Mint is a very large botanical genus or family name that includes approximately 25 species. These are further subdivided into several hundred varieties.Mint is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean region and adjoining west Asia and now grows in areas as widespread as Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and North America. Mint grows easily and crossbreeds, so that hybrids are common.
The most well known mints are Peppermint and Spearmint. Other common mint varieties include Wild Mint, Corn Mint, Wild Water Mint, Curled Mint, Bergamot Mint, Round-Leaved Mint, Horsemint and American Horsemint, The entire genus contains menthol, a volatile oil the taste of which is typically cool.
In Greek mythology Minthe was a nymph, and the god Pluto's lover. Angry and jealous, Pluto's wife Persephone cursed Minthe and turned her into the plant mint. While Pluto was unable to release Minthe from this curse, he gave the plant the gift of a sweet scent.
Spearmint is also called Garden Mint, Mackerel Mint, Our Lady's Mint, Green Mint, Spire Mint, Sage of Bethlehem and Mentha spicata in latin.
Spearmint has many varieties like Mentha cardiaca and Mentha crispa. The latter is so called because its leaves are crimped around the edges.
Peppermint is also known as Mentha piperita or Brandy Mint.
Since peppermint provides the commercially used oil of peppermint, it is the most widely cultivated. Peppermint oil is used both as a flavouring and also medicinally.
Historically, peppermint has been used for a very long time, both as a flavouring and therapeutically. Pliny mentions its use by the Greeks and the Romans. It was used in Iceland in the thirteenth century and eventually in Europe by the eighteenth century.
While there are many varieties of peppermint, the most common ones are the 'Black' and 'White'. The only difference between them is the colour of their stems and the quality and the quantity of peppermint oil that can be extracted from them. The "Black" variety yields larger quantities of an inferior quality when compared to the oil produced by the "White".
Wild mint, also known as Mentha sativa, Water or Marsh Mint, Whorled Mint and Hairy Mint is common all over northern Europe and Asia.
Corn mint, also known as Mentha arvensis belongs to family of the Japanese Menthol plant.It has no therapeutic and commercial value and cannot even be used as cattle fodder as it prevents milk coagulation. As a result of this effect, animals whose milk is being used to produce cheese can be fed this plant.
Wild Water Mint
This is the most common mint and is variously known as Mentha aquatica, Wild Mint, Water Mint or Marsh mint. It is an excellent pain reliever makes an excellent digestive tonic and can be used ito treat influenza. It is also useful to promote menstruation when it is scanty or absent.
Also known as Bergamot, this mint is so called because of its similiarity to the smell of the Bergamot Orange (Citrus Bergamia) and of Oswego Tea (Monarda didyma). It is used to make potpourri on account of this smell.
Monarda punctata or American Horsemint does not belong to the mint family but called as such because it is well known as a source of commercial Thymol.
Other common mint varieties
- Applemint or Mentha suaveolens produces a refreshing tea.
- Basil Mint has a strong mint flavour and is used in Asian cuisine.
- Chocolate Mint has a sweet, chocolate-like flavour.
- Orange Mint or Mentha piperita has a citrus flavour that makes it an excellent addition to fruit punch, tea and potpourris. The essential oil extract from this plant is used to scent perfumes and in the liquor industry, most notably in the liqueur Chartreuse.
General Culinary uses
Mint is one of the most commonly used herbs.It is used both in European food as well as in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines. It is used in chutneys, relishes, salads, sauces and teas.
In Teas or infusions, the herb neutralises the ill-effects of tannin and caffeine. Mint varieties most often used in tea are Fresh Mint, Spearmint and Peppermint. Many cocktails like like Mojitos and Mint Juleps use the herb.
Added to jellies and desserts, mint provides excellent flavour. In fact chocolate and peppermint are a very common combination found in well known chocolate brands like After Eights.
Mint can also be added to salads like a regular green salad. Middle eastern salads like Tabbouleh also include mint.
Mint may be added to steamed vegetables and eggs. Vegetables like peas, carrots, potatoes, eggplant, white or black beans, and corn are excellent with this herb. The herb should be added at the end of the cooking process or it will lose its flavour and turn black.
Fish, Chicken and Meat dishes also include mint. Mint sauce is a traditional accompaniment to roast lamb. Mint helps the digestive process of the meat fibres.
Mint leaves are one of the most commonly used edible garnishes on food. They have the felicity of being compatible both with sweet and savoury dishes.
General therapeutic uses
Mints with therapeutic value can generally be used to treat mild respiratory disorders like coughs, colds and mild bronchial trouble. They can also be used to clean wounds, and infusions and tinctures of the herb may be used in gargles and mouth washes. Mints are also used as anti-flatulents, to treat nausea and in colic pain.It is also used as a purgative.
Spearmint specifically is used to treat children since its taste is more appealing to them than Peppermint. Homeopathy offers a tincture of spearmint to treat painful urination and kidney trouble and also to use locally to relieve the pain in piles. It also helps bring down fever.
Infusions containing peppermint are sometimes indicated to pacify people with hysteria.
Menthol is used as a pain reliever in ailments like rheumatism (local application), throat infections and toothaches.
Did You Know?
- Peppermint oil has wide applicability in industry as a flavouring. It is most commonly used in drinks and sweets and also in toiletries.
- Essential mint oil is used as a vermin deterrent since rats and mice dislike it.
Mint grows in a well watered soil in the full sun. It does not like dry conditions. Mint can be grown from seeds or runners and takes quickly. Since it is prolific, it may need to be cut back or planted in its container, into the ground. Mint is an excellent container plant, and provided that it is not exposed to extremes of temperature it will grow well.
- Larousse Gastronomique
- The Book of Ingredients, Philip Dowell and Adrian Bailey; Penguin/ Mermaid Books 1993
- The Complete Book of Herbs; A practical guide to growing and using herbs, Lesley Bremness; Dorling Kindersley 1988
- The Herb Cottage
- How to Grow Mint
- Mint Factsheet
- About Mint
- Sally's Place
- The Garden Guide