Spearmint, also known as garden mint, common mint, lamb mint and mackerel mint, is a species of mint, Mentha spicata, native to Europe and southern temperate Asia, extending from Ireland in the west to southern China in the east. It is naturalized in many other temperate parts of the world, including northern and southern Africa, North America and South America. It is used as a flavouring in food and herbal teas. The aromatic oil, called oil of spearmint, is also used as a flavouring and sometimes as a scent.
Least Concern (IUCN 3.1)
The species and its subspecies have many synonyms, including Mentha crispa, Mentha crispata and Mentha viridis.
Spearmint is a perennial herbaceous plant. It is 30–100 cm (12–39 in) tall, with variably hairless to hairy stems and foliage, and a wide-spreading fleshy underground rhizome from which it grows. The leaves are 5–9 cm (2–3+1⁄2 in) long and 1.5–3 cm (1⁄2–1+1⁄4 in) broad, with a serrated margin. The stem is square-shaped, a defining characteristic of the mint family of herbs. Spearmint produces flowers in slender spikes, each flower pink or white in colour, 2.5–3 mm (0.098–0.118 in) long, and broad. Spearmint flowers in the summer (from July to September in the northern hemisphere), and has relatively large seeds, which measure 0.62–0.90 mm (0.024–0.035 in). The name 'spear' mint derives from the pointed leaf tips.
Mentha spicata was first described scientifically by Carl Linnaeus in 1753. The epithet spicata means 'bearing a spike'. The species has two accepted subspecies, each of which has acquired a large number of synonyms:
- Mentha spicata subsp. condensata (Briq.) Greuter & Burdet – eastern Mediterranean, from Italy to Egypt
- Mentha spicata subsp. spicata – distribution as for the species as a whole
Origin and hybrids
The plant is a tetraploid species (2n = 48), which could be a result of hybridization and chromosome doubling. Mentha longifolia and Mentha suaveolens (2n = 24) are likely to be the contributing diploid species.
Mentha spicata hybridizes with other Mentha species, forming hybrids such as:
- Mentha × piperita (hybrid with Mentha aquatica), black peppermint, hairy peppermint
- Mentha × gracilis (hybrid with Mentha arvensis), Scotch spearmint
- Mentha × villosa (hybrid with Mentha suaveolens)
There are other cultivars:
History and domestication
Mention of spearmint dates back to at least the 1st century AD, with references from naturalist Pliny and mentions in the Bible. Further records show descriptions of mint in ancient mythology. Findings of early versions of toothpaste using mint in the 14th century suggest widespread domestication by this point. It was introduced into England through the Romans by the 5th century, and the "Father of British Botany", of the surname Turner, mentions mint as being good for the stomach. John Gerard's Herbal (1597) states that: "It is good against watering eyes and all manner of break outs on the head and sores. It is applied with salt to the biting of mad dogs," and that "They lay it on the stinging of wasps and bees with good success." He also mentions that "the smell rejoice the heart of man", for which cause they used to strew it in chambers and places of recreation, pleasure and repose, where feasts and banquets are made."
Spearmint is documented as being an important cash crop in Connecticut during the period of the American Revolution, at which time mint teas were noted as being a popular drink due to them not being taxed.
Spearmint can readily adapt to grow in various types of soil. Spearmint tends to thrive with plenty of organic material in full sun to part shade. The plant is also known to be found in moist habitats such as swamps or creeks, where the soil is sand or clay.
Spearmint ideally thrives in soils that are deep and well drained, moist, rich in nutrients and organic matter, and have a crumbly texture. pH range should be between 6.0 and 7.5.
Fungal diseases are common diseases in spearmint. Two main diseases are rust and leaf spot. Puccinia menthae is a fungus that causes the disease called "rust". Rust affects the leaves of spearmint by producing pustules inducing the leaves to fall off. Leaf spot is a fungal disease that occurs when Alternaria alernata is present on the spearmint leaves. The infection looks like circular dark spot on the top side of the leaf. Other fungi that cause disease in spearmint are Rhizoctonia solani, Verticillium dahliae, Phoma strasseri, and Erysiphe cischoracearum.
Some nematode diseases in spearmint include root knot and root lesions. Nematode species that cause root knots in this plant are various Meloidogyne species. The other nematode species are Pratylenchus which cause root lesions.
Viral and phytoplasmal diseases
Spearmint can be infected by tobacco ringspot virus. This virus can lead to stunted plant growth and deformation of the leaves in this plant. In China, spearmint have been seen with mosaic symptoms and deformed leaves. This is an indication that the plant can also be infected by the viruses, cucumber mosaic and tomato aspermy.
Spearmint grows well in nearly all temperate climates. Gardeners often grow it in pots or planters due to its invasive, spreading rhizomes.
Spearmint leaves can be used fresh, dried, or frozen. They can also be preserved in salt, sugar, sugar syrup, alcohol, or oil. The leaves lose their aromatic appeal after the plant flowers. It can be dried by cutting just before, or right (at peak) as the flowers open, about one-half to three-quarters the way down the stalk (leaving smaller shoots room to grow). Some dispute exists as to what drying method works best; some prefer different materials (such as plastic or cloth) and different lighting conditions (such as darkness or sunlight).
Spearmint is used for its aromatic oil, called oil of spearmint. The most abundant compound in spearmint oil is R-(–)-carvone, which gives spearmint its distinctive smell. Spearmint oil also contains significant amounts of limonene, dihydrocarvone, and 1,8-cineol. Unlike oil of peppermint, oil of spearmint contains minimal amounts of menthol and menthone. It is used as a flavouring for toothpaste and confectionery, and is sometimes added to shampoos and soaps.
Research and health effects of spearmint oil
Spearmint oil used as insecticide and pesticide
Spearmint essential oil has had success as a larvicide against mosquitoes. Using spearmint as a larvicide would be a greener alternative to synthetic insecticides due to their toxicity and negative effect to the environment.
The main chemical component of spearmint is the terpenoid carvone, which has been shown to aid in the inhibition of tumors. Perillyl alcohol, an additional terpenoid found in lower concentrations in spearmint, positively effects the regulation of various cell substances involved in cell growth and differentiation.
Spearmint has been historically used for its antimicrobial activity, which is likely due to the high concentration of carvone. Its in vitro antibacterial activity has been compared to, and is even said to surpass, that of amoxicillin, penicillin, and streptomycin. Spearmint oil is found to have higher activity against Gram-positive bacteria compared to Gram-negative bacteria, which may be due to differing sensitivities to oils. The degree of antimicrobial activity varies with the type of microorganism tested.
Spearmint leaves are infused in water to make spearmint tea. Spearmint is an ingredient of Maghrebi mint tea. Grown in the mountainous regions of Morocco, this variety of mint possesses a clear, pungent, but mild aroma. Spearmint is an ingredient in several mixed drinks, such as the mojito and mint julep. Sweet tea, iced and flavoured with spearmint, is a summer tradition in the Southern United States.
- Plant in flower
- White flowering whorls of a spearmint plant.
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