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Spearmint

( Originally Published 1933 )



MENTHA SPICATA, L.

Roman Mint, Green Mint

Labiatae Perennial

The spearmint is native to Europe, but now grows throughout the temperate regions of the world. It produces the most fragrant leaves when growing in damp soil. The whole plant is dark green, crisp, and smooth, and there is a grace about the way it carries its slender flower spikes. There are, besides, two horticultural varieties, gentilis and viridis.

Root. It sends out stolons which root as they run and, in favorable soil, spread considerably.

Stem. The stems are square, smooth, without hairs, rampant, and grow two to three feet high, and spread out instead of standing up straight. They are sometimes light green near the tops without any red, but again they may have the reddish coloring all the way up.

Leaf. The leaves are in opposite pairs with little stems and leaves growing in pairs from their axils. The leaves are almost sessile, have gland-like humps, and there are tiny, irregular, pointed indentations along the margins. They are smaller and more crinkly than the leaves of Mentha piperita; they smell slightly of lemon and mint; when fresh they taste bitter, sharp, and camphory.

Flower. In late July and August come the spires of tiny white flowers marked with purple, and looking gray.

Seed. The seed is very scant, exceedingly fine, roundish and brown, says Vilmorin.

HISTORY AND LEGEND

It was in nearly all the early lists of plants and was probably in American gardens by 1739, for Clayton mentioned it.

USES

In Pennsylvania, bundles of mint are packed in with the grain to keep rodents away.

Perfume. The oil extracted from the plants flavors chewing gum, dental preparations, and soaps.

Food. The leaves are minced in vinegar with sugar for mint sauce; and used to flavor cold drinks: minced, they are scattered over green peas and glazed carrots. As a tea it is less harsh than peppermint leaves. The oil flavors confectionery, too.

CULTURE

I planted seed but it did not germinate. A plantation of mint will last a long while if the stems are cut off close to the ground every autumn and a layer of good soil or compost placed over them.

This is generally from pieces of the runners which root readily in any fertile, slightly moist soil. When it grows in dry soil the leaves are not as fragrant.

Harvest. As the plant flowers the leaves and flowering tops are collected and dried in the shade. If the plants are dried before distilling, the oil is more fragrant.

It is grown commercially in Michigan and Indiana, where it is known as "Green Mint." The annual market requirement for the oil is 50,000 pounds in the United States. The yield of oil varies from ten to twenty pounds per acre.

Varieties. The list of mints is a long one and I have grown over twenty kinds. There are many gray-leaved mints. All of them are fragrant and a few are handsome, but on the whole they are too weedy for the garden. The following' are the ones useful for flavoring:

Mentha citrata Ehrh, called bergamot mint, lemon mint, orange mint, is native to Europe and naturalized in America. It is deliciously fragrant and tastes of lemon. Although it is naturalized in America, no plants were to be obtained, so mine came to me from Edinburgh. These have a purplish corolla and are more reddish than most mints, have smooth flower stalks and decumbent smooth stems to two feet long. The leaves are ovate, two inches long, and toothed. The flowers are in the uppermost axils of the leaves in a dense terminal spike up to one inch long.

Mentha crispa. The seed of this came from Kew, and the plant is a red-stemmed, crisp-leaved mint, smelling resinous, almost turpentiny, but pleasantly, and not too strongly. It is a handsome plant with vigorous curled leaves. A variety of it which also came from abroad has light green, crisped leaves and smells of mint.

Mentha arvensis, field mint, is the one from which the Japanese distill their oil, and it is said to have only a slight odor of peppermint. The flowers are in the axils of the leaves instead of in terminal spikes. The variety grown in Japan is said to be var. piperascens, and in China it is said to bevar. glabrata.

Mentha arvensis var. canadensis is generally known as Mentha canadensis and grows wild from Maine to California. It gives off an essence of mint, and was used by the first colonists and by the Indians.

Mentha rotundifolia Huds., apple mint, or the round-leaved mint, is a woolly plant. The cool, green leaves are glandular, rough, and hairy; so are the stems, which are not sharply squared and smell unpleasantly of ether and peppermint. It makes a handsome garnish to drinks flavored with mint or mixed in with old-fashioned flowers in a bouquet. It has creamy flower spikes. The plant grows about fifteen to eighteen inches high, and dies down to the ground in the winter but rises again in the spring. It is easily increased by slips planted in sand. A variety called variegata has irregular white patches on the green leaves—quite dashing and modernistic in effect.

HISTORY AND LEGEND

In olden days the different mints were not always specified.

Mint was one of the herbs with which the Pharisees paid their tithe; it was employed by the Greeks in their mysteries, perhaps because it reanimates the spirits; it was also one of the strewing herbs. All the old-time writers thought it prevented milk from curdling, and that its flavor gave a zest to the appetite, and hence it was much used in sauces and was mixed in puddings. It was thought good with salt against the bite of mad dogs. The mints, balm, and other herbs were infused in baths, and one notes that although the ancients did not indulge in frequent bathing, when they did they must have had a most luxurious experience.

Prince mentioned M. rotundifolia variegata, M. calif ornica, and M. piperita, and Bartram listed M. canadensis, M. viridis, M. piperita, and M. citrata. Josselyn spoke of spearmint.



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