Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pineapple Mint - Herb of the week

When deciding which mint to have at the Men's Garden Club plant sale (coming up soon on May 8 & 9, 2015 -- 320 E Wildwood Ave, Villa Park, IL 9am to 3pm), we decided to choose a mint that was somewhat unique and exotic.  Something that you might not find in just any garden center.  The mint we chose was Pineapple Mint.

So today's Herb of the Week is 
                  Pineapple Mint (Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’)

This is a highly ornamental, fragrant, useful herb, all owing to its green-and-cream variegated leaves. A great choice for gardeners looking to combine the ornamental and edible gardens into one. It is also deer resistant and attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds.

Mint -- the name has a romantic and scandalous Greek story behind it! Hades, the God of the Underworld, fell in love with Minthe (or Menthe), a river nymph. When Persephone, Hades’s wife, found out, she turned Minthe into a plant, so that everyone would walk all over her
and crush her. Unable to undo the spell, Hades gave Minthe a magnificent aroma so that he could smell her and be near her when people trod on her. 

Multiple Mints
The best-known mints are spearmint (Mentha spicata) and peppermint (Mentha x piperita). To confuse the matter, there is also water mint (Mentha aquatica), horse mint (Mentha longifolia), and pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium). And then there are the flavored mints: apple mint, pineapple mint, chocolate mint, orange mint, and ginger mint. Mints are almost too easy to grow, so unless you speak very firmly to them and tell them they are not allowed to cross the street, your neighbor will have them in her marigolds. They crossbreed easily, too, so if you want your pineapple mint to remain true to its divine nature, give it a separate garden spot of its own or be ready to replace it each year.

Most of the plants in the mint family, including the true mints, are not native to the United States, but were introduced by Europeans. It’s common to find spearmint growing along streams or springs in many parts of the United States. This is because pioneers moving westward often carried along a few spearmint roots to plant in springs and along streams, believing mint purified water. The sweet aroma of mint next to the cool water of a spring on a hot day was nearly as refreshing as the water itself.

To Grow

Pineapple mint is a variegated cultivar of apple mint (Mentha suaveolens). It features attractive, variegated leaves, usually with white margins, on plants that grow up to a foot tall. The leaves are bumpy and hairy and the white edging can make them look as though they are sporting a ruffle. It is often referred to as a fuzzy mint.

White or light pink flowers bloom on small spikes at the top of the plant in summer. The flowers attract a wide variety of pollinating insects, including bees and butterflies. Deer dislike strong fragrances and hairy leaves, so they have two reasons to dislike pineapple mint. It makes an attractive and fragrant ground cover, and also grows well in containers and hanging baskets.

Mints seldom grow true from seed. Even if grown some distance from each other, the plants often cross and the seedlings can be some mixed-up little mints. For this reason, cuttings generally are the method of choice for propagating mint, especially pineapple mint.  Never grow different mints in the same bed, as they will grow together and lose their distinctive flavors. Keep them separated, or grow different varieties in pots on your patio.

Pineapple Mint is hardy to Zone 5.  Grow pineapple mint in full sun or partial shade in rich, moist soil. Plants grown in sun tend to stand upright, while those that get afternoon shade sprawl near the ground.
Keep the soil evenly moist until the plants are well-established. Once they are growing well, you’ll only need to water them during dry spells. The plants don’t need regular fertilization when planted in good garden soil. Older plants become woody and unattractive. Pull them up and let younger plants fill in the empty space.
Pinch out the growing tips of pineapple mint plants regularly to keep them compact and bushy. You may occasionally find solid green sprigs of mint mixed in with your pineapple mint. These are sprigs of apple mint – the parent plant of the pineapple mint cultivar. You should pinch them out as you find them because, like most variegated plants, pineapple mint isn’t as vigorous as its non-variegated parent plant, and the apple mint will soon take over.
You can see the non-variegated apple mint popping up in this bed
The only problem with pineapple mint is that it spreads vigorously. This can be good if you want to use it as a ground cover to fill an area, but it will eventually find its way into the rest of the garden unless you install a deep edging around it. Growing pineapple mint in containers is a good way to keep this and other mints under control, but you’ll still need to take some precautions. The plant has been known to escape through the drainage holes in the bottoms of pots and even jump from pot to pot in container groupings. If you plan on planting pineapple mint in a pot, keep in mind that its roots grow quickly. I recommend using a medium sized pot, around 12 to 15 inches deep and seven to 10 inches wide. If you are going to plant mint in the ground, keep it away from other herbs. It will give a minty flavor to its closely surrounding plants. On that same note, don’t plant different types of mint next to each other, as they will loose their original flavors.

To Use

Place a couple of fresh mint leaves in the filter with the freshly ground coffee as it brews in the morning for a very pleasant cup of coffee. A few leaves in hot chocolate tastes great, too. I add a couple of dried mint leaves to my sugar bowl in summer to add flavor to the sugar, for serving to guests with iced tea. There are a number of pineapple mint uses that make this versatile plant well worth growing. Use it in beverages, as an attractive garnish, in potpourris and in any dish that calls for mint.


Minty Chickpea and Cottage Cheese Salad

1 large cup chickpeas, drained
¼ red pepper, chopped
½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Freshly grated ginger
½ cup low-fat cottage cheese, crumbled
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Handful of fresh pineapple mint leaves, chopped
1 tsp grated lemon zest

Mix everything together and enjoy a satisfying, summery salad.

Mango Mint Salsa
Use it as a sauce on chicken or fish or dip into it with veggies or tortilla chips.

2 ripe mangos -- peeled and chopped
3 green onions -- finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped pineapple mint
11/2 tablespoons lime juice
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients. Process until smooth.  Set aside for a minimum of 15 minutes before serving at room temperature. Keeps well, covered and refrigerated up to a day. Makes up to 11/2 cups.

Broiled Eggplant with Garlic Yogurt and Mint
Eggplant broiled until it's luxuriously tender and slightly sweet from caramelization finds great flavor contrast with a simple sauce made with tangy yogurt, pungent garlic and fresh mint.

Eggplant is a very good source of potassium and vitamins B1 and B6, and a good source of folic acid, magnesium, copper, manganese and niacin. Low in calories and an excellent source of dietary fiber, eggplant may also help lower cholesterol levels. Recently, researchers have discovered that eggplant skin contains an anthocyanin flavonoid called nasunin, which is a potent antioxidant and free-radical scavenger that protects cell membranes from damage. Nasunin also helps move excess iron out of the body.

2 eggplants (each about 1 lb), cut crosswise into 3/4-inch slices
Nonstick cooking spray (preferably olive oil)
1/2 tsp fine sea salt, divided
1 clove garlic, mashed
1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup packed fresh pineapple mint leaves, chopped

Preheat broiler, with rack set 4 to 6 inches from heat source - Broiler pan sprayed with nonstick cooking spray (preferably olive oil.)  Place eggplant on prepared pan and spray generously with cooking spray. Sprinkle with half the salt. Broil for 15 to 20 minutes, turning occasionally, until very soft.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine garlic, the remaining salt, yogurt and lemon juice.

Serve eggplant topped with garlic yogurt and sprinkled with mint.

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