Mint grown in a container near the kitchen can come in handy while cooking, says Thilaka Baskaran
Mint, a popular aromatic herb, is known to have originated in Asia and the Mediterranean region. Greeks and Romans used it as a perfume as well as in their medicine and cuisine. This plant was so revered by ancient Greeks that they named it after the mythical character, Mintha, the river nymph.
In many cultures, mint symbolised hospitality; hence the offer of mint tea when guests arrived. In India it has long been used in cooking and medication.
There are two main categories of mint — the spearmint (Mentha spicata) to which group our pudina belongs. This is commonly used in cooking. The other is peppermint (Mentha piperata) which has high menthol content and is usually used for medicinal purposes.
Its many uses include being used as a treatment for indigestion, for aromatherapy and a flavouring agent for toothpastes, confectionaries, pain relief, cough and cold medicines.
Within the two categories of mint, there are about twenty varieties named after the aromas they are reminiscent of, such as apple mint or lemon mint.
Easy to grow
Mint is grown without much difficulty in a container and can also be raised on the ground with moderately rich well-drained soil. The stolons of mint are one of the most aggressive in the entire plant world. If you plant it on the ground, make sure that there is a boundary. Otherwise it will take over your garden soon.
It can be grown from seeds or by dividing mature plants or through cuttings. Sprigs of mint bought from the vegetable shop kept in a glass of water will put out small white roots in a weeks' time. When the roots are of some reasonable length, they can be planted in beds on the ground or in containers.
Once the plant is established and thriving, prune the plant periodically, as it encourages new leaves to grow into a bushier plant rather than long straggly ones. Mint needs to be watered regularly however do not water it excessively since soggy soil leads to plant disease problems. Sprinkle a handful of bone meal twice a year as top-dressing for lush growth.
They are good companion plants for beetroot, cabbage and tomatoes. The volatile oil present in mint helps repel pests like aphids from rose plants. If you raise mint near rose plants, ensure that you grow the mint in pots and not on the ground. Mint leaves contain a number of vitamins and minerals, and are rich in carotene, Vitamin C, thiamine and riboflavin and is a good source of iron, potassium and calcium. In the Ayurvedic and Chinese medical system, mint has been used for centuries for pain relief, skin care, and as a remedy for cough and asthma.
In cooking, mint is used as a garnish. It is also used in teas, chutneys and the green masalas for fish and meat. A plant grown in a container near the kitchen can come in handy while cooking. Pudina, being a carminative, facilitates digestion and is often served in combination with rich dishes like biryani.