Plant This: Mints Benefit Your Garden and Kitchen

Mints are versatile herbs with both culinary and pest-repellent uses. When growing mint, the one caveat to observe is actually a plus, for container gardeners: Most varieties are rampant growers and should be confined to a pot so that they don’t choke out neighboring plants. (If you’ve already situated mint in the ground, and don’t want to move it, then you can corral it, with some diligence: Just cut any runners that grow beyond a six-inch radius of the main plant.) Bring the container indoors for the winter, and your mint will be a productive member of the garden for years to come.

If your primary goal is to use mint in the kitchen, then you can go hog-wild with flavorful varieties: apple, pineapple, lemon, orange, chocolate — you name it, they’ve probably “minted” it.

But even if you’re not crazy about mint, you might still consider including it in your small-space garden for the sole reason that it benefits other plants and rids the area of many insects. There’s a wealth of anecdotal evidence to suggest that mint improves the health and flavor of tomatoes and members of the cabbage family, and repels a host of pests to which they’re particularly susceptible. It is also said to attract beneficial insects and to be a good companion plant for beans and squash.

Peppermint, in particular, has been proven to contain volatile compounds, and deters ants, aphids, the cabbage looper and worm, flea beetles, moths, squash bugs, and whiteflies. Spearmint, too, has repellent properties that are only slightly less potent.

Mint tolerates a variety of growing and lighting conditions, so it’s a particularly good choice for that tricky spot in your urban garden that doesn’t receive a lot of sun, or is even subject to splash-backs from summer rainstorms (mint actually prefers wetter soil, as long as it also has good drainage).

And, if you need it, here’s one more reason to cultivate mint:

Mint Julep

Muddle together in a glass:
10-20 fresh mint leaves
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp water

Fill with crushed ice, then fill to 7/8 full with Bourbon. Pour 1/2 of rum on top, and garnish with another fresh sprig.

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