives, cilantro and rosemary – in salads and soups, omelets and pastas. I just don’t consider my knowledge of herbs is deep enough to create layered flavors like you find in the best Indian cooking for example.
Then There Are Mint Plants
Okay, I admit it — mint is my very favorite herb. Is it silly to love an herb because it wants to grow in my garden? Other herbs I need to coddle and coax, but mint – it pops up here and it pops up there, the fragrant leaves appearing like curious children in the farthest corners of the backyard.
I know mint can be invasive, but I love its zest for life. If I rip it out of the vegetable garden, up pops a mint sprout amid the geraniums. More show up in the compost pile. These are not separate plants but just wanderers, and if I pull one out from the compost, the stem leads all the way back to the plant’s original location.
Because its personality appeals to me, I find many uses for mint plants. There is mint tea of course, and chopped mints zest up a salad. I also like to sprinkle mint on top of blended vegetable soups to contrast with the heavy creaminess. And blended with Greek yogurt, mint makes a great crudité dip. But my favorite thing to do with mint is walk around the garden and see where it is poking its cheerful head up today.
If you would like to bring in an eager-to-grow herb to your garden, consider growing mint. Few herbs are easier than this perennial and there are many types of mint that you can select. Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and spearmint (Mentha spicata) are the most popular but there are dozens of options.
There’s no particular reason to buy a mint plant if your neighbor has one. You can root a cutting or simply remove and replant a runner. Select a spot in sun or light shade and watch your mint grow happily. If you want to avoid runners poking their heads up everywhere, consider planting mint in a container.