(Folia Menthae piperitae)
Mentha (also known as Mint, from Greek míntha, Linear B mi-ta) is a genus of plants in the family Lamiaceae (mint family). The species are not clearly distinct and estimates of the number of species varies from 13 to 18. Hybridization between some of the species occurs naturally. Many other hybrids as well as numerous cultivars are known in cultivation.
The genus has a sub-cosmopolitan distribution across Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and North America.
Peppermint is a (usually sterile) hybrid from water mint (M. aquatica) and spearmint (M. spicata). It is found sometimes wild in Central and Southern Europe, but was probably first put to human use in England, whence its cultivation spread to the European continent and Africa; today, Northern Africa is a main cultivation area.
Other mint species are indigenous to Europe and Asia, and some are used since millennia. Cultivars in tropical Asia always derive from field mint and are, therefore, botanically not closely related to European peppermint, although they come close to peppermint in their culinary value.
Mints from Western and Central Asia, however, are comparable not to peppermint but to horsemint and applemint.
Peppermint is much cultivated in many countries of Europe, Western and Central Asia for the production of menthol, which is needed in pharmaceutical preparations.
In most of these countries, peppermint entered local cuisine, replacing in part the native mints.
In modern languages, names derived as green mint, spearmint, not peppermint. The pepper-element in peppermint, found in many other languages and also in the botanical species epithet, piperita, refers to the peppery and pungent taste of this specific mint type.
Ancient vials were found along with clay boxes and urns filled with mint which were found in ancient burial sites, sacred temples and pyramids dating back to before 1000BC. Even before the Middle Ages, when mint was so popular amongst the Romans and the Greeks. Used in bath-houses, as a strewing herb to chase fleas, flies, and mosquitoes.
Mints are aromatic, almost exclusively perennial, rarely annual, herbs. They have wide-spreading underground and overground stolons and erect, square, branched stems. The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, from oblong to lanceolate, often downy, and with a serrate margin. Leaf colours range from dark green and grey-green to purple, blue, and sometimes pale yellow. The flowers are white to purple and produced in false whorls called verticillasters. The corolla is two-lipped with four sub-equal lobes, the upper lobe usually the largest. The fruit is a small, dry capsule containing one to four seeds.
While the species that make up the Mentha genus are widely distributed and can be found in many environments, most Mentha grows best in wet environments and moist soils. Mints will grow 10–120 cm tall and can spread over an indeterminate area. Due to their tendency to spread unchecked, mints are considered invasive. So if planting in a pot or a good container make sure they are on their very own as they will become a nightmare otherwise.
Cultivate ones own plant the mint 30cm apart. Do not plant too many varieties together, as they will cross pollinate.Mint loves to grow under a dripping tap and in rich dug dug soil, very evasive, dress the compost twice a year.
Peppermint originated in England, probably due to accidental hybridization. The oldest cultivar known, Black Mitcham, is named after a town near London; its leaves are dark due to anthocyanin pigments. Other varieties of peppermint are free from anthocyanins and are known as white peppermint.
Mint leaves. From left to right peppermint, Eau de Cologne mint (M. citrata), Japanese mint (M. arvensisvar. piperascens, also known as var. japonica), horsemint or silver mint (M. longifolia), Moroccan green mint (M. spicata), pineapple mint (M. suaveolens) and Carinthian mint (M. carinthiaca = M. arvensis x M. suaveolens)
The list below includes all of the taxa that have been recognized as species in recent works on Mentha. No author has recognized all of them. As with all biological classifications of plants, this list can go out of date at a moment’s notice. Common names are also given for species that have them. Synonyms, along with cultivars and varieties are given in articles on the species.
All species of genus Mentha are aromatic, although not in all of them the aroma is that pure than in peppermint. As a rule of thumb, any mint can be substituted by peppermint, but not always vice versa. Rather sweet, and pleasant aroma.
The more pungent, menthol-containing type the more flavour. The flavour varies to every type. Goes as for the name. A slight bite of fresh minty flavour with sharp freshness, and sweet overtones.
Characteristically pure and refreshing odour, pungent and burning taste.
The typical mint scent is most pure in Peppermint, Japanese mint (Mentha arvensis var. piperascens) and some varieties of Green mint (Mentha spicata, but not spearmint), whereas in most other mints additional flavour components are discernible; for example, Crispate or Curly mint (Mentha crispa), though minty, somewhat reminds of caraway. The double-mint flavour of spearmint is difficult to describe; it’s minty but not pungent.
There are, however, yet other mint cultivars whose fragrance bears no similarity with traditional mint aroma: Orange mint (M. citrata, also called Eau de Cologne mint, similar to the bergamot orange used to flavour Earl Grey tea), Apple mint (M. rotundifolia = M. longifolia × M. suaveolens, very mild, slightly minty, not reminiscent to apples), Ginger mint (M. gentilis = M. arvensis × M. spicata, neither minty nor ginger-like at all) and Pineapple mint (M. suaveolens, weakly pineapple-like) These plants are more used as tea herbs than for culinary purposes; still, gifted cooks may find effective applications.
