Mint leaves Mint
Mints are genus Mentha of family Lamiaceae (the Mint Family) within the order Lamiales. They are a small genus of less than 20 species, but within those species are endless hybrids and cultivars. These are highly aromatic plants, used as flavorings in cuisines worldwide.

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General & History

Mints (Lamiaceae Mentha) are native to every continent, except Central and South America and Antarctica. They are almost all perennials, and most prefer moist soil and plenty of sun. They are easy to tell from similar looking plants by their square stems. This herb is considered particularly good with lamb, and it's very popular in Anatolia, the Levant and Middle East, both fresh and dried.

Varieties

Spearmint   -   [Spear Mint; Rau Hung (Viet); Mentha spicata alt Mentha cordifolia]
Growing Plant

This mint originated in Europe or southwest Asia, but exactly where is uncertain since it has been cultivated since prehistoric times. Named "spear" for it's pointy spearhead shaped leaves, it is the most common mint sold fresh and is the mint to use if the recipe just calls for "mint". It is a robust grower under many conditions of sun or shade but does need moisture. It is often grown in containers because it is an aggressive spreader, and is considered a troublesome invasive in the US Great Lakes region.

Dried Mint   -   [Mentha spicata alt Mentha cordifolia]
Dried flakes

Dried mint is not a good substitute for fresh mint, or vice versa, but it does hold its own as a flavoring due to the high content of aromatic oils. In Turkish cuisine, dried mint is generally used more than fresh. Dried mint is generally made from the large, fast growing spearmint varieties.

Vietnamese Mint / Scotch Spearmint   -   [Rau Hung Cay (Viet); Gingermint; Scotchmint (UK); Mentha x gracilis]
Vase of Vietnamese Mint

This mint is a naturally occurring sterile hybrid of Spearmint and Field Mint (M. arvensis). It is used in Vietnam for herb plates and in Pho. The leaves are thinner and more delicate than Spearmint, and it has a bit of Peppermint bite. The leaves are typically up to 2-3/4 inches long.

The world center for growing this mint is the U.S. Pacific Northwest, Wisconsin and Idaho, with smaller production in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada. The North American production is used almost entirely for processing into mint flavors for chewing gum, candies, and as a rat repellant. The photo specimens were purchased from a large Chinese / Vietnamese market in Los Angeles (San Gabriel) for 2016 US $1.09 for 2-1/2 ounces.

Peppermint   -   [Mentha x piperita alt M. balsamea Wild]
Growing Plant

This mint is a natural hybrid of M. aquatica and M. spicata and is sometimes found wild where those mints grow in close proximity. It is sterile so propagated is by division of the root rhizomes, and it is now cultivated worldwide. In the US Great Lakes region it is considered an aggressive invasive, spreading by runners.

Because of its high menthol content peppermint is used in herb teas and as a flavoring for all kinds of confections and in cosmetic, medicinal and hair care products. Archaeological evidence indicates it has been in use as a medicinal for at least 10,000 years. Because it relaxes the gastro-esophageal sphincter, peppermint is a good medication to take before entering a belching contest.   Photo © Simon Eugster distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Chocolate Mint   -   [Mentha x piperita]
Growing Plant

This mint is a small leaved cultivar of Peppermint that has a flavor quite reminiscent of mint flavored chocolate candies. It is a favored flavoring for chocolate cakes, chocolate drinks and many other chocolate recipes. It is also often used in coffee, and can be used dried. Like other peppermints it is sterile and propagated by dividing the root rhizomes. It is often grown in containers because it is an aggressive spreader.

Penyroyal   -   [Mentha pulegium]
Growing Plants

This mint, native to Europe, has a strong fragrance similar to spearmint, but its usage is rather different. The ancient Greeks and Romans used it as a culinary herb and it was so used in the Middle Ages, but then fell out of the kitchen repertory. It is still used in some herb teas and is said to settle the stomach, but sparingly due to it's high toxicity.

Pennyroyal is a noted and effective abortifacient, but must be used with great care because too much can be fatal. It is also toxic to the liver. Pennyroyal oil. often used to deter pests, is highly toxic and should never be used internally on pain of death. It should not be used where pets might be exposed to it as it is deadly to them even at very low levels.   Photo by Raffi Kojian distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

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©Andrew Grygus - agryg@clovegarden.com - Photos on this page © cg1 - Linking to and non-commercial use of this page permitted