Native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean, mint is used extensively in Middle Eastern, Indian, South American and Asian cuisines. Fresh culinary herbs are grown in every state of Australia by a diverse range of producers including specialist herb growers, market gardeners, horticulturalists and cottage/lifestyle growers. The majority of culinary herb enterprises are located on small land holdings on the urban fringes of Australia’s capital cities. Herbs are also grown for non-culinary uses including cosmetics, herbal medicines and essential oils.
The mints belong to the genus Mentha in the family Labiatae (Lamiaceae) which includes other commonly grown oil-yielding plants such as basil, sage, rosemary, marjoram, lavender, pennyroyal and thyme. Within the genus Mentha there are several different species, varying in their appearance, aroma and end use. The most common are spearmint, peppermint, eau-de-cologne mint and apple mint.
Spearmint (M. spicata). This is the most common mint grown commercially in New South Wales as well as in home gardens. Leaves are smooth, bright green and elongated with a pointed end. Flowers are a pink to lilac colour and grow in clusters on the ends of the stems.
Peppermint (M. × piperita). This is a low-growing plant that has small, pointed, dark green leaves with a purplish tinge. Peppermint is the most commonly grown species for oil production.
Eau-de-cologne (M. × piperita var. citrata). This mint has a very strong, sharp perfume. It has smooth green, oval-shaped leaves that are tinged with purple.
Apple mint (M. rotundifolia). Not a commonly grown mint in New South Wales, it is very flavoursome and characterised by its strong apple taste and perfume. The leaves are light green, soft and downy, with a rounded shape.
The mints will grow in a wide range of climates as shown by their popularity in home gardens. Ideally, they require plenty of sun, growing best in the long midsummer days of the higher latitudes. For this reason, the Australian mint industry has developed mostly in Tasmania, particularly for oil production. Ideal growing temperatures for mint are warm sunny days (25°C) and cool nights (15°C). This is why, in the hotter climates, mint generally grows better in the more shaded areas.
The intensity of flavour and aroma in the mint plant is dependent on the level of essential oil in the plant. Oil content is at its maximum at the commencement of flowering. Once harvested, the appearance and flavouring compounds and essential oil content of the herb will rapidly decline if the plant material is not refrigerated to preserve quality. Temperatures around 1–5˚C will suit most leafy herbs and high humidity around 90–95% in the storage area will help reduce water loss from the harvested material during the cooling process. Specialist producers invest in temperature-controlled storage technologies as this can greatly extend the lifespan of fresh herbs, and maintain quality of the product.
Because the harvested product is generally packaged for retail consumption in small bunches or punnets, packing is labour intensive and quite expensive, while storage and transporting to markets is usually less expensive to undertake than for many other crops.
Native River Mint (Mentha Australis)
native river mint.
Native River Mint (aka.
Wild Mint) is a smaller, more delicate relative of more well-known mints like
peppermint and spearmint. It has long been used in Aboriginal culture as a
flavoursome bushfood, insect repellant and medicinal herb. In the wild, you’ll
find it growing in most regions of the country, often around rivers, bogs and
other damp, shaded places.
The River Mint is the perfect Aussie replacement or substitute for other types of mint, or a fantastic addition to a native herb garden. Use it liberally, fresh or dried, when making sauces, salads, dressing, dips, roasts, desserts, teas, cocktails and water infusions.
Lemon Myrtle or Backhousia Citriadora is an indigenous Australian tree, used for tens of thousands of years by the Australian Indigenous people. It was/is used as for topical application and tea or infusions for internal medicinal use. For example, infusing the leaves for an extra sedation effect when someone is injured or stressed.
From a European perspective, lemon myrtle was first discovered by Baron Ferdinand von Müller in 1853. Joseph H. Maiden reported on the potential use of lemon myrtle for commercial production in 1889. The first commercial use for general consumption by the wider Australian population is reported to be in WWII when the soft drink company Tarax used the leaves to flavour lemonade. The German company Schimmel & Co. was the first to identify the primary ingredient in Lemon Myrtle as citral, which gives the distinctive lemon fragrance and taste.
Lemon myrtle leaves contain the highest amount of citral (>90%) of any plant known in the world and its flavour and aroma show intense citrus notes, often described as lemonier than lemon. A little bit goes a long way.
