Growing Peppermint From Seed
One day, spearmint was cleaning up around the garden, and she came across watermint growing in the shallows of the lily pond. In spite of their different worlds, they recognized one another as kindred spirits. and before long, they carried out a somewhat awkward, but overall endearing romance. Their love story didn’t become an Academy Award-winning movie, but it did produce a wonderful love child, peppermint .
Hybridization isn’t uncommon in nature, and where both spearmint ( Mentha spicata ) and watermint ( Mentha aquatica ) are naturalized, you’ll often find peppermint, as well: in ditches, low-lying sections of fields and pastures, or near drainage culverts. Seriously, spearmint and watermint aren’t precious about where they get it on, and though many think “artificial” when they hear the word hybridization, one doesn’t need a shady government-run lab in Baltimore to get watermint and spearmint to hook up. It freely hybridizes in nature through cross-pollination.
While some sources claim that peppermint didn’t appear on the herbalist’s radar until it was cultivated in 18th century England, ancient texts have mentioned the hybrid as far back as 1500 years ago.
It’s possible that even its origins are hybridized; British horticulturists likely learned about the cause and effect of breeding watermint and spearmint, where older cultures simply thought of it as a completely separate type of mint. They might have interchanged “spearmint,” “peppermint,” or just plain “mint” when referring to any one of the herbs.
Until 1696, peppermint was not classified as its own subspecies, but most historians believe it is reasonable to assume that the mint mentioned in many historical texts is peppermint.
Like most mints, peppermint is native to southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Pliny the Elder (circa 23-79 CE) wrote about peppermint as a food flavoring, and according to sources compiled by the American Botanical Council, Mentha x Piperita was likely cultivated by Egyptians, and first appeared as a medicinal herb in 13th-century Icelandic documents. However, according to the ABC, Europeans didn’t use peppermint as a medicinal herb until the mid-18th century.
Fun fact: Oregon grows more than 35% of the peppermint cultivated in the United States, and has dominated the industry for the past few decades. According to the most recent data available from Oregon State University (GO BEAVS!), “over 1000 acres of peppermint were planted and harvested in Central Oregon during 2012, yielding 80 pounds an acre and grossing $1,849,200.”
Most of the peppermint grown there is steam-distilled to create essential oil or is used in various flavoring and cosmetic products. It’s also supplied to the growing herbal medicine industry.
Peppermint as a Medicinal Herb
Alexander the Great was said to have forbidden his armies from consuming peppermint (commonly used to flavor wine) because it made them overly horny, and caused them to lose their will to fight. Middle Eastern Arab used it as their own version of the Little Blue Pill .
Perhaps it improves virility, perhaps not. But there’s little doubt that peppermint works wonders as a breath freshener, and clean minty-fresh breath does up the odds of the user getting lucky, especially in an age when dental hygienists weren’t available.
Here are a few other ways peppermint, in tea form, when encapsulated, or when used topically, has earned its place in traditional and contemporary herbal medicine:
- Fart prevention (we need to up our herbal keyword game, and we’ve got “flatulence” covered)
- Soothes upset stomachs
- Relieves tension headaches
- Reduces cold symptoms, coughs, and congestion
- Memory enhancement and stress relief
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Reduction of tuberculosis and asthma symptoms related to lung inflammation
- Muscle pain relief
Menthol, a primary component in peppermint, is commonly used in vapor rubs. When used as a tobacco blend, peppermint reduces the “harshness” of inhaled cigarette smoke. When peppermint oil is used as a scalp treatment, it’s reputed to repel lice and prevent dandruff, and as a toothpaste ingredient, it’s believed to reduce the filmy coating of bacteria left behind by plaque-creating critters.
There aren’t many studies specific to peppermint , other than a few related to IBS treatments. However, when used in moderation, peppermint and its essential oils are considered safe by medical practitioners.
We at Seed Needs always recommend that you seek the counsel of your physician before using any herbs or essential oils, either internally or topically, especially if you’re pregnant or nursing. Pets and small children are more sensitive to herbal products, so please take care.
Pest Control and Peppermint
One of our customers swears by peppermint oil as a rodent, moth and spider repellent. She puts the oil on cotton balls and scatters them around her RV when “mothballing” it for storage, and uses this technique in her sweater drawers, storage areas, and crawlspace.
Gardeners have made peppermint infusions to spray on plants to rid them of pests or planted peppermint among vegetables in raised bed gardens (note: peppermint can be invasive). Infusions or solutions made from peppermint oil can be sprayed indoors or outside to repel ants, but note that strong odors are irritants to dogs, cats, and especially birds.
