Essential plants for Horticultural Therapy #1: Mentha (Mint)

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Mentha (Mint) is a genus in the Lamiaceae family of plants. The species referred to in this article is Mentha spicata (Spearmint), but Menthe x piperita (Peppermint) and several other species work just as well or maybe better, depending on how they are used.

Origin. Spearmint is thought to originate in Europe and Asia, though it is difficult to determine due to early man’s extensive cultivation of the plant.

Culture and Care. Spearmint (and pretty much any mint) is an extremely adaptable plant, able to withstand and even thrive in a wide range of conditions. Combine this with (1) the plant’s natural ability to spread prolifically through its rhizomes, as well as (2) the plant’s attraction and benefits to people—and you have a plant that has spread itself all over the earth.

Spearmint can take as much direct sun as you can give it,  just water appropriately. Water spearmint thoroughly and frequently, increasingly more so in higher light and/or dryer situations. Spearmint can live in almost any kind of soil you give it, but would surely prefer a soil that has efficient drainage. Spearmint plants don’t like to dry out too much, so no need to add much perlite, vermiculite, sand, or gravel in your mix. Mint spreads vigorously, and will fill up any pot you put it in. Fertilizer, if applied, should be primarily a nitrogen enriching fertilizer for the sake of those delicious leaves. Prune mint frequently. If using for cooking and/or medicine, be sure to prune spearmint before it flowers, as the plant decreases its production of volatile oils after it produces flowers. The small, whorled blooms on spikes are attractive, however.

Principal use in Horticultural Therapy. Mint is a great plant for the beginning gardener in a therapy program for so many reasons. It’s not a fussy plant. It can become a lush, beautiful, and useful plant with just a little bit of care. It is safe to touch and to eat, and not only safe—it’s healthy. The smell of mint is used in aromatherapy to refresh and revitalize the mind. It’s used in herbal teas to soothe the stomach and freshen the breath. Its used in drinks—simply bruise a few leaves and toss them into your water for a cooling summer beverage.

A fun activity on a hot summer day in the horticultural therapy program might be to make “Limonana,” a lemonade made with mint that is popular in the Middle East. This activity would provide opportunity to learn about the spearmint plant, and also middle-eastern culture. Most of the participants will appreciate the cool, refreshing drink in the summertime also!mint-planter-0410-l