From inner-city millennials to pensioners in the suburbs, everyone loves to grow their own herbs. Few realise, though, that the Australian bush is full of these useful plants, and one of the best to cultivate is Australian Mint (Mentha australis), otherwise known as River Mint.
So, what makes it such a great herb?
Firstly, it’s impossible to overwater! Many beginners in the world of home gardening love their plants to death. They water, and water, and water until their plants drown or rot from this misplaced care. Fortunately, Australian Mint, like so many of its sister species in the genus Mentha, grows in damp habitats on the edge of streams, billabongs, swamps, and wetland. During the wetter seasons Australian Mint can be submerged for weeks at a time, so it has adapted to tolerate waterlogged conditions and, in fact, prefers them.
Some home gardeners have the opposite problem and forget to water their plants, or ‘binge water’ them once a fortnight. Australian Mint can handle this type of neglect just as it can handle overwatering. It will commonly spread through moist soil using a network of fibrous roots which allow the plant to form thickets in suitable habitat. However, during dry Australian summers, the wetlands it naturally grows in will often recede, leaving the Australian Mint high and dry. This has led the species to adapt to periods of dryness. During months of no water it can die back to roots from which it will re-sprout when the soil becomes moist again.
Australian Mint, like most Aussies, is also a sun lover! In nature, the wetlands in which is grows often have little to no tree canopy and so these plants get sunlight all day long. This makes it perfect for hot apartment balconies or patios that get hit with scorching summer sun. Of course, Australian Mint can also grow in more dappled light or bright shade, but for the best growth and the most flavoursome leaves, give it plenty of light.As for soil, Australian Mint isn’t terribly picky. It will grow happily in a typical native plant potting mix and just as well in more water retaining soils like coco peat or peatmoss. The secret is to keep the soil damp, and the easiest way is to keep the pot in a water dish, or even half-submerge the pot in your garden pond.
So, it’s easy to grow, but what can you use it for?
Though this is not necessarily the primary reason why most folks grow herbs, Australian Mint is great for attracting wildlife to your garden. During the summer months, it’ll produce a series of small white flowers full of nectar. These are beloved by native bees and butterflies which will flock to Australian Mint to feed, and will add some colour and interest to your backyard. In the process, you’ll also be helping these native pollinators survive and flourish in our urban spaces.
Australian Mint is great in drinks and food as well! On hot summer days it adds a refreshing hit of flavour when chopped up and mixed with cool chunks of watermelon. A sprig of Australian Mint in a G&T adds a novel native twist to a classic cocktail, and during the cool winter months the leaves can be steeped in boiling water to make a wonderful herbal tea.
So why not ask your local native nursery about cultivating your green thumb with this easy (and highly underrated) native herb. It’s not often you get the chance to help out our native pollinators while enjoying a beverage on the balcony.
Banner image by Louisa Billeter [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0], via Flickr.