Herbal Nerd Society Exclusive Article
Too often, herbalists refer to Spearmint and her close relations as “Mint.” It’s sad, in my opinion, because the mint family is wide and varied, like the variety you get at a grand family reunion. There’s subtle differences between each of them, which gives experts a leg-up when formulating with them.
Spearmint shares common traits with other mints, like peppermint, applemint, lemon balm, and chocolate mint. They all have square stems, a rhizome root system, and can easily overtake the area where they’re planted. They each share menthol as a strong component in their volatile oil mix, which gives them all that distinctive “minty” scent. They’re all considered digestive aids and are often included in teas and aperitifs to improve appetite and digestion before and after meals. Most of them are also used as anti-microbial and anti-pest medicines.
What distinguishes Spearmint from the rest of her family?
Spearmint has less menthol than Peppermint, giving it a gentler action. Moms, Midwives, Doulas, and Nannys have relied on Spearmint as a digestive aid that’s safe for pregnant women, children, and the elderly or those with a more frail constitution. As a flavoring agent, Spearmint has been used as an extraction similar to Vanilla extract to add that fresh, light minty bite to cooking, candies, and baking for ages. It’s included in many digestive teas as well as a number of tasty salads and other recipes. Tabouleh, for instance, is traditionally made with fresh Spearmint leaves.
Spearmint essential oil is typically steam-distilled. It takes in the neighborhood of 110-220 pounds (50-100 kg) freshly flowering tops to produce 2 pounds (1 kg) of Spearmint essential oil. Since Spearmint grows so easily and rampantly, adulteration in Spearmint essential oil is relatively rare, unlike a few of her cousins such as Melissa (lemon balm) and Peppermint. Overall, Spearmint essential oil, like the whole plant, tends to be more cooling and gently circulating than Peppermint.
Grow a Little Spearmint
Spearmint grows best in partial sun, and rich, well-drained soil. It’s quite drought tolerant and will die back in winter, leaving behind an empty patch in your garden. If you have full sun or full shade, though, no worries. Spearmint will happily dig her roots in and attempt to take over there as well.
Start your Spearmint from cuttings or root divisions. If you want to encourage Spearmint to spread, weigh the stems down on the ground; they’ll quickly develop roots and new shoots will pop up to fill the space in.
Many gardeners grow Spearmint and her relations strictly in containers because of their ability to overtake the garden. If you follow suit, be sure to offer a bit of compost to your Spearmint a couple of times each year.
If hydroponics or aeroponics are your favorite growing method, you may want to think twice before planting Spearmint (or Peppermint). Spearmint will quickly and easily overtake the system, sending runners into the pump, fans, and tubing or piping areas. Although I’ve seen a few growers recommend Spearmint for those types of systems, I caution you to think carefully about it before you plant Spearmint in yours. If your system truly produces strong and healthy plants, Spearmint will most definitely take off, potentially causing damage and headaches faster than you might expect.
Spearmint is hardy in zones 3-9.