Herbs for Beginners: Mint, Lemonbalm, Basil, Parsley, Cilantro

Herbs are expensive to buy, often a dollar or two for a small bunch. You can cut that cost out with your garden path in the summer and indoor herb garden in the winter.

Mint is one of the first herbs you should start planting: fast growing, essentially unkillable and has a few different uses. Unless you harvest it regularly, mint will likely take over your garden. In my opinion, too much mint is a good problem to have since I harvest it regularly.

In the spring and summer, I use fresh mint to flavour water. Before the fall, I harvest the remaining plants and hang them in the basement to dry for tea during the fall and winter months. I do the same for lemonbalm. Try mixing different blends. A good combo is spearmint, peppermint and tarragon.

Mint is a perenial plant, which means it will come back to your garden the next year.

If you chose a peppermint varietal, you can extract the high amounts of menthol, which gives off a cooling sensation. Menthol is also the key ingredient in products like lozenges that help with respiratory and sinus pain. Menthol products can be used in aromatherapy or topically.

Peppermint Oil

Peppermint in a carrier oil

  1. Harvest, clean and dry off your mint.
  2. Lightly grind the fresh leaves (ideally with a mortar and pestle) to release the peppermint oils. If the leaves are dried, just crumble them.
  3. Place as many of the leaves as possible in a jar and pour a neutral-smelling oil over the leaves (i.e. almond, olive, grape seed).
  4. Seal and leave for 24 hours.
  5. Strain the leaves and use your oil for flavouring or aroma therapy.
  6. Repeat the process to increase the strength of the oil (to desired mintiness).
  7. Store the oil away from light.

Peppermint tincture

  1. To really extract the oils, you need a high proof alcohol. The higher the better, but if you’re short of options, 80 proof (40%) should work if the leaves are dried out.
  2. Cut up the leaves (dried leaves will just crumble in your fingers). Put the leaves in a jar and pour the alcohol.
  3. Leave for one to two months. Shake on occasion.
  4. Filter out the leaves and store the extract away from light.
  5. The tincture will be harsh on the skin so add it to a carrier oil.

Peppermint essential oil

You would need a still to distill the essential oil out of the peppermint plant, so skip this product unless you really want to become a master oil distiller or simply buy an essential oil online.

Other Herbs:

Mint is foolproof. Basil, parsley and cilantro aren’t much harder. I love basil for this snack. Parsley is great as a herbaceous garnish for spaghetti and other Italian meals. Cilantro adds a citrus freshness to tacos.

Uses:

The carrier oil can be used topically or for aromatherapy.

A few drops of the tincture turns your coffee or hot chocolate minty. The same applies for water or tea. Minty chocolate brownies or fudge are also delicious.

Other Fun Mint Facts:

  • The flowers are attractive and filling for honey bees, and we all want to help out the honey bees.
  • Peppermint oil may be harmful to babies and pregnant women. Exercise caution.

Notes:

There are many members of the mint family. I looked at peppermint in this article, which is a hybrid of spearmint and watermint. Peppermint has a high level of menthol, which is great for cooling the throat and sinuses. Spearmint’s oil gets its flavour from other compounds. Peppermint will have purple flowers and spearmint will have white or pink flowers. Peppermint leaves will grow off of stems whereas spearmint leaves will grow straight off the stalk.

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