Spearmint Leaves: At a Glance
In many grocery stores, you will find either fresh peppermint or spearmint labeled simply “mint.” That means that if you’ve ever bought mint leaves, you probably didn’t know whether you were buying peppermint or spearmint. Although the two can be used interchangeably in many recipes, they are not identical. Peppermint tends to be sharper, while spearmint offers a slightly sweet variation. For this reason, spearmint tends to be the more popular of the two when it comes to cooking.
In addition to its culinary uses, spearmint has a few potential medicinal uses. Many people use the leaves and oil of the spearmint herb to help counteract issues such as nausea and indigestion, often in a mint tea. While more scientific research is needed to prove its effectiveness for these and other ailments, early research has been promising.
Cooking With Spearmint Leaves
Spearmint leaves can be used in a variety of dishes to add a light, cool taste. In part, because spearmint is a classic toothpaste flavor, the taste of mint evokes a feeling of freshness. You can find spearmint in three basic forms:
- Fresh spearmint: Fresh spearmint is probably best known for as a key ingredient in refreshing cocktails such as mint juleps and mojitos. You can simmer it with sugar and water to create a syrup, muddle it in the bottom of a glass, or add a few leaves as a garnish. Fresh spearmint leaves can also be added to anything from salads (mixed in with the regular greens) to pesto. Sprinkle chopped mint on top of a vegetable side dish, or mix it in with fresh-cut fruit.
- Dried spearmint: Mint leaves can also be dried and crumbled. Perhaps the most popular use for dried spearmint is in tea, but it also common in many South Asian dishes, where it adds a little sweetness and a cool, refreshing aftertaste. It can be used in a wide range of warm dishes, including curries, casseroles, and stews. Dried spearmint pairs well with lamb chops as part of rub, marinade, or crust. You can also sprinkle it over vegetable dishes, yogurt, or soup.
- Spearmint extract or oil: Baking recipes that boast a minty flavor most often call for spearmint extract. This extract can easily be made at home using fresh mint leaves and vodka. You can also find spearmint oil. However, this essential oil is more typically used for topical treatments and aromatherapy, while other forms of spearmint are used for cooking and baking. Spearmint oil can be consumed for medicinal purposes or added to recipes. Since essential oils are highly concentrated, a little goes a long way.
Spearmint Leaves: History and Origination
Spearmint originated in the Mediterranean region and is native to much of Europe and Asia. It was exported to Britain under the Roman empire. The British Empire, in turn, carried spearmint to its colonies in North America. Today, spearmint is grown all over the world, including Africa, South America, and many islands.
The scientific name for spearmint is Mentha spicata. Its name is derived from Minthe, a figure from Greek mythology. According to the myth, Minthe was a wood nymph who was turned into a plant by Hades’ jealous wife, Persephone. Unable to change her back, Hades gave Minthe a pleasant smell so that she would always be appreciated.
Spearmint is also associated with hospitality thanks to another Greek myth about a couple named Philemon and Baucus. According to the story, Hermes and Zeus traveled through a town in disguise, and no one would offer them a place to stay or food to eat. Not only did Philemon and Baucus invite the strangers in, but they went so far as to rub their table down with fresh mint to freshen up their home. The incognito gods revealed themselves and turned the couple’s house into a temple — and mint became a symbol of hospitality.
Cultivation of Spearmint Leaves
Spearmint is a hardy perennial herb that can be grown almost anywhere. It grows best in partial shade with moist soil that has a pH between 6.5 and 7. Since it spreads quickly, many gardeners choose to plant it in pots or hanging baskets to contain it.
When planted in a field, spearmint requires about 60 inches of rain per year. It is typically planted late March or early April using underground runners, known as stolons, from existing plants rather than seeds. Harvesting takes place between July and September when the plants mature.
Spearmint is marked by pointed bright-green leaves and lavender flower spikes. In ideal conditions, spearmint plants will grow to be 12 to 24 inches tall. The top spearmint-producing states in the U.S. are Washington, Oregon, Indiana, Idaho, and Michigan.
About Our Spearmint Leaves
Our dried spearmint leaves come in small dark green and brown pieces, and you can choose from four different sizes. The smallest is a 0.5-ounce flip-top bottle. The 3-ounce version comes in a resealable rice paper bag, while the 9-ounce portion comes in a restaurant-style plastic container. The largest size is a 16-ounce plastic gallon container.