Curiously strong

In the gardening world there is a lot of mint phobia. If you are neurotic like that just breathe deeply and relax, because mint comes in sizes and I will begin our discussion with a non-threatening size small mint or maybe, like in blue jeans, size XXS–I have never ever heard of this tiny mint being invasive.

Corsican mint and stone pathXXS mint

This is called Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) and is noted for “giving out a desirable mint smell when trod upon” (Wikipedia) and also not dying after the trodding so it gets planted often among stepping stones like this. I used to know a woman named Nellie who aspired to all things beautiful and perfect in life (including her poor children who I expect are in serious adult therapy by now) and Nellie was the first person I ever met who planted this mint as part of a path. But I grow it that way anyway.

Corsican mint XXS mint up close

In return for being stepped upon the Corsican mint really does release the most lovely minty fragrance, so I guess it likes the abuse. (If you do have a mint-growing phobia at least you are emotionally healthier than this plant in that you probably don’t want stepping on. So be comforted.)

Growing tips: I used to kill this mint with too little water. But if you give it too much water then it will rot. So good luck with that. But if it starts sort of disintegrating don’t worry, it never dies completely, it just looks terrible. (That’s when you dig it up and try again.)

Sudden culinary note: crème de menthe is made from Corsican mint.

Having used tiny mint to, so to speak, harden you off  (that’s a gardening metaphor right there) now we will move on to tall mint. Mints I mean. Because there are more mints than Walmart has underpaid employees. Well maybe not that many. But there is orange mint and chocolate mint and pineapple mint and apple mint. I don’t think there is coffee mint. But they all taste mostly like peppermint to me. (There is also spearmint, which does not taste the same and if you like the gum, which I don’t, you will like spearmint.)


The one above is an old encampment of mint. It is sufficiently crowded and contained by a tree, the fence, the lawn mower and a shrub. And clay soil. Not scary at all.

Mint is actually a crop in Oregon and it is irrigated. An intense oil is distilled from the plants.

field of peppermint

Above is the image of a mint field I passed today. (I remember walking across one of these fields as a little child, and how my shoes smelled like peppermint for ages afterward.)

I like to dry mint leaves on a tray in summer and then store them in a jar for winter tea, very easy and it gives me a lovely false sense of having prepared for winter before I remember about the firewood.

Some mint leaves are fuzzy, like this apple mint.

apple mint

I don’t like to make tea with fuzzy leaves–it feels like drowning a small green animal. So I’ve kind of let the fuzzy mint go although it always appears in moderation at the garden frontier.

Disclaimer: If you have rich awesome perfect soil and lots of water and shade you may find your tall mint plant will exhibit opportunistic underground spreading behaviors which is to say you could rue the day you ever planted it and/or wish you were dead. But I’ve grown mint for years and even had it perish in some places from crowding and dry summers so really it can go either way. In short, like so many things in life, empirical first-hand evidence is the only truth you can count upon– so consider gambling, or put it in a pot.

Part 2 of this post about mint is coming very soon. I bought the bourbon and I’ve got the peppermint leaves and I’m going to test-drive a classic southern cocktail called a mint julep. Stay tuned because I’ve never done this before and also I may need you to crush the ice…


About linniew

Unpublished novelist seeks therapy in gardening. Westie assists.
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28 Responses to Curiously strong

  1. kininvie says:

    I once had some invasive mint, but I planted a tree where it grew, and eventually the mint died. It did take about ten years, though. So I’ve never tried it again. But that Corsican mint looks tempting.

  2. Oooo, mint juleps. I’ll get a potato ready.

  3. Grace says:

    Oh Linnie Dear, I’ve been gone too long. I have missed your clever prose.

    I’m surprised that you didn’t mention the fairies when discussing the merits of Corsican mint. It’s a well-known (not really) “fact” (fiction) that the resident fairies are responsible for its longevity. Those little workhorse fairies appear at night with teeny, tiny forehead flashlights and replant it leaf by tiny leaf to assure it never goes astray. I think so. Yes, this sounds right.

    And speaking of fairies, after that rain last Thursday, (I remember it was Thursday because I had to run to and from the dentist’s office to my car and got drenched both times), several of my fallen Arbutus leaves were vertical with their pointy edges submerged in the Oregon clay. It made me think of your garden and that we share similar garden inhabitants as well as so many other things.

    Anyway, I wanted to mention one other mint. A “Medium” to keep the blue jeans metaphor (It is a metaphor, isn’t it?) going. I’m sure you’re aware of Pennyroyal! I have it growing (via busy fairies) in several places. It is neither a beanstalk or Lilliputian but when stepped on, emits a pungent minty-ness very similar to Corsican mint.

    So there you have it. Smiles, winks and hugs.

    • linniew says:

      Good morning Gracie
      I’m not surprised to hear of fairy involvement in that tiny mint. I mean, it’s so tiny and powerfully scented, and fairies are typically small. Except of course for Tolkien’s lovely ones. Oh and I seem to remember a tall bad one in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell… But maybe they come in sizes, like mint.

