Mints (Mentha spp.) are relatively hardy small herbaceous plants, in numerous varieties and species ranging from around 40cm up to 90 cm in height. Foliage is generally light green to dark green to purplish green. Variegated forms are also known.
Full or filtered sun are generally preferable, but shade will be tolerated by many species. Generally frost hardy. There are varieties of mint suitable to grow in most climates, if provided with adequate moisture.
Moist, organic rich soils are generally preferred. Plenty of water should be provided and adding an organic fertilizer two or three times a year is beneficial. Mulching may be useful during plant establishment, although older plants are somewhat self-mulching. Some species, such as the apple mint (M. suaveolens), can become invasive. Most of the taller varieties should be pruned to about 10cm after flowering. Smaller varieties can be pruned to about 5cm.
Companion plant with broccoli and cabbages for improved growth and tomatoes. Peppermint helps control whitefly on tomatoes.
Generally by division or cuttings, sometimes by seed. Cuttings strike very easily in a moist propagating mix.
Pests and Diseases:
Few. Some species are susceptible to rust in cooler months.
The leaves are widely used to flavour drinks, meats, sweets and jellies, mixed in potato salad, or with peas. The peppermint (M. piperita is also an insect and rodent repellent. The oil from spearmint (M. spicata) is widely used in confectionary, and in toothpastes. Other common varieties include: M. arvensis (common mint), Mentha piperita var. citrata (eau-de-cologne mint), and M. requienii (Corsican mint).
Mentha aquatica (Water Mint)
Strong scented, grows to 1 metre, well branched stems. Leaves ovate to lanceolate, usually truncate at base with serrated margin. Flowers 1-2cm diameter, flowers purple, pedicels hairy. Flowers late summer.
Mentha aquatica var. crispa is the most popular variety, used for flavouring food and one of the best mints for digestive treatments.
Mentha arvensis (Field Mint)
Grows between 30 and 70cm, erect habit, branched and hairy. Leaves ovate to elliptic, broader below the centre, serrate margin. Flowers lilac, white or rarely pink. Flowers in summer. Important as a commercial source of menthol in Japan.
Mentha arvensis var villosa = Mentha candensis
Mentha citrata (Lemon or Orange Mint)
This is actually a variety of peppermint (Mentha X piperita var citrata) with a citrus-mint scented foliage. The dried foliage, or extracted oil can be used in pot pourri, but the flavour is usually considered too strong for eating.
Mentha cordifolia (Common Mint)
Clump forming to 0.5m tall, suckering, thriving in moist soil. Grows well in filtered sun. Leaves are very commonly used in cooking; to make mint sauce or jelly, added to drinks or deserts, mixed in potato salad or with cooked peas etc. Keeps producing useable leaves through winter if in a warm position. Can become invasive.
Mentha x gentilis = M. arvensis x M. spicata (Red Mint)
Usually glabrous, often red-tinged, sweet scented.
Mentha longifolia (Horsemint)
Usually white or grey, hairy, 30cm-1m, often purple tinged. Leaves 4-7cm oblong - elliptic shape, serrate, pubescent above and grey or white underneath. Flowers lilac or white in summer. Extremely variable with many hybrids.
Mentha X piperita = M.aquatica x M.spicata (Peppermint)
Grows to 1 metre over the warm months but will die back to ground level in cooler climates over winter, foliage often purple tinged, leaves petioled, lanceolate and to 5cm long, serrate margins. Flowers sterile, lilac pink, in summer. Excellent as a repellent for insects or rodents. Used for flavouring in cooking and confectionery or drunk as a hot tea. An important ingredient in many herbal medicines.
Mentha Pulegium (Pennyroyal)
To 30cm, more or less creeping habit. Leaves ovate to nearly orbicular, to 2cm long, acute or obtuse, margins entire to serrate. Flowers dense, lilac colour in summer. Used as a herb lawn, as an insect repellant (particularly effective on ants), or as a tea to soothe the stomach. As a tea the strong oils in the foliage can have some negative effects though, being particularly dangerous during pregnancy.
Mentha Requienii (Corsican Mint)
Creeping with tiny tender leaves, and blue-pink summer flowers. More tender than other herbs, not withstanding drying out. Can die off and rot in patches if it gets too wet or dry. A strong scent is released when bruised. Most suited to planting between stepping stones or beside paving.
Mentha suaveolens (Apple Mint)
Leaves sessile, oblong to nearly ovate, accute or obtuse, serrate margin. Hairy stems. Flowers in summer whitish or pink. A very hardy plant in moist soils. Grey-green or golden variegated foliage grows to 1m tall in spring, but dies back to the roots over winter. It can become a weed in some localities. It likes semi-shade but can be invasive. Leaves used fresh as a garnish or to flavour drinks or food. Leaves may be dried and used in pot pourri. Apple mint is often called M. rotundifolia which is actually M. longifolia x M. suaveolens.
Mentha spicata (Spearmint)
Grows to 90cm, leaves sessile, lanceolate to 4cm long, acute, serrate. The summer flowers are lilac, pink or white. Similar to peppermint in requirements and growth habit, only differing in it's flavour and leaf colour. Foliage is green. Important in culinary uses, particularly in drinks and sweets.
M. spicata = M. viridis.
Mentha spicata 'Crispata' (Curly Mint)
A rapid grower to 60cm with hairy stems and wrinkled, broad, dull green leaves. Pale purple flowers are borne on spikes. This is a very aromatic mint. Oils can be used as antiseptics or as a condiment. The leaves can be dried for pot pourri or eaten fresh in salads, as a digestive aid or in a refreshing mint tea or tonic.