There are dozens if not hundreds of mints on the market. They're touted as having delicate, gourmet aromas like chocolate, lime, apple and so forth. The leaf shapes vary, too. One thing I've found, though, is that peppermint (and to a lesser degree, spearmint) are the strongest and most enduring. Through rain, snow, blustery wind and neglect (it happens), my mint has survived and definitely prevailed more often than not.
Peppermint (Mentha piperitae) is invasive. All the mint varieties and related herbs are. That's one reason you'll find many recommendations that it be kept confined like a miscreant -- corralled in a pot where it can't encroach on your pampered roses and irises. That's probably a good idea. It will often overflow its pot and start rooting in the surrounding soil, though -- and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Mint is shallow rooted, so it's easy to thin out, harvest and transplant to other locations, like behind the garage, in that boggy patch north of the easement, or along the foundation supporting the storage shed.
You could do worse than finding yourself ankle deep in peppermint, too. It's very fragrant, which is why I have a little patch alongside the driveway. It welcomes me home after a hard day with a burst of fresh scent; its encouragement follows me as I head out for the mail or take those pesky recyclables out to the street.
I harvest peppermint for tea (it's refreshing and can help sooth an upset stomach) and for a peppermint extract I use in holiday baking. Most peppermint extract recipes that use a Vodka base are pretty tame compared to mine. I use a lot of peppermint for a concentrated extract that will wake up my fudge and brownies -- without a doubt, it has a strong impact.
I'm sharing my extract recipe now because it takes two to three weeks to infuse sufficiently. If you start making a batch in the next few days, it will be ready in time for holiday baking and candy making. If you plan to make your own candy canes -- well, let's just say it's challenging. A nice batch of white chocolate chip cookies with peppermint is a pretty easy hour in the kitchen -- with delicious results. In a pinch, just substitute peppermint extract for half of any other extract spelled out in a recipe.
My recipe for peppermint extract follows. Although you can use other mints, peppermint has the strongest mint flavor and aroma, so prefer it whenever possible. Oh, many of the photos of peppermint you'll find on the web are actually spearmint or another variety. I've posted a good photo of hardy peppermint above.
Peppermint Extract Recipe
1-1/2 cups vodka
2 cups loose packed fresh peppermint leaves
Peppermint Extract Directions
- Harvest peppermint in the morning after the dew has evaporated. Leaves are best before the plant flowers.
- Wash stems thoroughly in cold water, swirling them around to extract any insect freeloaders.
- Dry stems on paper towels.
- Place dried leaves on your countertop or cutting board and bruise them pretty aggressively. I like to use a meat mallet. You can also score them with a knife. When you're finished, you should be able to detect the fragrance from a distance -- maybe even from other rooms in your home.
- Place leaves in a pint (glass) jar with a tight fitting lid. I like to use a canning jar.
- Add enough vodka to cover the leaves (about 1-1/2 cups or a little less).
- Place the lid on the jar, and store the jar in a dark location for two to three weeks. Shake it when you think about it.
- The extract is ready when tasting a bit it yields a deep, full (and cold) peppermint flavor.
- Strain the liquid through cheesecloth, a fine mesh strainer or a coffee filter. Discard the leaves.
Peppermint extract will last up to six months in your cabinet at room temperature. Keep it out of direct sunlight.