Mowed or cut peppermint, when used as a mulch, is a good compromise when you want to repel garden pests.
Peppermint in the Garden
USDA Hardiness Zones: Peppermint is a perennial in zones 5 to 11, but might be treated as an annual down to Zone 3. Established plants will tolerate some frost during the growing period.
Foliage: Peppermint has hairless, serrated, spear-shaped dark green leaves that are somewhat glossy as compared to most other mints. Some peppermint will have a reddish tinge around the edges, a trait likely passed down from watermint.
Flowers: Peppermint blooms late summer, with lavender, purple and sometimes burgundy flowers on long terminal spikes.
Growing Habit: Peppermint has an upright growing habit (1 to 2 feet tall), and a prolific runner and root system that suggests peppermint is best grown as a container plant.
You can use peppermint as a spreading ground cover, and even mow it, but if you want to keep it in check, you’ll need to dig out its root system.
Soil Preferences: Growing peppermint requires damp or even wet soil to thrive. Plant it in drip-irrigated areas, along the edges of ponds, or in low-lying, boggy areas in your garden. Short dry periods won’t kill peppermint but might reduce its growth and flower production.
Peppermint prefers a soil pH between 6.5 and 7.0, but it can handle slightly more acidic conditions. Peat moss makes a good soil additive to help retain moisture.
Sunlight: Peppermint does best in partial shade, but will tolerate sun. Peppermint makes a fantastic indoor plant if placed on a windowsill.
Companion Plantings: Peppermint is thought to improve the flavor of broccoli, kohlrabi, kale, and cabbage, but it p***** off parsley and chamomile. Peppermint repels ants and aphids, as well as pests known to attack cabbages and other leafy crops. (See above). In addition to repelling pests, it attracts beneficial insects such as predatory wasps, hoverflies, and earthworms.
Tips for Growing Peppermint
When to Plant Peppermint Seeds: Start seeds indoors anytime, or direct-sow after all chance of spring frost has passed. Some gardeners plant peppermint seeds a few weeks before the first fall frost for a jump on the following growing season.
Soil Preparation: Amend soil with aged, screened compost, and moisten it prior to seeding.
Seed Depth and Spacing: Most mints require sunlight to germinate, and growing peppermint from seed is no exception. Lightly press Mentha x Piperita seeds on the surface of your soil or planting mix. For direct seeding or transplantation, space peppermint 18 to 24 inches apart.
Germination: Seedlings emerge in 7 to 20 days; if germinating indoors, use a heat mat beneath your seedling trays.
Transplanting: Transplant outdoors after all risk of spring frost has passed and the seedlings have grown two sets of true leaves, or keep peppermint indoors as part of your herbal window garden.
Pests and Diseases: Peppermint’s biological enemies include Verticillium wilt, Verticillium dahliae, and powdery mildew, but it doesn’t have any notable insect or invertebrate pests.
Maintenance and Harvesting: Keep an eye on this sneaky plant, using a hand trowel to sever roots and create an underground boundary for ground-planted peppermint. Trim surface runners as necessary.
Peppermint leaves are most potent before the plant focuses its energy on flower production, and the more you trim it back (down to an inch above ground level) the more greenery you get. Dry stems and flowers by hanging inverted in a warm, dry area, or freeze leaves in ice cubes for future use.
Peppermint makes a great garnish for desserts, adult beverages, lemonade, and ice tea. Chop a few leaves to add to fruit salads. Do you have an ice cream maker? Crushed leaves or home-made extract makes for a great sorbet or bonafide chocolate mint delight.
Peppermint Extract : Most recipes that require peppermint flavoring ask for peppermint extract, rather than crushed leaves. This recipe, from My Frugal Home , will set you on the right track.
Peppermint and Vanilla Hard Candy : A different take on peppermint candy than your typical restaurant mint or candy cane, this recipe from Taste of Home creates a clear, glassy treat that would make Walter White proud.
Peppermint Patties : Allrecipes comes through for us once again, and you can’t go blathering on about peppermint recipes without including this favorite in your repertoire.
Fresh Peppermint Tea : An easy-peasy recipe from Yum Universe that uses fresh peppermint leaves.
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From herbal remedies to pest control and unique recipes, growing peppermint from seed is a staple for many gardens. Read on for our guide to all things peppermint.
How to Germinate Peppermint
With their unmistakable taste of peppermint, candy canes herald the winter holiday season, but peppermint is also used to flavor many other food and beverage items, including tea. Because of this herb’s prolific growing habit, you’ll have a never-ending supply of leaves to brew your own tea if you grow peppermint (Mentha x piperita), which has a perennial range across U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9.
