Mentha spicata



Mentha spicata

L. 1753

pronounced: MEN-thuh spik-AH-tuh

(Lamiaceae — the mint family)


common names: spearmint, mint

Mentha is from the Greek Μενθη (Menthé). She was a naiad associated with the river Cocyus, was dazzled by Hades’ golden chariot and was about to be seduced by him; but Persephone intervened and metamorphosed her into the pungently sweet-smelling mint plant. In ancient Greece, mint, together with rosemary and myrtle, was used in funerary rites. Spicata is Latin, in spikes.

The species of mint are not clearly distinct, and estimates of the number of species varies from 13 to 18. To complicate matters further, hybridization occurs naturally between some of the species; and there are many other hybrids and cultivars found in cultivation. The genus has a cosmopolitan distribution across Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and North America.

Spearmint is an aromatic, perennial, herb, growing 30 - 100 cm tall. with variably hairless to hairy stems and foliage, a wide-spreading fleshy underground rhizome and erect, square, branched stems (a feature of the mint family). The dark green leaves are in opposite pairs, 5 - 9 cm long and 1.5  -3 cm wide, from oblong to lanceolate, often downy, with a serrate margin and acute to acuminate tips. The flowers are white or pink, in slender spikes, each flower 2.5 - 3 cm long and broad. The fruit is a small dry capsule containing 1 – 4 seeds.

There are several hybrids involving spearmint, including:

       • Mentha X piperita (peppermint), a hybrid with Mentha aquatica;
       • Mentha X gracilis (ginger mint), a hybrid with Mentha arvensis; and
       • Mentha X villosa (large apple mint), a hybrid with Mentha suaveolens.

Harvesting of mint leaves can be done at any time. Fresh mint leaves should be used immediately, or stored for a couple of days in plastic bags in the refrigerator. As an option, chopped mint leaves can be frozen in ice-cube trays. Mint leaves are used in teas, other beverages, jellies, syrups and ice creams. In Middle Eastern, British and Australian cuisine, mint sauce is used to accompany lamb dishes. In the USA it is more likely to be mint jelly. Mint is a necessary ingredient in Touareg tea, a popular tea in northern African and Arab countries.

Alcoholic drinks sometimes feature mint, such as Mint Julep and mojito. Crème de Menthe is a mint-flavoured liqueur.

Known in Greek mythology as the herb of hospitality, one of the first known uses for mint in Europe was as a room deodorizer. The herb was strewn across floors to cover smells. Stepping on it crushed the leaves and released the scent. Nowadays its essential oils are used in aromatherapy. They are also used as flavourings in breath fresheners, antiseptic mouth washes, toothpaste, chewing gum, and chocolates.

Mint has for thousands of years been used medicinally, mainly to treat stomach ache and chest pains. Mint tea is a strong diuretic. Mint is also used in preparations for treating insect bites. Menthol, derived from mint, is also used in cigarettes as an additive, because it blocks out the bitter taste of tobacco, and has a soothing effect on the throat. Mint leaves are often used by campers to repel mosquitoes. Mint plants planted by doorways are reputed to keep ants from entering the house. Mint oil is also used as an environmentally-friendly insecticide, for its ability to kill some common pests such as wasps, hornets, ants and cockroaches.

The moth Trichoplusia lectula uses mint as a food plant.

All mints are easily propagated by breaking up the rhizomes.

 Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


Photographs taken in Arcadia 2010-2012
Page last updated 5th February 2019