Growing mint and using it in the kitchen

mint flourishing in our home garden's aquaponic systemmint flourishing in our home garden's aquaponic system

Mint needs lots of water

Growing mint is easy if you give it plenty of water and a little urine. It seems you can’t give it too much water.

We have an aquaponic system. Last year in January Stephan planted a small mint plant with other seedlings into the biofilter of his new aquaponic system and placed a small fish population in the water tank connected to it. These fish supply tiny  amounts of urine, as fish pee in the water they swim in. This must be removed from a small closed system in order to keep the fish healthy.

When the mint plant was small you could see it allWhen the mint plant was small you could see it all

A little nitrogen helps 

At first the leaves of the mint were quite yellow, while the fish were small. Koi grow rapidly in their first year, and as they grew, the leaves became greener with access to more nitrogen.

supporting fish supply nitrogen to the mint growing systemsupporting fish supply nitrogen to the mint growing system

Satisfy these requirements and growing mint is easy

I have always fancied the idea of growing mint but found it difficult. In retrospect I realize I could not supply it with sufficient water, growing in the ground in this dry climate, in my water wise garden. But now we have been growing mint very successfully for over a year. We have let that same small plant utterly take over the biofilter. To check the outflow from the fish tank that used to be easy to see, I have to pull apart a jungle of leaves and stems.

the water outflow from the tank is concealed by a mint  junglethe water outflow from the tank is deep in a mint jungle

Growing mint from seed is an exercise in patience, a thing which we are learning as we grow more and more plants, but so far we have not succeded in growing mint from seed. This is because we bought the mint plant for the aquaponic system from a nursery and it flowered profusely in summer with white blossoms, but produced no seed. However it has become so large that it now it trails on the ground and can be layered to propagate it. This is in fact the most common way of growing mint and it is due to the ease with which it takes root. We could also check in the filter and try and remove any new suckered plants which have developed with roots. However the plant is so dense, I fear that I may damage it in so doing.

Stephan with his successful mint protegeStephan with his very successful mint protege

Stephan is still surprised by the success of his mint planting, although he found the photo shoot a bit tedious and looked very resigned.

I harvest the mint almost daily, a good fistful serves for the day’s tea, since I cut back on caffeine. I combine the mint with our indigenous Rooibos tea, which is available here in the supermarket. To prepare mint tea the trick is quick immersion. To infuse your tea with the delightful aroma of fresh mint, the mint should be exposed to boiling water for a minute or so, and then removed, otherwise it begins to taste and smell of boiled vegetables.

my mint tea ration for the daymy mint tea ration for the day

From time to time it needs severe cutting back, and then I take the trimmings, strip off the leaves and put them in a blender with vinegar to make mint sauce. I add only enough vinegar to make the leaf mass workable during processing, and in order for it not to dry out and brown and go bad. It isn't liquid but a stiff paste. Mint sauce adds a little sourness and a lot of herbal aroma to any combination, and freshness par excellence.

It is perfect with traditional sambals made to accompany Indian curries or South African farm style pickled fish, recorded by Stephan on his recipe website. Combine with the carrot sambal, and add-ons like coconut, banana and yellow rice with raisins for a delicious Cape farm style flavour feast.

delicious mint sauce goes with nearly everythinganything goes with delicious mint sauce

When my Aunt and Grandmother were still around, they served Christmas meat roasts with deep fried whole roast potatoes and mint sauce, a delicious treat. It cuts through excessively oily and fatty dishes to make them more palatable, and it really is very versatile in other contexts. I’ve tried it with many different foods from sandwiches to stews, plopped on yoghurt and cucumber salad, and with legumes such as lentils and peas. 

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