Spearmint or spear mint (Mentha spicata) is a species of mint native to much of Europe and Asia (Middle East, Himalayas, China etc.), and naturalized in parts of northern and western Africa, North and South America, as well as various oceanic islands.
- Mentha spicata subsp. condensata (Briq.) Greuter & Burdet - Mediterranean region; naturalized in New Zealand
- Mentha spicata subsp. spicata - most of species range
It is a herbaceous, rhizomatous, perennial plant growing 30–100 cm tall, with variably hairless to hairy stems and foliage, and a wide-spreading fleshy underground rhizome. The leaves are 5–9 cm long and 1.5–3 cm broad, with a serrated margin. The stem is square-shaped, a trademark of the mint family of herbs. Spearmint produces flowers in slender spikes, each flower pink or white, 2.5–3 mm long, and broad.
Hybrids involving spearmint include Mentha × piperita (peppermint; hybrid with Mentha aquatica), Mentha × gracilis (ginger mint, syn. M. cardiaca; hybrid with Mentha arvensis), and Mentha × villosa (large apple mint, hybrid with Mentha suaveolens).
The name 'spear' mint derives from the pointed leaf tips.
Cultivation and uses
Spearmint grows well in nearly all temperate climates. Gardeners often grow it in pots or planters due to its invasive, spreading rhizomes. The plant prefers partial shade, but can flourish in full sun to mostly shade. Spearmint is best suited to loamy soils with abundant organic material.
Spearmint leaves can be used fresh, dried, or frozen. They can also be preserved in salt, sugar, sugar syrup, alcohol, or oil. The leaves lose their aromatic appeal after the plant flowers. It can be dried by cutting just before, or right (at peak) as the flowers open, about one-half to three-quarters the way down the stalk (leaving smaller shoots room to grow). Some dispute exists as to what drying method works best; some prefer different materials (such as plastic or cloth) and different lighting conditions (such as darkness or sunlight).
Spearmint is often cultivated for its aromatic and carminative oil, referred to as oil of spearmint. The most abundant compound in spearmint oil is R-(–)-carvone, which gives spearmint its distinctive smell. Spearmint oil also contains significant amounts of limonene, dihydrocarvone, and 1,8-cineol. Unlike peppermint oil, oil of spearmint contains minimal amounts of menthol and menthone. It is used as a flavoring for toothpaste and confectionery, and is sometimes added to shampoos and soaps.
Spearmint is an ingredient in several mixed drinks, such as the mojito and mint julep. Sweet tea, iced and flavored with spearmint, is a summer tradition in the Southern United States. As a medicinal plant, spearmint is steeped as tea for the treatment of stomach ache.
Spearmint tea may be used as a treatment for hirsutism in women. Its antiandrogenic properties reduce the level of free testosterone in the blood, while leaving total testosterone and DHEA unaffected. However, administration of spearmint tea to rats causes dose-dependent, temporary or permanent negative effects on the reproductive system of the male rat and leads to lipid peroxidation that results in histopathologies in the kidney, liver, and uterine tissues; more research into the toxic effects of the tea in humans is warranted. It can also be used to treat a variety of digestive ailments.
Spearmint has been studied for antifungal activity; its essential oil was found to have some antifungal activity, although less than oregano. Its essential oil did not show any evidence of mutagenicity in the Ames test. It can have a calming effect when used for insomnia or massages. Spearmint has also been described as having excellent antioxidant activity, comparable to the synthetic BHT. Due both to its antioxidant activity and its common use to season lamb in Indian cuisine, it has been studied as an additive to radiation-processed lamb meat, and was found effective in delaying oxidation of fats and reducing formation of harmful substances, which can be detected using thiobarbituric acid as a reagent.
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- Kanatt, Sweetie R.; Chander, Ramesh; Sharma, Arun (2007). "Antioxidant potential of mint (Mentha spicata L.) in radiation-processed lamb meat". Food Chemistry 100 (2): 451–8. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2005.09.066.
Grown in Malaysia