Instead of setting out transplants, growing peppermint from seeds offers many gardeners even more satisfaction as they watch the entire transformation from seed to harvest.
Germinating Peppermint Indoors or Outdoors
You can start peppermint seeds inside your home or greenhouse or outdoors in your garden. If you want to set out transplants in spring, start peppermint seeds indoors in late winter. This gives the seeds time to germinate and grow into seedlings, which you can set outside when the weather warms in springtime. However, if you want to sow peppermint seeds directly in your garden, wait until spring to start them outside.
Regardless of when you start peppermint seeds, their first-year growth is a little slow. Keep the small seedlings and young plants well watered during their first growth year to help their root systems develop, and you’ll see a big growth spurt beginning in the second year. You’ll be able to grow peppermint outside year round if you live within its perennial range.
Starting Mint Seeds Indoors
In late spring, fill seed trays or small pots with a soilless mix and make sure the containers have drainage holes. If you use garden soil, it may be too heavy for the tiny seedling roots to penetrate. If you use a potting mix that contains fertilizer, the chemicals in the fertilizer may burn the seedlings and their roots. Use a professional grower’s mix for starting seeds or blend your own by using ingredients such as peat moss, perlite and vermiculite.
Thoroughly water the medium until the excess water runs freely from the drainage holes. Sow peppermint seeds on the surface and lightly press them into the mix. Seedlings germinate best when exposed to light, so don’t cover them with the mix. Keep the growing medium moist by misting it each day.
Peppermint seedlings typically germinate in 10 to 16 days at room temperature.
Growing Mint From Seed Outdoors
Prepare a garden spot in a location that receives some shade from the afternoon heat by removing all weeds and loosening the soil. Apply a thin layer of fine-grade vermiculite, which you can find in garden centers, over the prepared bed. Moisten the vermiculite by spraying it with a water wand set on a mist or light shower setting so as not to disturb the vermiculite. Scatter peppermint seeds over the moist vermiculite, lightly cover with no more than ¼ inch of vermiculite and water again with the mist setting.
Keep the bed moist by misting it a couple of times each day until the seeds germinate. You may want to cover the bed with floating row covers, which you can easily remove to make sure the medium stays moist, to prevent wildlife from interfering with your newly sown seeds or to protect it from strong rains.
Invasive Nature of Peppermint
Its robust growth and easy-care nature make peppermint an easy plant to grow, but this same quality can also be a drawback. It’s a prolific spreader, to the point that it may aggressively spread into unintended (and unwanted) areas in your yard and garden. Two solutions to this challenge are using vertical barriers, which you can find at your local garden center, and planting peppermint in containers.
If you use vertical barriers, you must drive them into the ground to a depth of 12 inches to control the spread of peppermint by its underground rhizomes. Even if you use these barriers, the stems may root wherever they touch the ground outside the barriers.
Peppermint is a super plant for deck and patio containers. Use a large container to give this plant room to spread and cut any trailing stems that may touch the ground below the pot to prevent your plant from rooting where it touches and spreading along the ground.
- Mint might not grow true from seed. If you plant a mint seed, you might get any variety of mint seedlings, such as bergamot, spearmint or lemon mint, and not necessarily peppermint. Cuttings, however, are guaranteed to produce peppermint plants.
- Peppermint can be quite invasive. Control peppermint growth by planting it in containers, hanging baskets or edged flower beds.
- Growing peppermint from seed can be quite difficult and is not usually recommended for beginning gardeners. You will likely have more luck growing peppermint if you use cuttings rather than seeds. Purchase peppermint cuttings from a reputable gardener or nursery. Divide peppermint plants that you already have as another more successful way to grow peppermint in your home garden.
- Park Seed: Mint – Growing and Planting Instructions
- Texas A&M: Mints
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Mentha x Piperita
- West Coast Seeds: How to Grow Mint
- Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
About the Author
Victoria Lee Blackstone is a horticulturist and a professional writer who has authored research-based scientific/technical papers, horticultural articles, and magazine and newspaper columns. After studying botany and microbiology at Clemson University, Blackstone was a University of Georgia Master Gardener Coordinator. She is also a former mortgage acquisition specialist for Freddie Mac in Atlanta, GA.
How to Germinate Peppermint. Peppermint is among the most popular variety of mint grown in home gardens. It adds a burst of flavor to beverages and desserts. Germinating peppermint seeds indoors, six weeks before the last frost, allows you to get a head start on growing peppermint in your home garden, but it can be …