Everyone is familiar with spearmint and peppermint. But did you also know about the many different, distinctively aromatic, and flavourful mints? In fact, mints provide us with a wide selection of wonderful scents and culinary delights. 

The mints we discuss here are all in the Mentha genus that consists of 25 perennial species and numerous cultivars and hybrids. Most mints have typical square stems and grow about 2 ft (60 cm) tall, with spikes of flowers atop the stems and fragrant foliage.

The fragrance of mints is most intense when the leaves are rubbed gently or crushed. After flowering, the plant’s aromatic appeal lessens.

Try these out

Some interesting mint varieties lend themselves to especially creative uses (see “Refresh with mint,” on page 82 for our recipe developer Lawren Moneta’s creations).

Mint Botanical name Description
Apple Mint Mentha suaveolens slight apple aroma; tasty, yet milder flavour than most other mints; used for apple mint jelly, mint tea, or as a garnish; grows 3 ft (90 cm); light purple-pink flowers in mid to late summer; used often as an ornamental plant
Chocolate Mint Mentha piperita ‘Chocolate’ subtle scent of chocolate to the peppermint; use in desserts, ice cream; bronzy peppermint foliage
English Mint Mentha spicata cv. sweetly scented; bright green crinkled leaves; one of the best mints for culinary uses; lilac flowers in mid to late summer
Mojito Mint Mentha villosa scent and flavour is milder than other mints; used for Cuban mojito cocktail (rum, sugar, lime juice, mint, soda)
Moroccan Mint Mentha spicata ‘Moroccan’ sweetly fragrant foliage; traditionally used for a Moroccan-style mint tea
Orange Mint (sometimes called Eau de Cologne mint) Mentha aquatic ‘Citrata’ very fragrant citruslike scent; green stems and leaf edges tinged with red; white or pink flowers in mid to late summer

Cultivating mints

Most mints prefer a loamy, moist soil with added organic matter and a sun to part sun exposure. Beware though, as they can be invasive, spreading by stolons and runners. In moist, rich soils one plant will become a colony.

To control their often rampant spread, try growing mints alone in separate raised beds (one bed per cultivar), with the soil level 2 in (5 cm) below the top of the bed. Otherwise, you can grow plants in large pots and repot annually, or sink your potted plants into the soil, leaving 2 in (5 cm) of the pot rim above the soil level in the garden.

Cutting or pinching your plants on a frequent basis will promote additional branching and fuller, more lush plants.

Few of the mints come true from seed and some, such as peppermint, are sterile; purchase plants and propagate from root cuttings.

Health benefits of mints

Mints have the same nutritional value as most leafy greens, with small amounts of many nutrients, including fair amounts of calcium and potassium and considerable vitamin A.

Peppermint is the mint most often used for herbal medicinal purposes. Other mints will do as replacements, though their action may be less pronounced.

Peppermint is mainly used to soothe an upset stomach or to aid digestion. Its calming effect is also used to help treat headaches, nausea, menstrual cramps, and flatulence. An active component, menthol, makes peppermint an effective decongestant and expectorant to soothe coughs and loosen phlegm, especially when inhaled through steam.

Although used as a treatment for heartburn, peppermint has been found to trigger heartburn in some susceptible people. As with any herbal supplement, it is always wise to check with your health care practitioner before taking peppermint.

Peppermint tea

All Mentha mints can be used for tea, but peppermint and spearmint are most widely used.

Peppermint leaves are best harvested at or before flowering and then dried for tea. Store whole, not crushed, in a dry place.

When ready to make tea, tear about 2 Tbsp (30 mL) of dried leaves (best) or 5 fresh leaves and put into 1 cup (250 mL) of boiling water.

Cover; let steep for 5 to 10 minutes and strain.

Serve in a heatproof glass mug and decorate with a fresh leaf or two.

Where to find mint

Mint is best grown from plants and not from seeds. Check with your local nursery for availability of mint varieties. There are also several herb growers online that will deliver mint plants for home gardens.

Alternatively, ask your local nursery to order in the specialty mint plants you wish to try in your garden.

Other mints of note

Mint Botanical name Description
Banana Mint Mentha arvensis ‘Banana’ distinct scent of bananas when leaves are rubbed
Bowle’s Mint Mentha x villosa f. alopecuroides hybrid between spearmint and apple mint; excellent culinary mint used wherever spearmint is called for
Ginger Mint Mentha x gracilis ‘Variegata’ flavour and fragrance has hint of ginger; grows 1 ft (30 cm) tall; reddish stems; smallish light green leaves flecked green and gold
Grapefruit Mint Mentha x piperita ‘Grapefruit’ strong overtone of grapefruit to its fragrance; hybrid between apple mint and peppermint
Lemon Mint Mentha citriodora developed from apple and lime mint; spearmint fragrance with a hint of citrus when leaves are crushed
Scotch Spearmint Mentha x gracilis commercial source of spearmint oil to flavour certain chewing gums; hybrid with reddish stems and dark green leaves
Pineapple Mint Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’ scent of pineapple; used in iced tea, desserts, salads; white to cream blotches on leaves with white or cream flowers in late summer

About the Author

Jesse Vernon Trail is an author, curriculum developer, and instructor on horticulture, environment, sustainability, natural history, herbs, and nutrition topics.