Mentha (mint) is a genus of about 25 species (and many hundreds of varieties) of flowering plants in the family Lamiaceae (Mint Family). Species within Mentha have a subcosmopolitan distribution across Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and North America. Several mint hybrids commonly occur.
Mints are aromatic, almost exclusively perennial, rarely annual, herbs. They have wide-spreading underground rhizomes and erect, branched stems. The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, from simple oblong to lanceolate, often downy, and with a serrated margin. Leaf colors range from dark green and gray-green to purple, blue and sometimes pale yellow. The flowers are produced in clusters ('verticils') on an erect spike, white to purple, the corolla two-lipped with four subequal 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, many grow best in wet environments and moist soils. Mints will grow 10–120 cm tall and can spread over an indeterminate sized area. Due to the tendency to spread unchecked, mints are considered invasive.
This covers a selection of what are considered to be pure species of mints. As with all classifications of plants, this list can go out of date at a moment's notice. Listed here are accepted species names and common names (where available). Synonyms, along with cultivars and varieties (where available), are listed under the species.
The mint family has a large grouping of recognized hybrids. As with all classifications of plants, this list can go out of date at a moment's notice. Synonyms, along with cultivars and varieties where available, are included within the specific species.
All mints prefer, and thrive, in cool, moist spots in partial shade. In general, mints tolerate a wide range of conditions, and can also be grown in full sun.
They are fast growing, extending their reach along surfaces through a network of runners. Due to their speedy growth, one plant of each desired mint, along with a little care, will provide more than enough mint for home use. Some mint species are more invasive than others. Even with the less invasive mints, care should be taken when mixing any mint with any other plants, lest the mint take over. To control mints in an open environment, mints should be planted in deep, bottomless containers sunk in the ground, or planted above ground in tubs and barrels.
Some mints can be propagated by seed. Growth from seed can be an unreliable method for raising mint for two reasons: mint seeds are highly variable, one might not end up with what one presupposed was planted; some mint varieties are sterile. It is more effective to take and plant cuttings from the runners of healthy mints.
Mints are supposed to make good companion plants, repelling pest insects and attracting beneficial ones.
Harvesting of mint leaves can be done at anytime. Fresh mint leaves should be used immediately or stored up to a couple of days in plastic bags within a refrigerator. Optionally, mint can be frozen in ice cube trays. Dried mint leaves should be stored in an airtight container placed in a cool, dark, dry area.
The leaf, fresh or dried, is the culinary source of mint. Fresh mint is usually preferred over dried mint when storage of the mint is not a problem. The leaves have a pleasant warm, fresh, aromatic, sweet flavor with a cool aftertaste. Mint leaves are used in teas, beverages, jellies, syrups, candies, and ice creams. In Middle Eastern cuisine mint is used on lamb dishes. In British cuisine, mint sauce is popular with lamb.
Mint is a necessary ingredient in Touareg tea, a popular tea in northern African and Arab countries.
Mint essential oil and menthol are extensively used as flavorings in breath fresheners, drinks, antiseptic mouth rinses, toothpaste, chewing gum, desserts, and candies; see mint (candy) and mint chocolate. The substances that give the mints their characteristic aromas and flavors are menthol (the main aroma of Peppermint, and Japanese Peppermint) and pulegone (in Pennyroyal and Corsican Mint). The compound primarily responsible for the aroma and flavor of spearmint is R-carvone.
Methyl salicylate, commonly called "oil of wintergreen", is often used as a mint flavoring for foods and candies due to its mint-like flavor.
Mint was originally used as a medicinal herb to treat stomach ache and chest pains. To cure stomach aches, put dried mint leaves in boiling water, then, when it cools drink it. This tea is called monstranzo. During the Middle Ages, powdered mint leaves were used to whiten teeth. Mint tea is a strong diuretic. Mint also aids digestion.
Menthol from mint essential oil (40-90%) is an ingredient of many cosmetics and some perfumes. Menthol and mint essential oil are also much used in medicine as a component of many drugs, and are very popular in aromatherapy.
Menthol is also used in cigarettes as an additive, because it blocks out the bitter taste of tobacco and soothes the throat.
In Rome, Pliny recommended that a wreath of mint was a good thing for students to wear since it was thought to "exhilarate their minds".
Mint leaves are often used by many campers to repel mosquitoes. It is also said that extracts from mint leaves have a particular mosquito-killing capability.
Mint oil is also used as an environmentally-friendly insecticide for its ability to kill some common pests like wasps, hornets, ants and cockroaches.
Mint descends from the Latin word mentha, which is rooted in the Greek word minthe, mentioned in Greek mythology as Minthe, a nymph who was transformed into a mint plant. The word itself probably derives from a now extinct pre-Greek language, see Pre-Greek substrate.
Mint leaves, without a qualifier like peppermint or apple mint, generally refers to spearmint leaves.
In Central and South America, mint is known as hierbabuena (literally, "good herb"). In Lusophone countries, especially in Brazil, mint species are popularly known as "Hortelã". In the Hindi and Urdu languages it is called Pudīna.
The taxonomic family Lamiaceae is known as the mint family. It includes many other aromatic herbs, including most of the more common cooking herbs, including basil, rosemary, sage, oregano and catnip.
As an English colloquial term, any small mint-flavored confectionery item can be called a mint.
In common usage, several other plants with fragrant leaves may be erroneously called a mint. Vietnamese Mint, commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisine, is not a member of the mint family (taxonomic family Lamiaceae).