Updated: Dec 20, 2020
Mentha, the scientific name for mint, is a genus of plants in the family Lamiaceae. It got its name from the Greek mythological figure Minthe, a Naiad-nymph who was transformed into the fragrant and aromatic herb.
For millennia, mint has been used as a symbolism of hospitality. In ancient Greece, it was rubbed on tables to welcome visitors. The herb was used to clear the air in temples and homes. In the Middle East, mint tea was and still is offered to guests upon their arrival.
The mint plant is common and a favourite of many gardeners, so it's easy to grow your own.
Mint is mostly grown for its aromatic leaves. Oval and serrated, the leaves of mint are indented with veins and come to a point. They impart a fresh clean scent and a strong mint flavour with sweet overtones. Leaves are commonly bright to dark green in colour but some varieties can be purple, grey-green or even pale yellow. If allowed to flower mint will produce white and lavender to purple petite blooms. Young leaves will have the best flavour and texture, leaves allowed to mature on the plant for too long will become bitter and woodsy in flavour.
As an herb, mint is gluten-free and suitable for vegan, vegetarian, and paleo diets.
Each variety of mint has been traditionally used to treat numerous ailments, ranging from an upset stomach to nervousness. Modern medical research has focused on peppermint oil, which is now often sold as a dietary supplement capsule, medicinal tea, or topical preparation.
The cool taste and sensation mint imparts is a result of the naturally occurring compound, menthol contained in the herb.
The major mint varieties used in cooking and cosmetics are:
Mentha arvenisis (Japanese mint, field mint, corn mint): thrives in tropical and Mediterranean climates, used fresh or grown for its essential oil.
Mentha piperita: (peppermint): a hybrid of three other mint species, now grown extensively for its essential oil and for its use (fresh and dried) in cooking.
Mentha spicata: (spearmint): a hybrid of two other mint species, grown also for its essential oil and its usefulness in cooking.