Mint, Spearmint (Mentha spicata alt Mentha cordifolia, Mentha viridis)
Spear Mint, Rau Hung (Vietnam), Garden Mint, Common Mint, Mentha Spicata, Mackerel Mint, Our Lady’s Mint, Green Mint, Spire Mint, Sage of Bethlehem, Fish Mint, Mentha de Notre Dame, Erba Santa Maria, Frauen Munze, Lamb Mint, Curled Mint, Yerba Buena
About This Plant
Spearmint is the most commonly sold fresh mint and the one indicated when recipes simply call for “Mint”. It is one of the oldest Mints – not a hybrid or cultivar – and as such is one of the few Mints that produces its own seeds that are true to the parent plant. There are not many cultivars of Spearmint but there are many hybrid crosses between Spearmint and other Mints. Spearmint contains much less menthol than Peppermint so it is milder in flavor. Carvone is the major terpene found in Spearmint oil. In 2017, Washington state produced 2,100,000 pounds of Spearmint oil, making it the U.S.’s top Spearmint-oil producer.
Spearmint is a perennial, herbaceous herb that grows up to two feet high and is hardy in USDA zones 4-11. It has long narrow pointy, spear-like, bright green leaves that are wrinkled with finely toothed edges. The leaves are slightly smaller than those of Peppermint and have prominent veins on the underneath side. The leaves are smooth and hairless (or nearly hairless) and attach to the stem directly. It blooms in the late Summer with skinny spikes of white, clustered flowers followed by very few, roundish, tiny brown seeds. Like many Mints, it is a vigorous grower and spreads by runners.
Spearmint is native to the Mediterranean region. As the earliest cultivated and used Mint, Spearmint is what is referred to simply as “Mint” in ancient texts. The ancient Greeks and Romans liked to rub their tables down with Spearmint prior to placing food upon them. Biblical references to Mint suggest it was of such high value that it was used as tithes by the Pharisees. Spearmint was introduced into Britain by the Romans and it began being cultivated far and wide. It is mentioned in most medieval lists of plants and was cultivated in the Convent gardens of the 9th century. Pliny the Elder wrote, “the smell of mint does stir up the mind and the taste to a greedy desire of meat.” Mint was established in American gardens by 1739. Mint tea was popular during the American Revolution as the herb was not taxed by the English. Spearmint has been so widely cultivated throughout history that it can be found growing wild in nearly all countries of the world and many believe it would be virtually impossible to find it growing in its original form in nature.
Spearmint, unlike most Mints, grows true to seed. Seeds can be planted ¼” indoors 8-10 weeks before the last expected Spring frost. Seeds should germinate in about 2 weeks. Seedlings should be hardened off for about a week before transplanting outside. Spearmint can also be propagated by cuttings, layering, and division. Cuttings of the young shoots may be taken any time during the Summer. Division can also happen at any time but Spring or Fall is best.
Spearmint can be spaced about 8” apart.
Spearmint is a robust grower and is able to tolerate many types of soil and sun exposure. It is moisture-loving however and thrives in a medium soil that has a fair amount of organic material. It won’t grow in soggy soil though so good drainage is a must. Full sun will give it the best flavor. It is an aggressive spreader and will send runners out in all directions. Regular pruning will help keep plants healthy. When the plants stop producing heavily, it is time to thin out the roots. It is recommended to divide the plants every couple of years to keep them healthy. Like all Mints, it can be harvested throughout the growing season. For medicinal purposes, it’s best to harvest just before the plants bloom during the heat of Summer. The heat stresses the plants which causes them to produce more oils.
To harvest Spearmint seed, allow some of the flower spikes to dry upon the plant and turn brown. You’ll be able to see the seed pods as the flowers wither. Cut the flower spikes from the plant and hang in a well ventilated, dry place for a week or two until completely dry. Gently rub the dried flower spikes between your fingers to crumble the dried plant material. Separate the seed from the chaff.
- Pest deterrent
Spearmint is the most common Mint used in culinary creations and the type called for whenever a recipe calls for “Mint”. It is not as strong or overpowering as Peppermint and is ideal for when you want something to complement your cooking rather than becoming the flavorful focal point. It can be used fresh or dried, but the two should not be substituted for each other in recipes. In Turkish cuisine, dried Mint is generally used more than fresh. Mint can be used in beverages and cocktails, desserts, salads, or main dishes. The English use it in a traditional preparation of peas. Mint is the main herbal taste in tzatziki dip and in some tomato sauces. It is a popular herb for seasoning lamb in the Middle East. Spearmint is commonly used in the Middle East and is an essential flavor in most dolma recipes. “Mint Sauce” when eaten with lamb is made of very finely chopped Mint in sweetened vinegar. Mint greatly aids digestion in more than one way. It helps make the tough, albuminous fibers of meat more digestible while the volatile oil stimulates the digestive system.
The medicinal properties of Spearmint are similar to those of Peppermint but its effects are less powerful. It is used less than Peppermint medicinally but it is better adapted for use by children. Culpepper gave nearly 40 distinct maladies for which Mint is “singularly good”. He stated that, “Being smelled into, it is comfortable for the head and memory.” He also recommended a strong decoction of it to be used as a gargle to cure maladies of the mouth and gums. Spearmint is naturally antibacterial and antimicrobial along with tasting good which makes it a good candidate for mouthwashes and toothpastes. Spearmint aids in digestion and minor stomach issues such as nausea, gas, and bloating. It is said to aid in mental clarity as well as help clear up sinuses. Spearmint tea is commonly used during pregnancy to prevent morning sickness.
Spearmint is native to the Mediterranean region of Europe and southwest Asia. Where exactly it originates from is uncertain since it has been cultivated since prehistoric times.