Spearmint and peppermint are staples in a foodie gardener’s herb garden and natural medicine cabinet.
Tabouli, tzatziki, kebab (can you tell I like Mediterranean food?), mojitos, peppermint hot chocolate, and other delectable food and drinks rely on mint for their signature taste.
Peppermint tea can soothe a stomach ache like nothing else.
Fortunately, mint is easy to grow indoors, year-round, with proper care.
Take a look at the questions and answers below based on my “Mint 101: Grow Spearmint and Peppermint Indoors” segment on the Home & Family Show on the Hallmark Channel.
Because of limited time, I was not able to answer them all on camera, but I do on my blog!
Mint varieties on display on the Home & Family Show.
1. How many mint plants are there in existence?
There are over 600 plants in Mentha genus but I brought just a few spearmint and peppermint varieties to the show.
Mentha is a genus in the Lamiaceae family, also known as the mint family.
Other herbs in the mint family include basil, lemon balm, catnip and lavender.
2. What’s the difference between spearmint and peppermint?
Most people have “mint confusion” and lump the two together, but there are some marked differences.
Different species: Spearmint is Mentha spicata while peppermint is Mentha piperita.
Both spearmint and peppermint share the same physical hallmarks of the Mentha genus including opposite leaves, a square-shaped stem and a recognizable fragrance.
Essential oils are also extracted from both plants.
Take a close look at your mint plants sometime so that you can recognize common physical features, no matter the variety.
Different flavors: Spearmint’s flavor comes from the chemical ingredient, carvone, that gives it that sweet, familiar flavor.
Think Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum!
Peppermint’s flavor is marked by the ingredient menthol, which is stronger and more pronounced.
Both spearmint and peppermint have menthol in them but peppermint has a much higher menthol content (40% versus .05% in spearmint).
An interesting fact is that menthol imparts a “cool” sensation when we taste it, or a cold feeling on our skin when we rub peppermint-scented oil.
Menthol activates sensory receptors that are interpreted as a cold feeling, although there’s no actual temperature changes in our mouth or skin!
I love these amazing details.
Different uses: Both offer essential oils but peppermint is considered more medicinal because of the menthol content and it is used in muscle rubs, foot powder, toothpaste and other hygiene products.
Spearmint with its fresh, sweet flavor is used fresh in recipes and drinks much more than peppermint.
Some will argue that cooking with fresh peppermint will impart a very strong, acrid menthol flavor to the food.
All I know is that I LOVE Junior Mints and York Peppermint Patties!
How about you?
Peppermint leaves are often dried first and used as a soothing tea and in other recipes.
Be careful with fresh peppermint leaves or peppermint oil; they should not be given to children because of the menthol ingredient that can be dangerous to their immature bodies!
SPEARMINT PLANTS (Mentha spicata)
- Apple mint
- Curly mint
- Cordifolia mint
PEPPERMINT PLANTS (Mentha piperita)
- Orange mint
- Chocolate mint
- Select a wide surfaced container such as a window box and fill with well-drained potting soil.
- Place your mint plant indoors in a bright, sunny room with temperatures over 60 degrees.
- Keep your mint plant watered and moist.
Mint plants are easy to grow indoors, year-round.
One of the most important details is to select a container with a wide surface, rather than a deep one, to keep the mint roots from encircling themselves and choking a plant.
Mint roots are runners that, if allowed surface space, will set roots and sprout up tall leaf spikes that you can harvest.
I bought white microwave containers with lids at the Dollar store, drilled a drain hole and used the cover as a saucer!
Drain hole in plastic microwave container
Repurposed white microwave bowls make inexpensive and cute planters!
Keep in mind that clay pots are porous and lose moisture easily, so opt for plastic containers, especially if you are one who forgets to water your plants!
Plant one variety of mint per planter as they are very aggressive growers and will end up tangling themselves into the other plant and you’ll have a hard time telling varieties apart!
PROPAGATING MINT FROM CUTTINGS
Cut a 3-inch mint stem, remove the lower leaves and place in a glass with water and it will root in 7-10 days.
Make sure you don’t remove ALL the leaves, as you need a few on the top for proper rooting.
When your new plant has roots, plant in soil and follow the instructions above.
If you prefer to root your mint plant in soil:
Cut a 3-inch mint stem, remove the lower leaves, dip the lower tip in rooting hormone and place in moist soil.
Cover the pot with a plastic bag to preserve moisture.
Don’t place your cuttings in direct sunlight. A room with temperatures in the 70s is ideal.
Your new mint plant should have roots in 7-10 days and you can plant in a larger container.
- Cut from the stem tips to encourage your mint plant to grow more leaves and become a fuller plant.
- Remove any flower buds before they open to prolong leaf growth.
Once your mint plant starts to grow flower buds, this is a signal that your plant is near the end of its productive life.
Cut off flower buds from your mint plant for a prolonged period of delicious leaf productivity.
Replace your potted mint plant every three years.
By the third year, most mint plants have outgrown their container space around the root area, compromising the quality of flavor in your leaves.
Since mint is “all about flavor,” treat yourself to a new plant.
Propagate a new mint plant from cuttings and save money!
Do you have any questions about mint for the Foodie Gardener?