A parent of peppermint and one of the oldest mints cultivated, spearmint is used to flavor all types of foods, such as jellies, jams, candies, sauces, desserts and fruit dishes. It is also used to flavor and fragrance toothpaste, mouthwash, lozenges and chewing gum. Spearmint makes a refreshing herbal tea and is delicious iced or hot.
Botanical name: Mentha spicata L.
Common name: Spearmint
Synonyms: Mentha viridis L., mint, common garden mint, green mint, lady's mint, mackerel mint, hoja de hierbabuena (Spanish)
Botanical Description: A hybrid of Mentha sueveolens (Apple Mint) x Mentha longifolia (Horse Mint).
Native to the Balkan Peninsula and northern and western Turkey (it is often noted that the exact natural range is uncertain due to extensive early cultivation). Also found as an introduced or naturalized plant through most of Europe and the Mediterranean area as well as in North America. Cultivated throughout the temperate region. Spearmint is an herbaceous rhizomatous (forms lateral stems on top of the ground that “creep” to form subsequent plants) perennial plant 30-100 cm tall. It features bright green, sharply pointed, toothed, lance-shaped leaves and flowers in slender, terminal spikes, pink or white, from June-August. The plant should be harvested just before or right as flowers open, as the aromatic components diminish once flowering has ceased.
Commercial product is entirely cultivated from vegetative cuttings due to the high degree of inconsistency in plants grown from seed. Mentha species readily hybridize thus causing offspring that aren’t true to the parent. The commercial product is always rich in carvone and related compounds. Essential oil content ranges from 0.8%-2.5% with the quantity and composition varying considerably according to its origin.
Constituents of Significance: 50% carvone. Menthol should be absent; its presence is indicative of adulteration with other Mentha species, M. x piperita in particular.
Quality: Look for adulteration with peppermint. As noted above, a consistent, cultivated origin is paramount to maintaining a consistent product.
Regulatory Status: GRAS
Did you know: The name ‘spear’ mint derives from the pointed leaf tips.
(Mentha spicata – Caffeine Free Traditional Drinking Herb)
Cup Characteristics: A pungent cool fresh taste that takes your breath away.
Infusion: Tending greenish with bright green infused leaf
Mint has an amazing variety of colors, aspects and aromas. The basic odor is fresh, piquant and peppery, but can vary with each type of mint. All the varieties of mint belong to the same botanical family, Labiatae, and their lavender or rose-colored flowers blossom all summer long. In an early Greek myth, Persephone, the queen of the underworld, became angry at her husband’s wandering eye, especially when Hades noticed a young nymph names Minthe. One day, in a fit of jealousy, she turned the lovely woman into mint. Armed with this story, Hippocrates warned men to use mint cautiously.
Spearmint, mentha spicata, also known as garden mint, balm mint or Notre-Dame mint, is one of the most well known and commonly found varieties. Its narrow leaves are deep green and its flowers are grouped together in pointed ‘spearhead’ formation. Spearmint is highly appreciated for its digestive properties and its ability to relieve nausea especially due to motion sickness. Quite often it is also used to find relief from headaches and tension. Inhaling the steam from a double strength infusion will help relieve nasal congestion. Mint tea can also be used in compresses to soothe itching and inflammation. In the olden days, some doctors claimed mint was an effective aphrodisiac. In the book - The Taste of Morocco, Robert Carrier notes that mint tea is used to “cure insomnia, calm the nerves, sharpen the senses and wake up those who are drowsing”. As with any herb, if you begin ‘taking it’ for medicinal reasons, you should do so in tandem with a doctor’s consultation.
Mint is lovely when blended with lime, but also works marvelously with balm, green anise, vervain, orange blossom and licorice. Mint is a traditional drink in North Africa and the Middle East and is always served to welcome friends, family or visitors from afar. It is very often prepared using green tea - generally gunpowder tea.
RECIPE FOR LEMON MINT TEA
3 cups boiling water
4 tablespoons Spearmint Leaf
4 tablespoons Lemongrass
Pour boiling water over mint and lemongrass. Steep 5 minutes. Strain and serve.
Add honey and ice.
As prepared, each serving contains 0 calories, 0g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0mg sodium, 0g total carbohydrate and 0g protein.
RECIPE FOR MOROCCAN MINT TEA
Place 2 or 3 tsp. of green gunpowder or black tea into a teapot and add boiling water. Allow tea to steep for 3 minutes. Add a small handful of spearmint and let stand for 1 minute. Add sugar (about 1 tsp. per serving), and serve very hot in small glasses.
Hot tea brewing method: Bring freshly drawn cold water to a rolling boil. Place 1/2 to 1 teaspoons of spearmint for each cup into the teapot. Pour the boiling water into the teapot. Cover and let steep for 3-7 minutes according to taste (the longer the steeping time the stronger the flavor). Pour into your cup. Milk or sugar is not generally added to the cup.
Iced tea-brewing method: (to make 1 liter/quart): Place 6 teaspoons of spearmint into a teapot or heat resistant pitcher. Pour 1 1/4 cups of freshly boiled water over the tea. Steep for 5 minutes. Quarter fill a serving pitcher with cold water. Pour the tea into your serving pitcher straining the leaves. Add ice and top-up the pitcher with cold water. Garnish and sweeten to taste. [A rule of thumb when preparing fresh brewed iced peppermint is to double the strength of the hot brew since it will be poured over ice and diluted with cold water.]