Mentha spicata, also popularly known as spearmint (also spelled spear mint), is a highly mint flavored herb that is basically used as a flavoring agent in various foods, especially confectionery, chocolates and chewing gums. This herb is also known for its medicinal properties. The herb is called “spear”, because of its leaves that are pointed and spear-like. The essential oil of this herb – menthe spicata oil, is used to an extent in the perfumery and pharmaceutical industries.
Origin & Varieties
Native to Europe and southwest Asia, this perennial aromatic mentha spicata herb tends to grow well in wet soils. The characteristic feature of this herb is its square shaped stems and white and pink flowers on slender spikes. Today, there are many hybrids of this genus which are used for flavoring as well as in the pharmaceutical industry. The popular species include –
- Mentha piperita – This is peppermint flavored species that has been crossed with Mentha aquatic.
- Mentha gracilis – This is ginger mint flavored species that has been crossed with Mentha arvensis.
- Metha villosa – This is a large apple mint flavored species that has been crossed with Mentha suaveolens.
- Mentha spicata retains its sweet pungent aroma as long as the plant does not flower. The leaves are used fresh as well as dried, which can be used whole, chopped and then used in various preparations.
- Mint leaves are used in making tea and one such tea is Touareg tea made from the “Nana Mint” of Moroccan origin.
- Cocktails such Mojito, Mint Julep, and Iced sweet tea are flavored with mint leaves.
- Confectionery and popular mint chocolates too are flavored with the essence of mint.
- Various cooling drinks are flavored with this her.
- Mint steeped tea helps in relieving stomach aches, digestive and gas problems.
- Mentha spicata contains carminative oil, which is also known as menthe spicata oil or spearmint oil. This oil gets its strong mint flavor from R-(-)-carvone, an aromatic compound present in the herb.
- As per research, spearmint tea is believed to help treat hirsutism in women.
- The free testosterone level in the blood is also controlled and lowered with the help of the anti-androgenic properties of this herb.
- The high level of antioxidants present in the herb help in detoxifying the system.
- A poultice made from menthe spicata is known to help treat tumors.
- Mentha spicata leaves are used fresh and dried. Dried leaves can be powdered as well.
- The leaves can also be preserved in sugar, salt, alcohol, oil or in sugar syrup.
- If fresh, the leaves need to be stored in airtight bags or containers and refrigerated; similarly they can be frozen in airtight Ziploc bags.
- If the leaves need to be dried for later use, the ideal way to dry them is by wrapping them either in plastic or cloth and then drying.
- If powdered or just dried, the leaves of mentha spicata need to be stored in airtight containers away from direct sunlight, in a dry, dark and well ventilated place.