The two main species of the mint family are Mentha piperita (peppermint) and Mentha spicata (spearmint). The each can be distinguished by their foliage and stems: spearmint has softer, more ‘fuzzy’ leaves, and peppermint has distinctive purple to red colored stems. Both varieties can become invasive if left alone to wander in the garden.
Mint is a perennial plant that needs restricted beds to keep them in check as they grow. Mint is grown as borders and as grown cover. This herb grows up to 24 inches tall, but has an infinite spread which makes it invasive if not contained. To restrict the root system for planting in a herb bed, cut the bottom from a 5-gallon bucket, and dig a hole big enough to bury it within an inch of the bucket’s rim. Then put back soil, and plant the herb inside of it. This leaves the roots restricted and helps to confine the sprawl that the plant is famous for.
Place mint in areas with part sun and well-drained soils. Since few varieties are true from seed, mint is a herb that is mainly purchased as transplants. If the zone you’re living in has hard freezes, take cuttings in the fall for spring plantings.
Cooking with Mint
Peppermint contains menthol which gives a cooling feeling to the mouth once eaten making it a perfect choice for frozen desserts. Spearmint does not contain menthol which makes is more adaptable to savory dishes, like salads.
Flavor Notes and Differences Between Peppermint and Spearmint:
- Peppermint: Pungent flavor due to the menthol, sweet and cool. Use for candies, liqueurs, desserts.
- Spearmint: Sweeter than peppermint and milder in fragrance, but still gives a sharp mint kick.
- Apple Mint: Mild flavor of apples, great for salads and dressings or marinades.
- Basil Mint: Similar leaf appearance to basil with a lemony fragrance, great for cooking.
- Pineapple Mint: Mild flavor of pineapple, excellent for teas, salad dressings, and desserts.
- Lemon Mint: Strong lemony flavor, great for beverages and cooking.
- Orange Mint: Also called ‘bergamot mint’ due to its citrusy aroma and flavor, excellent for teas and desserts.