Thursday, 12 October 2017


“It is the destiny of mint to be crushed.” - Waverley Lewis Root 

Spearmint, or spear mint (Mentha spicata, synonym Mentha viridis in the Lamiaceae family), also known as garden mint, common mint, lamb mint and mackerel mint, is a species of mint native to much of Europe and Asia (Middle East, Himalayas, China etc.), and naturalised in parts of northern and western Africa, North America, and South America, as well as various oceanic islands. The name ‘spearmint’ derives from the pointed leaf tips resembling the point of a spear.

It is a herbaceous, rhizomatous, perennial plant growing 30–100 cm tall, with variably hairless to hairy stems and foliage, and a wide-spreading fleshy underground rhizome. The leaves are 5–9 cm long and 1.5–3 cm broad, with a serrated margin. The stem is square-shaped, a trademark of the mint family of herbs. Spearmint produces flowers in slender spikes, each flower pink or white, 2.5–3 mm long, and broad. Hybrids involving spearmint include Mentha × piperita (peppermint; hybrid with Mentha aquatica), Mentha × gracilis (ginger mint, syn. M. cardiaca; hybrid with Mentha arvensis), and Mentha × villosa (large apple mint, hybrid with Mentha suaveolens).

Spearmint grows well in nearly all temperate climates. Gardeners often grow it in pots or planters due to its invasive, spreading rhizomes. The plant prefers partial shade, but can flourish in full sun to mostly shade. Spearmint is best suited to loamy soils with abundant organic material.

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, referred to as 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. Used as a fumigant, spearmint essential oil is an effective insecticide against adult moths. In preliminary research, spearmint essential oil showed potential for antifungal activity against food poisoning pathogens and had no evidence of mutagenicity in the Ames test.

The cultivar Mentha spicata ‘Nana’, the nana mint of Morocco, possesses a clear, pungent, but mild aroma, and is an essential ingredient of Moroccan tea. 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. Spearmint is also used extensively in cooking, especially so in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries. Mint sauce is a traditional accompaniment to roast lamb in Britain and its former colonial countries. 

Royal Mint Sauce 
2 tsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried mustard powder
2 cups mint leaves, finely chopped
2 tbsp boiling water
1-2 tbsp mayonnaise
Pepper to taste 

Dissolve the sugar and salt in the vinegar and reserve. Work the mustard powder and a little oil to form a paste. Add a little vinegar and keep stirring, alternating with a little oil until all is used up.
Add the boiling water to the chopped mint leaves and stir well to wilt. Add the leaves to the sauce mixture stirring well and incorporate the mayonnaise, which will stabilise the sauce. Season with pepper and extra salt if desired.

In the language of flowers, a non-flowering sprig of spearmint means: “You have pierced my heart”. A flowering sprig means: “You are virtuous”.

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