Winter’s chill fills the air, and holiday lights illuminate the evening sky. The holidays are upon us, and it’s time for gardeners to get creative and become inspired.
When it’s cold outside, I like something warm to drink. During the holiday season, I try to find new ways to incorporate fresh elements into food and drink. My inspiration for creativity is around herbs and spices. From things that warm your hand and your heart to drinks that just look too good to consume, every drink will have a twist of something that comes out of my garden or greenhouse.
This year, mint, or Mentha, is the prime herb I’m bringing into my holiday festivities. This fast-growing plant is already part of the holidays in mint-flavored desserts and candy canes. Now it’s time to bring the plant to center stage.
When it comes to the mint family, many people only know of peppermint and spearmint. But gardeners know there are many more, including apple mint, ginger mint, pineapple mint and banana mint; there are a variety of mints to grow and use.
Many of the specialty mints need to be over-wintered indoors or brought into a greenhouse, as they cannot survive in our harsh, cold, dry winters. However, both spearmint and peppermint are considered perennials and are hardy down to USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 3, or minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit. They can be grown outdoors in our climate.
While not all mints are perennial – meaning they come back from the root system each year – all do like to spread. Some will spread by seed, while others spread by their large root system. Before you plant directly into the soil or allow your mint to bloom, read up on the variety you have chosen.
The majority of my mints are grown in pots, so they won’t spread. I can easily protect them over the winter and use them for cooking, especially during the holidays. I also trim the flowers off to promote more leaf growth.
Incorporating mint into drinks can be done many different ways, from simply adding a clean sprig to a glass or cup to placing whole leaves into the drink. If you want to go further, then it’s time to get creative.
Choose your favorite mint – in this case, I would use chocolate mint or peppermint – and incorporate a whole sprig or individual leaves into boiling water or milk to create a deluxe hot cocoa. If you add whipped cream to your hot cocoa, garnish the top with leaves and crushed pieces of an appropriate flavor candy cane.
Leaves can also be soaked in warm water, allowed to sit for a few hours, and the water poured into ice cube trays. For more flavor, add new fresh whole leaves into each cube space and cover with cooled mint-infused water. The cubes can then be used for a vast array of other drinks that could use a minty kick.
If you are doing drinks for the adults, mint can definitely be used to bring freshness and flavor. There are several recipes that actually have you infuse brandy or create your own flavored vodkas. These take time, and in many cases, it is suggested to allow the mint to sit in alcohol for weeks. This might be an idea for this New Year’s Eve party. Or, experiment with it this year on your own, and if you like it, save your notes for next year’s party.
If you are looking for those warm sit-by-the-fire kind of drinks, mint goes with more than just hot cocoa. Try adding a cinnamon stick with a sprig of mint to coffees or hot chai teas. Chocolate mint goes very well with hot Irish coffee and anything with Irish cream or other whiskeys. Mint can also be incorporated into teas, many of which can help provide some relief to colds, sore throats or even upset stomachs.
There are so many uses for mint, from drinks to salads to desserts, that you may want to add more to your garden. With resolutions just around the corner and spring not far away, it could be a great time to start researching what flavors or varieties you would like to add in the New Year.
Wendy Hanson Mazet is a horticulturist and certified arborist with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Have questions about your landscape or plants? Contact a Master Gardener at 775-336-0265 or firstname.lastname@example.org.