Friday, August 7th, 2009...12:00 am

Growing Mints and Herbs in your Dorm

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yerba buena by randomtruth

yerba buena by randomtruth

TheGardenLady received this question from Jessica.

I was wondering what you thought about Yerba buena. I discovered this plant today and love the lemony minty smell to it. I wanted to know if it’s a dorm friendly plant. I’ll be living in Mills College in Oakland, CA. I was thinking of buying a small bamboo shoot and another plant (yerba buena?). Maybe you can recommend other plants the do well in dorm rooms and has a nice fragrance (not to strong)? I also like plants that can be used for different things, like made into a tea to sooth the throat. Something like that.

Yerba buena is Spanish for good herb. Another common name is Oregon-tea. The Latin name is Satureja (savory) douglasii, sometimes called Clinopodium douglasii and is in the Lamiaceae or Mint family. The common name Yerba Buena has been applied to several species of mint, especially Spearmint (Mentha spicata), but in the West it generally refers to Sartureja douglasii.

Sartureja douglassi is native to western N. America. It grows in redwood forests and was much used by tribes in the Pacific Northwest. It needs moist, sandy, slightly acid loam and partial shade when grown outdoors. It is used as a trailing plant for the front of window boxes and hanging baskets in semi-shade. TheGardenLady has never heard of it’s being used as an indoor plant, but since most mints will grow indoors, give it a try. Just know that it is a creeping perennial that likes to spread up to 6 ft. across. So give it a big pot, put it in a window with good light but not sun and keep the soil moist. If you are lucky, you will be able to make a mild tea from the leaves.

You can grow many mints in containers indoors. Choose a large container because mint likes to spread. Flea markets or garage sales are good places to find nice large containers and sometimes even nurseries have a recycling bin for old containers that customers can take for free.

Most mints need well draining soil for planting. Then keep the soil moist for optimum growth. Mints like their soil moist. Fertilize monthly with half-strength doses of a liquid fertilizer. Most mints like a good morning sun location. Turn the pot frequently so that the mint doesn’t lean into the sun and so it can grow fairly evenly all around. Pay attention to the temperature inside a sunny window; for a few weeks in winter, sun-loving herbs need temperatures in the 55 to 65 degrees F. range. They can tolerate warmer temperatures during other seasons, so long as the soil doesn’t dry out completely. You may have luck even if the window isn’t sunny so long as the mints get bright light- natural or artificial. Some people have luck keeping mint in a glass of water near a window that gets good morning sun. The sprigs root easily, and the plant can thrive with an occasional drop of liquid fertilizer and frequent water changes.  See here and here.

Mint comes in numerous varieties, from classic spearmint and peppermint to pineapple, orange, banana, and even chocolate fragrances. See here.   Mint is very versatile. You can add flavor to your beverages, salads, and other delicious foods, use it in potpourris and homemade bath products.etc.

Though there are many herbs that can be grown indoors, space is often limited in a dorm room. So become the expert on raising mint. And get enough varieties of mints to wow you classmates. These should be enough to try growing in your dorm room for a nice fragrance and to soothe your sore throat.

You mention growing bamboo in your dorm. I assume you are referring to something that is sold as lucky bamboo. Technically, lucky bamboo is not bamboo at all, but a species called Dracaena sanderiana. Although most are grown hydroponically (in water), lucky bamboo can be potted up in soil.

You seemed to want plants that can be used for different things. A word of caution: lucky bamboo leaves are mildly toxic, so they should not be used as food. They should not be kept in a place where pets or children are likely to snack on them.

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