Chocolate mint, a close relative to ordinary peppermint, has a complicated lineage involving different genetic forms of peppermint. It was developed by crossing Mentha aquatica (watermint) and Mentha spicata (spearmint), from which a particular form, citrata (orange mint) was selected for development. The 'Chocolate' cultivar of this form has the aroma of chocolate, but its taste, when used in cooking more closely, resembles the orange citrus flavor of the citrata form of mint.
The plant grows to about 2 feet tall and easily spreads by rhizomes into an attractive ground cover. The rounded, lance-shaped leaves are a darker green than other forms of mint. Lavender flowers appear in summer. This plant is a vigorous grower that is sometimes planted as an annual in colder climates.
In cooking, chocolate can be used for flavoring desserts and drinks. In landscapes, this fast-growing perennial is often naturalized as a ground cover in moist areas or planted in rain gardens. The plant will spread as far as it is allowed, though it is not particularly hard to keep within its boundaries. It is normally planted in the spring after the last frost has passed.
|Botanical Name||Mentha × piperita f. citrata 'Chocolate'|
|Common Names||Chocolate mint|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||1–2 feet tall, similar spread|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Any rich, moist soil|
|Soil pH||6.5–7 (slightly acidic to neutral)|
|Bloom Time||Mid- to late summer|
|Hardiness Zones||5–9 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Europe and the Middle East|
|Toxicity||Non-toxic to humans; essential mint oils are mildly toxic to dogs and cats|
How to Plant Chocolate Mint
Chocolate mint is planted from nursery starts since this is a sterile hybrid plant that produces no seeds. Chocolate mint grows best in a rich, moist soil that is slightly acidic or neutral in pH. Plant about 2 feet apart in spring after all danger of frost has passed.
Although growing herbs in less than rich soil tends to concentrate their essential oils (and therefore their scent and flavor), mint prefers moist, woods-like soil, so it’s good to add some organic matter before planting. Mint is one of the few culinary herbs that prefer part shade. You can grow it in full sun if you provide adequate moisture.
All mints are aggressive growers and will cover as much space as they can. Cultivars of flavored mints, such as chocolate mint, do not grow quite as rampantly as the species, but you may still want to plant them in containers or with some type of barrier in the ground. You can even sink the whole container in the ground. Of course, if you want a spreading ground cover, mints are a good choice.
Chocolate Mint Care
Chocolate mint plants prefer partial shade. You can grow them in full sun if you water them frequently.
Just about any rich, moist soil will successfully grow chocolate mint. Only very dry, sandy soils are likely to cause problems, but even this can be overcome if you water frequently. Top-dress the soil yearly with organic matter to keep it well-draining.
Chocolate mint requires 1 to 2 inches of water each week (rain and/or irrigation) but does not respond well to constantly boggy conditions. If growing in a container, never let the pot dry out completely, but make sure it is able to drain.
Temperature and Humidity
This plant is not fussy; it will tolerate all climate conditions within its hardiness range. Extreme humidity may cause fungal diseases to develop.
Chocolate mint is a vigorous plant that needs little more than a single dose of balanced fertilizer each spring.
Harvesting Chocolate Mint
You can begin harvesting leaves when the plants are at least 4 to 5 inches tall. Don’t take more than one-third of the leaves at any one harvest, but make sure to harvest at least three or four times during the growing season. The plant will respond to harvesting by becoming bushier.
The flavor of chocolate mint is best if you harvest leaves before the plant flowers. However, if your plants do bloom, shearing them back will cause new tender leaves to fill in. If you notice the stems getting longer and the leaves getting sparse and small, it’s a sign that harvesting has not been enough to reinvigorate your plant. Cut the plants back by one-third to one-half, and the new foliage that appears should have much larger leaves.
Chocolate mint is great sprinkled on fruit dishes, makes a scrumptious tea, and is a nice addition to mojitos.
How to Grow Chocolate Mint in Pots
Growing any mint in a container is a good way to enjoy the plant without worrying about it becoming invasive. You will need a pot that is at least 12 inches deep. If you use something like a strawberry pot, you can grow multiple types of mint in the same container. With its dark green leaves and stems, chocolate mint is also nice in a hanging basket. Growing it in containers means you can keep it near the kitchen for convenient harvesting.
If you live in hardiness zones 3 to 5, potted chocolate mint can overwinter if you provide it with some protection. You can try growing it as a houseplant, but indoor conditions are not ideal for mints. If you want to try, give the plant more sun than you would outdoors, and provide some humidity in the form of misting or by placing the container on a tray filled with pebbles and water.
A better way to overwinter potted chocolate mint is to move it into a basement or unheated garage for the winter. Give it a little water when the soil is dry a few inches below the surface, and move it back outdoors when the weather warms in the spring.
Regularly harvest or shear the plants to keep new foliage coming in. Regular shearing also helps to keep the plants in check so they do not take over the yard.
Propagating Chocolate Mint Plants
Once you have your first mature plant, you can take cuttings and make as many plants as you like. They will readily root just by suspending the cuttings in water. When a good network of roots has developed, plant the cutting in potting soil or into the garden.
Common Pests and Diseases
Mint is usually problem-free; however, it can sometimes be affected by rust, a fungal disease that manifests as small orange spots on the undersides of leaves. Use an organic fungicide and try to allow the leaves to dry out between waterings. Make sure the plants are not crowded and are getting plenty of air circulation.
If your chocolate mint plants should become stressed, they may become susceptible to pests such as whitefly, spider mites, aphids, and mealybugs. Citrus oil is a good remedy for these insects.