What am I supposed to do with all these herbs? – Let’s start with Mint

When we moved into our house, the first thing we did was remove the massive ugly shrubs that I’m guessing were planted when the house was built in the 60s.  That may also be the last time they were tended to, because they were crazy wild and far beyond the point where I would have considered rehab.  Removing them was no easy task and The Hubs actually had to drag one out using the hitch on the back of his SUV.  The Hubs was one step shy of dynamite to get those shrubs out.  It wasn’t an easy job, but after a lot of hard work and sore muscles they were gone, chopped up and hauled away by the township’s yard waste removal program.  The first thing I planted was herbs (they’re usually the cheapest plants at the garden centers).  I like to try new herbs, but I’m less interested in paying for them so I pay for seed packets and try them out in the garden.  If they work, then great, if they don’t then oh well.  But thanks to trying out some of the oddities that are available as seeds, I’ve grown Cutting Celery (tastes like celery, but easier to grow), Mitsuba or Japanese Parsley (which doesn’ t look anything like Italian Parsley) and Salad Burnet (which is a leaf plant that somehow tastes like cucumbers).

If you put an herb somewhere that it likes, it will grow like crazy for you.  So, if you have a friend who grows herbs and has an established set, chances are they will be willing to give you some of what they have.  Depending on how established they are it may be easier to give you cuttings instead of actual plants, but friends and family are a good source to save some money.  Over the years, I’ve planted many types of herbs and some of them did too well (yes there is such a thing) and this year I’ve offered them to just about everyone I know.  I’ve given away tons so far and the growing season hasn’t even gotten going yet.  I think my friends have stopped looking me in the eye when I mention the herbs for fear that I’m going to try and offer them more.  Thankfully, there’s a program by Philabundance called Share the Harvest that allows you to give away your produce/herbs that your friends are tired of you offering so it goes to feed people who need it.  So, my friends should be able to relax for a while.

One of my favorite no-fuss herbs is mint.  As I’ve learned over there years, there’s no such thing as “just mint.”  There are so many kinds of mint that sometimes it seems like there must be some crossover somewhere.  I can’t leave a garden center without a mint plant if I see one I haven’t grown.  Over the years I’ve grown spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, pineapple mint, orange mint, apple mint, mojito mint, salad mint… you get the idea.  Honestly, not all of the mints taste strongly of whatever flavor the namers claim is there, but many of them are pretty and worth the effort to grow.  I HIGHLY recommend that if you decide to grow mint that you do each one in their own separate pot.  Mint is one of the wild child plants of the garden.  Once it’s in the ground it can spread like crazy, take over the growing space of other plants and be nearly impossible to remove.  It constantly straddles the fence of pain in the butt weed and beloved herb.

Since mint grows like crazy you have to figure out something to do with it.  I dried it to make mint tea.  Then I started making syrups.  Whenever I make iced tea for a party, I put out flavored syrup instead of sugar.  I just don’t like using sugar since it never melts and you just end up with half an inch of sugar bunched up in the bottom of the glass and hardly any sweetness in the tea.  Everyone likes different levels of sweetness so syrup is the easy solution for me.  I use cane sugar so my syrup has a browner tint than using regular granulated sugar, but whatever sugar you like should work.

Syrup

Mint Syrup

1 cup mint
2 cups sugar
2 cups water, room temperature

Add mint to medium size sauce pan.  Add sugar and smash it up with a wooden spoon (like you would if you were making a mojito).  Pour room temperature water over the sugar and let it sit for a few minutes as it starts to dissolve.  Heat up the sugar-water mixture over medium heat.  Don’t mix it.  Don’t touch it.  Just watch it.  Watch the mixture until it boils and it looks like all the sugar has melted and it’s clear.  (You don’t want caramel so don’t leave it unattended.) Put the cover on the pan and take it off the heat.  I usually leave it to steep for about an hour so it gets pretty strong.  When it’s done (you can start tasting it at half an hour if you don’t want it that strong), pour the syrup through a strainer into the container of your choice and refrigerate (or use for iced tea).