For all you beginning gardeners out there, I have two words: crape myrtles and mint. (Okay, so maybe three or four words.) It’s hard to kill either one of them, crape myrtles or mint, and that is just a stroke of tillage triumph when you’re trying to
perk up a plot on a penny.
Mint? It will run and shoot and climb over and fill in gaps in your plantings that
you didn’t know you had. It’s a great groundcover—well, except that it gets
really tall and forgets there is such a thing as a boundary. If you are a mint
grower, there will come a time (if it hasn’t come already) when you run around
your back yard yelling, “Out, out, damned mint!”
I’m nearing that point with my acre of mint. It’s beyond me how it appeared in beds where I never planted it, 100 feet of concrete and 20 feet of grass separating the beds. But I just luvvvvvvvvv mint tea, iced or hot, and I have promised myself to put up enough mint in the freezer so that I can brew it up when the snow covers the flower beds and the concrete patio and the grass.Every time I water, I pull up more mint, whack off the roots, clean it up and freeze it in blocks of ice.
I also have crape myrtles, many, many crape myrtles. I tried to count them last week and I got as far as thirty and stopped. That doesn’t count the three mature Natchez whites we planted in the landscape plan when we first moved to the compound.
Last summer, doing “the Lord’s work,” I weeded a small area in back of the church that
had not been loved in a while. There were crape myrtle suckers everywhere from the two mature bushes flanking the sidewalk to the door of the fellowship hall. I dug up a little root and tossed each one into my old weed bucket. When I got home, I threw some water on them and started thinking about a place to put them. Dad, bless his old sweet soul, dug up a long 2-foot-wide line on one side of one driveway and we named it “The
Crape Myrtle Nursery.” Dave helped me put them in the ground.
“What are you going to do with all these crape myrtles?” he asked, after we had sunk twenty in the row.
“I think I’m going to give them away.”
“To who?” he asked, leaning on his shovel and leveling his eyes.
“I don’t know yet. Maybe I’ll put up a sign at the mailbox that says, ‘Free crape
myrtles. You dig and fill hole, they’re yours.’”
When I saw the challenge on his sweaty face, I quickly added, “Oh, well, I’m going to use
the rest of these in the landscaping.” He watched me as I skipped around to plant eight shoots in the corner garden on the ravine, four in the long, skinny bed by The Cellar door, and another in an unplanned gap in the rose garden. I had four left, so I put a couple in pots and two in one of the front foundation plantings.
I think I might have lost four out of the whole lot, so I’ve started working on “placement”
for these little bushes—placement, as in finding new homes. But first I have to tag them so that I know what color they are. I have Hottest Pink-First Bloomer and Hot Pink but not Hottest, Pale Pink, and White. The two colors I covet most for myself, a deep blood-red and a soft lavender, I do not have. My friend Linda is coming to get some crape myrtles sometime this week. I’m going to let her have the biggest ones—a white one in that gap in the roses and one of the hot pinks by the back door, for sure.
That leaves all the ones on the driveway, and all that are in that back garden. That place, the back-corner garden on the ravine, is stuffed with a plethora of plantings. The crape myrtles have thrived in every spot, along with the crazy, out-of-control mint. A wild rose threatens to dominate a large section and the muscadine, ground ivy, and weedy bushes from the ravine encroach on the elephant ears and daylilies in one stretch. The crape myrtles don’t care. These tenacious little Lutheran exiles have found a home.
I watered at 5:30 this morning. I knew that by 7 o’clock, the heat would already drive me inside. When I wet down the front corner of the garden backing up to the ravine, I started pulling mint. I figured I could put up at least four quarts of leafy stems and maybe a couple of frozen blocks of leaves. I separated the more tender shoots from the large, woody plants with the larger leaves. The smaller ones would be stem-and-all to go into the teapot, the larger plants stripped for the leaves. I hosed myself down, changed out of my nasty yard duds, and packaged the shoots in The Cellar’s kitchen.
“Shoot,” I happened to think, “those leaves are still outside.” I grabbed a plastic tub
from the cabinet, dutifully tiptoed barefoot across the patio to the lawn where I had laid a dozen biggest branches of mint and started stripping the leaves into the tub.
My plastic bowl was almost full when Dave came along to hook up the new drip system on the roses. I asked him to show me the steps to start up this mini irrigation so that I can do it myself next time.
“What are you doing over there?” he asked after the lesson, nodding toward the
“Oh, I’m stripping these mint leaves so I can freeze them,” I answered.
That’s when I noticed that more than half—way more than half—of the leaves I had in
the tub were very smooth-edged. Mint leaves are serrated, jagged. I tore one of the smooth leaves and put it to my nose. It was pungent, but I wasn’t sure if it smelled minty or not; after all, I had handled so much mint that I could only smell mint. I stripped the next stalk and sniffed again. “Familiar,” I thought. I picked up the one remaining stalk and the scent came to me—crape myrtle.
Crape myrtle tea, was there such a thing? I laughed and tossed the big pile of leaves
onto my trash pile. Later, I thought to look for my newly almost-invented brew on Wikipedia. I wanted to know if I came near to poisoning myself—or others.
There it was. There is a crape myrtle in the Philippines called “banaba.” Some research suggests that banaba extract may support blood sugar balance and weight loss. And, further down in the article, The leaves of the Banaba and other parts are used widely by the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan as a tea preparation. This tea is consumed as a natural means for a variety of reasons involving the kidneys, such as dissolving kidney stones, kidney cleanses, and kidney health in general. Research being conducted in
Japan shows much promise for this plant and its potential uses in the medical
Looks like I’ve thrown away the makings of a potential elixir—but I have more. Maybe I’ll just keep a couple dozen of those little crape myrtles. Weight loss, huh?