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Mentha (mint) is a genus of about 25 species (and many hundreds of varieties) of flowering plants in the family Lamiaceae. 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 1–4 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.
Species[adihtan | ādihtan fruman]
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 As with all classifications of plants, this list can go out of date at a moment's notice.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.
Selected hybrids[adihtan | ādihtan fruman]
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 As with all classifications of plants, this list can go out of date at a moment's notice.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.
Cultivation[adihtan | ādihtan fruman]
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 tend to make good companion plants, repelling pest insects and attracting beneficial ones. The common mints, like spearmint and peppermint, are considered good to grow among tomato and pepper plants, where they enhance flavor, repel aphids, attract parasitic wasps to eat caterpillars, provide "living mulch" ground cover, etc.[sēðung þurfed]
Chamomile is thought to make a good companion plant for mint, as well as increasing essential oil in mints, making them "stronger" in scent and flavor.[sēðung þurfed]
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.
Uses[adihtan | ādihtan fruman]
Culinary[adihtan | ādihtan fruman]
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 cuisines, 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 and desserts/candies; see mint (candy) and mint chocolate. The substances that give the mints their characteristic aromas and flavors are:
- menthol: the main aroma of Spearmint, Peppermint, and Japanese Peppermint (a major commercial source).
- pulegone: in Pennyroyal and Corsican Mint.
Methyl salicylate, commonly called "oil of wintergreen", is often used as a mint flavoring for foods and candies due to its mint-like flavor.
Medicinal and cosmetic[adihtan | ādihtan fruman]
Mint was originally used as a medicinal herb to treat stomach ache and chest pains. 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.
It is also used in cigarettes as an additive, because it blocks out the bitter taste of tobacco and soothes the throat.[sēðung þurfed]
Many people also believe the strong, sharp flavor and scent of Mint can be used as a mild decongestant for illnesses such as the common cold.
Pragmatic[adihtan | ādihtan fruman]
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.
Diseases[adihtan | ādihtan fruman]
- Hēafodgewrit: List of mint diseases
Origin and usage of the word mint[adihtan | ādihtan fruman]
Mint leaves, without a qualifier like peppermint or apple mint, generally refers to spearmint leaves.
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, mint stands for any small sugar confectionery item flavored to taste like the aforementioned plant.
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).
Slang[adihtan | ādihtan fruman]
In the north west & north east of the United Kingdom, used adjectivally, the word can be used as a term of approbation or to express delight, as in "tha's mint, tha' is..."
References[adihtan | ādihtan fruman]
- Davidson, Alan (1999). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 508. ISBN 0-19-211579-0.
- Brickell, Christopher; Zuk, Judith D. (1997). The American Horticultural Society: A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. New York, NY, USA: DK Publishing, Inc., 668. ISBN 0-7894-1943-2.
- Brickell, Christopher; Trevor Cole (2002). The American Horticultural Society: Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers. New York, NY, USA: DK Publishing, Inc., 605. ISBN 0-7894-8993-7.
- Bradley, Fern (1992). Rodale's All-new Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. Emmaus, Pennsylvania, USA: Rodale Press, 390. ISBN 0-87857-999-0.
- Ortiz, Elisabeth (1992). The Encyclopedia of Herbs, Spices & Flavorings. London: Dorling Kindersley, 36-37. ISBN 1-56458-065-2.
- http://www.mccormick.com/content.cfm?id=10076 McCormick's EnSpicelopedia
- Quattrocchi, Umberto (1947-). CRC World dictionary of plant names: Common names, Scientific Names, Eponyms, Sonyonyms, and Etymology. CRC Press, 1658.
- Mentha/Mentha oil as a commodity traded in India
- Germplasm Resources Information Network: Mentha
- Flora Europaea: Mentha
- Flora of China: Mentha
- Medicinal use of mint in Armenia
- United States Department of Agriculture (Online Reference)
- Botanical.com entry on Mint
- Plants For a Future: Mentha genus search page