Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Propagate Some Mint!

I didn’t know this until about a year ago, but there are plants out there that will just grow new roots when you put a cutting in water. Can you believe that? They just grow roots! Like from anywhere! That’s unbelievable!

Mint is an invasive species – meaning, basically, that it’s a very nice tasting weed – so growing new mint plants from an existing plant couldn’t be easier. One day my husband spotted some mint growing by the side of our apartment building; the owner mowed it down several times but it always sprang back up, so finally I cut off a couple of 4″ long stems and stuck them in two inches of water. Within a couple of weeks, they’d sprouted little roots; about a week after that, the root systems were about an inch in diameter, and the plants were ready to transplant into soil. After they were established, I took cuttings of those and made a third plant.

That’s really all there is to it. Cut off a branch, put it in water, and wait for it to grow roots. This doesn’t work with all plants – I’m currently trying it with a sage cutting, with no results – but it works with many. If you want to give your cuttings a boost, you can buy rooting hormone and apply it to the bottom of the plant.

If you can’t find mint growing wild, go ahead and buy a small mint plant and take cuttings whenever it gets big enough. Remember that if you want a steady supply of an herb, one small plant isn’t going to be enough; you really want to have a few plants (or one gigantic one, in the case of, say, rosemary) growing at any given time. So propagating can really come in handy.

When the root system looks pretty established, dig a small hole in moist soil and set the plant in, covering the topmost roots entirely (you may have to pinch off a couple of lower leaves). The plant may wilt at first; you’d be vulnerable, too, if you were going through a major life change. Just give it a few days and it should perk back up. Once the plant starts growing, you can get busy making mint juleps with the leaves.

You may want to save your first mint julep for when you get that first gig at the bar down on 26th Street – not the one with all the stickers on the door, but the one with that weird vinyl-covered wall. You’ve been practicing really hard for a year, and this is an important break for you. Drink another mint julep just before you get up onstage. That way, audience members will know you as that lead singer who drinks mint juleps.

Make yourself another mint julep when you land your first record deal. This will be an especially symbolic day, because your spouse will have just left you for your (now former) drummer. No, it’s not his fault – no one should ever be forced to live a lie. Still, though, you feel a tiny but dangerous spark of rage when you think of the concerts you’ll be playing without him cheering you on. Go ahead and make another mint julep. You’ve earned it!

On the tour bus, start a few more cuttings going so that the plants will be established by the time you hit Chicago. You’re going to need them to keep up with all those mint juleps. Try not to think about the spouse. You think you see him at a rest stop in Colorado, blowing a lonely jet of smoke into the misty night, and next thing you know you’re clawing at empty space while your band members frantically hold you back. Don’t worry – you’ve got one mint plant that’s still producing enough for a julep. Make that julep. When you feel the guitarist’s hand on your shoulder, shrug her violently away.

Fame is hard on the soul. Mint juleps ease the pain. At age 47, surrounded by your jacuzzi full of champagne and your sixty thousand grammy awards and your marble staircases imported from Italy, lovingly stroke the leaves of your latest transplant and then drop them into that cool, sweating glass. As you wander through your smoking room nursing your mint julep, think fondly of that very first spearmint plant you found poking through a sidewalk crack in Culver City. Your footsteps clack miserably in the halls; only the butler is there to hear you. How loyal that mint has been to you. How loyal.

One quick note on mint: it prefers shade and moist soil. Don’t set this out next to your basil, or you’ll fry it – I forgot to water one of mine for about a week, and lost about four mojitos’ worth of harvest. Oh, those would have been good.

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