Lemon myrtle leaves are milled for citrus flavour and used in sweet and savoury products. The milled leaves are used to impart a distinctively clean and crisp citrus flavour in teas, drinks, syrups, glazes, cakes, biscuits, dressings, mayonnaises, sauces and ice creams. Lemon myrtle is high in antioxidants, vitamin E, calcium, zinc and magnesium. It also has anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties.
Wild harvest of lemon myrtle has practically ceased in favour of cultivated production. Several growers will harvest according to demand, picking fresh leaves once orders are secured, while other growers will undertake a major harvest a number of times per year and year round. Annual production is now estimated at between 575 and 1,100 tonnes.
Most of the commercial crop is located in high rainfall areas of New South Wales and south-east Queensland, although there are some trees grown in Victoria and South Australia. The tree is Medium-sized (3-20m) and blooms pretty white aromatic flowers in November or December. Fruit is a small capsule with small seeds. In the wild, trees occasionally reach 20 metres in height.
Two main varieties have dominated the plantation grown lemon myrtle in the last ten years.
- “limpinwood” is hard to strike as a cutting, however it presents superior ornamental presentation, high biomass production and high oil yield as well as high citral content. The.
- Eudlo Clone is relatively easy to strike, vigorous but slightly lower in biomass, oil and citral yield. most commercial plantations have been supplied by specialist nurseries or contract propagated.
mountain pepper leaf.
Mountain Pepper Leaf and Mountain Pepperberry grow naturally in the forest and the cool climate of southern New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. Today however, it’s berries are being cultivated in plantations across the a lot the cooler parts of Australia.
The 5 meter high tree has shiny dark green pointed leaves with scarlet stems. It has small, waxy, cream flowers which develop into dark charcoal brown pepper berries, only born by the female plants.
Since only half the plants bear fruit, and it takes several years to begin fruiting, the pepper berries are a highly valued commodity. It is therefore fortunate that the leaves of the Mountain Pepper plant also have a distinctive flavour and are a more immediate commercial crop.
Traditionally, Mountain Pepper was used for its antiseptic properties and its flavour. Both the leaves and fruit were used. Aborigines suffering from sore gums and tooth aches often crushed the berries with water to make a paste and applied the paste to treat the infection. It was also added to food as a flavour enhancer.
Mountain Pepper Leaf has a strong earthy, spicy flavour. It can be used for cooking, preserving foods and for traditional medicinal purposes. The leaf has a more subtle, organic herbal flavour than the berry and is ideal where the intensity of the pepperberry is too dominant. While the berries can be used fresh, dried or milled as a spice, the leaves can be used also dried and milled or heated to extract oils.
Most people know wakame (Undaria Pinnatifida) as the leafy green in miso soup. We mainly eat the propagated Japanese, Korean or Chinese product, yet the seaweed grows abundantly in coastal waters off Tasmania and Victoria.
It is believed to have originally introduced itself in ballast waters of visiting Japanese ships. the sea vegetable began growing off the east coast of Tasmania in the 1980s. Since 2003 the plant has been harvested for pharmaceutical uses, the Tasmanian authorities granted the first wakame harvesting licence for human consumption soon after.
When wakame first appeared in Tasmanian waters, it created controversy and concern as it is considered a marine pest. Studies have started to show however that the seaweed has a less insidious effect on local ecosystems than other exotic species, such as the Northern Pacific seastar, which also arrived in ballast water. Wakame now grows wild along Tasmania’s east coast from Dover to St Helens, as well as around Port Phillip and Apollo Bay in Victoria.
Of 8000 seaweed species, only 10 are commonly eaten, referred to as sea vegetables. With its delicate, briny flavour, wakame adds umami to food and is used to enhance soups, simmered dishes and vinegared salads. In the world of the bar, the sea vegetable is showing up in local gin botanicals plus variations on martinis prove delicious also.
Wakame is a good source of minerals, iodine and vitamins B1, B2, B6, niacin and betacarotene. The plant grows on rocky reefs, pylons and boat hulls, reaching up to 3m in size. It grows in sheltered temperate waters, forming dense forests at depths of up to 15m. Wakame has a short season commencing in late winter to early spring. Sourced fresh it should taste like the pure clean ocean.