Health Benefits of Mint
The world’s most important source of menthol is, however, not Peppermint but Field mint. Field mint is the only mint species that became naturalized in tropical Asia; there are many different cultivars, some of which are grown for direct consumption, others for the distillation of essential oil. The Japanese variety of Field mint (Mentha arvensis var. piperascens Malinv. ex Holmes), now grown in many Asian countries, may contain up to 5% of essential oil in its tips; more common, however, are 1 to 2%. Chief component of the oil is menthol (50 to 70%, in rare cases up to 90%). After parts of the menthol have been removed from the oil, the oil is marketed as (dementholized, rectified) Japanese peppermint oil; it typically contains 30 to 45% menthol, 17 to 35% menthone, 5 to 13% menthyl acetate, 2 to 5% limonene and 2.5 to 4% neomenthol. Other terpenes occur but in traces (piperitone, pulegone, β-caryophyllene, β-caryophyllene-epoxide, α-pinene, β-pinene, germacrene D, 1,8-cineol, linalool, menthofurane, camphene). A trace component characteristic for this species and missing in other mints is β-hexenyl phenylacetate.
The oil of this so called Japanese peppermint is often attributed with an incredible wealth of useful medical properties; it is even more incredible, though, that it never failed to help one in a number of different inconvenient conditions like nausea, mild stomach upset or cold. The by-product is used to make chewing gum.
A small fraction goes in the production of menthol-flavoured cigarettes, which have been quite popular in Western Europe a few decades ago.
Whenever highly concentrated menthol is used, one must consider that menthol is toxic to infants, up to the age of 3 years of age; there are rumours that it can induce apnoea. Nursing mothers must refrain from use of mint.
- It is a great aid for digestion taken as a tea or eaten fresh and ingested.
- Antispasmodic, increases sweating for detoxification, pain reliever, antiseptic, and stimulates the secretion of bile.
- Ease nausea, heartburn, colic, flatulence, feverish conditions; even migraines.
- Unblock sinuses which helps ease headaches.
- Ease sore throats.
- A mild tea used as an eye wash to remove grit and dust from an eye.
- Also helps clear acne.
- Makes an effective insect deterrent. Repels fish-moths, ants, aphids too. Even mealie bugs.
Buying and storing Mint
One can purchase mint at any green grocer or supermarket as a dried or fresh herb and also many teas and products are available, right down to chewing gum.
Your local nursery should also stock a variety of mint plants which are an ideal kitchen herb for culinary to medicinal as well as for the herb garden.
If you are growing your own; harvest by picking the leaves at any time of the year; the best time is just before the plant flowers.
Leaves are used mostly and the fine soft stem is edible too.
For culinary purpose, mint leaves should be used fresh in almost all cases; dried leaves are restricted to a few un-typical applications only. Kept in a seal-able bag and used fresh, will keep refrigerated for 7 days. Dried mint must be stored in a dry place, away from light; in a sealed jar with lid or alternatively in a sealed ziploc bag.
Can be made into a nice infusion with vinegar and sugar or even gelatine, suitable for lamb. A great way to keep with ones kitchen hoard in the pantry for upto 6 months, once open refrigerate.
Ideas with cooking with Mint
- Peppermint and its relatives are mostly known as a medicine and popular herbs for infusions; for example, an infusion of Green mint is the national beverage in Morocco and Tunisia.
- British breeds of Green mint are known as Spearmint. They are very popular for flavouring cold soups, beverages and meats; together with thyme, Spearmint is the most important culinary herb in Britain. Spearmint is the mint to use for the famous and often dreaded (by non-Englishmen) peppermint sauce served to lamb. Today, most spearmint is actually used in the chewing gum industry (doublemint).
- In Austrian cuisine, closer to the Southern part alongside Italy, large ravioli-type noodles are stuffed with a mixture of cottage cheese, boiled potatoes and fresh herbs. The herb mixture contains chervil and a special Carinthian mint variety with caraway scent which somewhat remembers spearmint. Boiled or steamed Kasnudeln are served with a few drops of molten butter as a snack between meals, or for dinner.
- In the Far East, mint is also well known. It is chiefly of importance in the countries of peninsular South East Asia, less so in Indonesia and China. In Thailand, local mint varieties are milder than European peppermint, standing somewhere in between true Peppermint and Spearmint. Together with other herbs.
- Fresh mint leaves are often used in Turkish cooking together with yoghurt. Much like a dip or a great sauce. Delicious.
- For confectioneries and liquor companies they prefer to use the essential oil as mint leaves somewhat leave a bitter note. So the oil is more uniform in flavour and taste. True peppermint is used almost exclusively for confectioneries and sweet liquors, where its cooling and fresh pungency balances the sweetness of the sugar.
- The freshness of Peppermint goes extremely well with chocolate flavour. Peppermint ice cream is especially delightful on a hot summer day, making use of the cooling properties of menthol.
- Mint is also highly popular in Vietnam, where fresh aromatic leaves are, in any case, essential for the national character of the food and thus served as a garnish to nearly every Vietnamese dish, particularly in the South. This is actually a variety of a kind of coriander; but known as Vietnamese Mint.
Peppermint is sometimes regarded as ‘the world’s oldest medicine’, with archaeological evidence placing its use at least as far back as ten thousand years ago. Its the oldest and most popular flavour of mint-flavoured confectionery and the English were the first country to manufacture peppermint creams as a product.