      I’ve never grown pennyroyal although I love the name and now I will watch for it–thank you! I don’t think I grow Arbutus but I’ve admired the William Morris wallpaper in that pattern. I certainly experienced the recent rain, which was hard on the rose blossoms and great for the cucumbers. But rain and a dentist appointment combined is just too much suffering, so sorry… xo L

  4. Alberto says:

    From what I learnt on the web this mint juleps is the Oregon version of mojito but with no limes and with bourbon… What’s the matter with the potato, then?!
    I love all mints, although I normally try to avoid them. But sooner or later some beloved friend come with a one shovel large piece of clay with mint growing on it. Mint tha is said to be superb, better than any other mints in the World, and not at all invasive (yes, so why you brought me a cube meter of it???). Normally this people also helps you finding a place where you can plant this mint, so you have to. Recently they gave me this peppermint and another big amount of lemon balm, which is, if possible, even more invasive (and less useful in cooking). So please: tell me your secret to make them die!

    • linniew says:

      Hi Alberto

      I completely share your feelings about lemon balm. It is considered such a classic and important herb, and I dig it out every time it pops up its head. Because once I didn’t, and it took over everything even though I do think it spreads by seed instead of underground like those square meters of mint your friends help you plant. I would think you could find a place in the outback of your land for a contained bed of mint. I think clay soil and no water is really what limits it here, so maybe try that. If I can contain bamboo I bet you can lock up mint and you do need it for the mojito– I just read the recipe for that. It sounds really good I must say but it uses rum and lime and also soda water so it isn’t like a mint julep except for the mint. Be assured I am in the depth of serious lab research on the julep and will report asap. Oh and the potato is for smacking the mint leaves, something that evolved from my post about growing potatoes.

      • Alberto says:

        Well I have to admit I have a clump of mint actually planted in the middle of the veggie garden. That was Ale, also known as Clever Ale afterwards. The lemon balm has been planted just beside the compost pile, so that it can take advantage of all that moisture and precious nutrients to grow and possibly take over the whole house. Also planted by C.A.
        What shall I do? I have no power in this house. Even mint are stronger than me at the moment….

        • linniew says:

          Oh yes it is difficult to be in a weakened condition. I just wish I could get to your garden today to plant a few things–maybe an aspen tree or some bamboo… Now just lie down and rest and Ale and I will take care of everything…

  5. I have some variety of mint growing at the back of my house and the pavers. Rumor has it that the tiny Welsh people from the WI lead mines moved to my village when the lead mines gave out. They planted mint around the foundations of their homes to keep them rodent free.

  6. Peter/Outlaw says:

    Corsican mint is one of my favorites! Also love pennyroyal which is very strongly scented but also short lived for me & vanishes after a few years. (Note to elf – be nicer to the fairies!) Your Corsican minty path looks marvelous and I can smell the divine fragrance through the computer. I’m also currently in love with ginger mint which does indeed have a ginger fragrance and taste with a mint undertone & beautiful green and yellow variegated foliage. It’s taking over in a couple of places but all the better to extra to give to friends and to harvest for mojitos. I’m encouraging it to grow into my lawn because who wouldn’t like a minty fragrance reward for mowing?

    • linniew says:

      Another vote for pennyroyal! And I’m glad to hear that the blog fragrance-widget is working for the mint Peter. I will watch for ginger mint which sounds wonderful. I’ll also add it to my list of possible lawn plants that aren’t grass, an idea I like a lot for some areas.

      Is your elf online? Do you send him lots of memos? This could be a breakthrough of some kind…

  7. Katie says:

    Don’t you think it’s sad that so many vigorous and wonderful plants get passed up because of their rambunctious nature? Without weedy plants I would have no garden at all. I hope you have a Kentucky Derby party with those juleps!

    • linniew says:

      Well native plants often go nuts in the garden so I guess I’m somewhat accustomed to that.

      I think I missed the Derby this year, but we might start a new summer solstice tradition 🙂

  8. Scott Weber says:

    I love mint in all it’s forms…I usually grow it in containers, just to be safe, though 🙂

    • linniew says:

      Hi Scott
      I bet your mint in containers looks great–but you know, I planted some in a pot once and it died. I guess when you consider that, together with my carrot-growing experiences which I still can’t even talk about, well it’s no wonder I am driven to mint juleps.

  9. Susan says:

    This is good. A friend has violets between her pavers, very pretty. Only I can’t bring myself to step on their pretty little faces so it takes me forever to get from the car to her front door. The corsican mint will work very nicely at my house.

    • linniew says:

      Hi Susan
      I’ve looked and looked but the tiny mint doesn’t seem to have faces so this could really work for you. Seems like violets might be too tall except maybe being stepped on slows the growth. (Poor violets.)

  10. Lyn says:

    I couldn’t keep Corsican mint alive, Linnie (no fairies, perhaps?) but I do love Pennyroyal. I grow a lot of peppermint but it’s easy to pull up if it gets too big for its boots. I once grew some Menthol Mint, which is good in a steaming bowl of water for breathing in when you have a cold, but unfortunately I got carried away and used it to make a sorbet. Not good – my husband still mentions this incident oh so casually whenever I am inclined to boast a teeny bit about my cooking. Despite this, I have no phobias about mints, but lemon balm is another matter.

    • linniew says:

      Hi Lyn
      I must admit to evicting mint sprouts now and then too, around the edges. No problem if the soil isn’t too dry. You might need to make your husband a mint julep just to clear his memory about the menthol sorbet. Interesting that lemon balm is annnoying wherever it appears on the entire planet.

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