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Garden Journal

Liven up your garden with a bit of orange mint

By Paul Barbano | May 28, 2014
Orange mint is a great plant to grow in pots.

The Carthusian monks of France live in a house that is chartered by the duke, so they are called by the French word “chartreuse” meaning “charter house.” And the chartreuse liqueur the monasteries make is aged with over 130 herbs, including one that combines mint and orange flavors, the orange mint (Mentha aquatica ‘Citrata’).

Orange mint is also called eau de cologne mint or bergamot mint. This is a great plant to grow in pots, especially because like all mints it tends to spread and can even become a garden pest. Hardy in USDA zones 4-9, this perennial is great used in herbal teas, either alone or blended with other flavors. You can put it in potpourris or as a nice touch to a summer cocktail. The citrus overtones make it a welcome addition or garnish for fish.

Like all mints, orange mint is useful as an aid to digestion. Unlike its cousins, spearmint and peppermint, orange mint never seems harsh or overpowering.

Chocolate cakes get a boost when you chop some orange mint leaves into the batter. Many gardeners just grow orange mint for fun, and to crush the leaves for an instant blast of aroma. The plant will grow up to two feet tall and half as wide.

You will find orange mint at many nurseries or by mail from Burpee or Richters. Our gardening friend Shirley has shared cuttings of orange mint. Simply put the stems in a glass of water out of harsh sunlight and they will root within weeks.

Plant orange mint in a partially shaded spot that remains cool during the heat of summer. If growing in pots or flower boxes use a good soil with lots of added compost. Keep the plants well watered, but not soggy. Orange mint grows best in a slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.0. Whether in the garden or in pots, fertilize every few weeks during the growing season with a good organic fertilizer.

To harvest orange mint, cut the leaves or entire stems. Orange mint will have stronger flavor if grown in full sun, but be careful that the plants are not killed by the heat.

You can cut the plant down to within an inch or two of the soil and it will grow back. Hang the mint branches out of sunlight in a well-ventilated spot.

Once you have mint you never want to be without it. Besides drying the leaves, try putting fresh orange mint leaves in ice cube trays, covering with water and freezing. These orange mint ice cubes are perfect for lending just a slight citrus taste to mojitos and mint juleps.

Try infusing vodka with fresh orange mint leaves. Let them sit in a bottle of vodka for a few weeks, strain and enjoy.

Liven up your garden or your windowsill with a bit of orange mint. Orange mint tea, orange mint cakes and orange mint drinks are just enough to make a monk smile.

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