When I moved into the casita in Abiquiu, I planted a small patch of mint on the south side. I also put some cuttings in the kitchen window to root, and eventually planted those as well. By mid-July I had such an abundance of leaves on purple stems that ran close to the ground that I was able to make mint (sun) tea with honey on a regular basis.

I was amazed by the fact that this mint seemed to thrive in the desert. It might be a common mint – often called wild mint or spearmint (Mentha spicata) – but it certainly had well developed adaptive powers. As a young herbalist I experimented with growing various cultivars with varying measure of success. After I moved to the mountains I continued to grow a variety of mints. Most seemed to thrive in part shade, and all loved being close to water so I was particularly impressed with this mint’s ability to deal with New Mexico’s summer sun, inhospitable soil, and nothing more than a daily watering. One other characteristic of mints in general is that they root underground and along the surface of the ground and thus are able to take advantage of whatever soil conditions the plants encounter.

When I was preparing to return to Maine for the summer, I took a cutting to add to the mints I have growing here. I planted the mint rootlets and was stunned to see how its growth habit changed. Here, the mint is at least two and a half feet tall and about four feet in diameter, and although I can see its purple runners if I part the leaves next to the soil this mint doesn’t spend much time creeping over the ground. When it started to flower in August bees appeared like magic.

Mint might be “native” to the Mediterranean, Asia, and Turkey. From what I can discern it is possible to find it almost anywhere. This herb hybridizes naturally. All sources say that the mints like moist soil preferring sun to part shade. No one mentions anything about mint growing in the desert.

Historically, mint was used in ancient funerary rites and was regarded as a sacred plant.

Mint is also called a “bee herb” because the gods supposedly had fields of mint for bees to make honey. Mint as we know is used for teas, and as flavoring for sweets, meats and vegetables. Medicinally it is both a stimulant and a carmative.

All mints are aromatic, and almost all are exclusively perennial herbs. As previously mentioned they have wide-spreading underground roots and creeping horizontal plant stems or runners that take root at different points to form new plants. This twofold rooting ability is no doubt responsible for the difference in growth habits that I have witnessed in the desert and here in Maine.

Why is it that a plant’s adaptability becomes a negative? Many people call this plant invasive; I would call mint a survivor. There are many cultivars to choose from if one is so inclined. After growing mints for most of my life I personally would recommend spearmint above all the others.

 


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