Issue: August 2002

Garden-Grown Herbal Mints Make Great Iced Teas

Herbal iced tea is a great way to beat summer heat, especially in August, when garden-grown herbal mints begin to mature.

Two of the more popular herbs for teas are spearmint and peppermint. Spearmint is the most common of the garden mints with toothed, lance-shaped leaves. Peppermint leaves are broader and more oval.

Most mints have square stems and vigorous, spreading roots. They thrive in full sun to partial shade and like moisture. They can become quite invasive. They're at their best if kept trimmed, which causes stems to branch and plants to become bushier.

Leaves are more tender and flavorful when they're young. In general, mints are best used fresh in teas.

Another popular mint is lemon balm, a perennial herb that grows up to 2 feet tall. It has toothed, oval leaves and square stems like other mints. Its natural lemon flavor makes it a favorite for tea, either by itself or mixed with other mints.

Use dried leaves and stems for tea. Fresh leaves can also be used as a cooking spice or salad green. For maximum flavor, harvest lemon balm before it blooms.

Basil is an annual mint often used as an after-dinner tea to aid digestion. There are many types with unusual flavors, including lemon, anise and cinnamon. Basil propagates easily from seed, preferring full sun. To encourage bushy plants, periodically pinch out growing tips.

Catnip tea is also used to aid digestion. The coarsely toothed, heart-shaped leaves are gray-green in color on top with a whitish, downy appearance on the bottom. A perennial mint, catnip propagates easily from rooted cuttings. It grows best in full sun to partial shade.

As herbal mints begin to mature, gardeners can make a variety of drinks. For herbal iced tea, bring water to a rolling boil, pour it into a nonmetal teapot and toss in herbs. Use the equivalent of two tablespoons of dry herbs or three tablespoons of fresh herbs per cup of hot water. The exact amount will vary with types of herbs and how long the herbs steep. Allow most teas to steep at least five minutes, keeping the teapot covered to retain heat and maximum flavor. Strain the herbs after reaching desired strength.

Allow tea to cool and pour over ice in a pitcher. The melting ice will dilute tea strength, but more water can be added to further dilute. Serve with honey, lemon or other fresh herb sprigs.

Herbal teas can be frozen to make ice cubes and then used to cool and flavor other drinks. Fresh sprigs of spearmint, peppermint and other herbs can also be used to flavor drinks.

For mint water, place a cup of bruised or mashed leaves of either spearmint or peppermint in a half-gallon container of cool water. Refrigerate for a day, strain and serve over ice. Apple mint and pineapple mint are also popular with a more fruity taste.

For a firsthand look at culinary garden herbs, visit one of two new herb demonstration gardens at the Santa Fe and Taos county Cooperative Extension Service offices.

For more gardening information, visit New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service publications World Wide Web site at

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Also Please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly garden program made for gardeners in the Southwest on: KNME-TV Albuquerque at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays, KENW-TV Portales at 10 a.m. Saturdays,and KRWG-TV Las Cruces at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays (repeated at 1 p.m. Thursdays.)

George W. Dickerson, Ph.D., is is a horticulturist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.