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Category: Food



Introduction and description


Mentha  is a genus of plants in the family Lamiaceae (mint family).

Mint descends from the Latin word mentha, which is rooted in the Greek word minthe, personified in Greek mythology as  míntha, a nymph who was transformed into a mint plant.

In general, most people are only aware of the common mint, without realising that there are quite a number of plants in the family. Estimates of their number vary from 13 to 18.  Because hybridization between some of the species has occurred naturally, it is often difficult to know whether one is looking at a hybrid or not. 


Examples include:

  • Mentha spicata (Spearmint)
  • Mentha aquatica (Water Mint)
  • Mentha arvensis var. piperascens (Cornmint)
  • Mentha longifolia (Biblical Mint)
  • Mentha x piperita subsp. nothosubsp. piperita (Peppermint)
  • Mentha x rotundifolia (Applemint)

One of the members of this family - Mentha pulegium – Pennyroyal is better looked on as just a medicine and its description can be found under the heading Pennyroyal.  Otherwise varieties like peppermint, spearmint, applemint and so on can be eaten.  Mint leaves, without a qualifier like 'peppermint' or 'apple mint', generally refers to spearmint leaves.

To add confusion to an already confusing picture, the geneus Pycnanthemum, also found on the site is called Mountain mint.



The Mentha genus can be found all over the world across Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and North America. 

In Spain and Central and South America, mint is known as menta.

In Lusophone countries, especially in Portugal, mint species are popularly known as hortelã.

In many Indo-Aryan languages, it is called pudīna, (Sindhi: ڦُودنو‎), Telugu: పూదీన, not to be confused with pudenda which is something else entirely [sorry - I jest].


Mints are aromatic, almost exclusively perennial, rarely annual, herbs. They have wide-spreading underground and overground stolons and erect, square, branched stems.

The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, from oblong to lanceolate, often downy, and with a serrated margin. Leaf colors range from dark green and gray-green to purple, blue, and sometimes pale yellow.


The flowers are white to purple and produced in false whorls called verticillasters. The corolla is two-lipped with four subequal lobes, the upper lobe usually the largest. The fruit is a nutlet, containing one to four seeds.


While the species that make up the Mentha genus are widely distributed and can be found in many environments, most grow best in moist soils. They will tolerate quite poor soils.  Mints will grow 10–120 cm tall and can spread over an indeterminate area. Due to their tendency to spread unchecked, some mints are considered invasive.

My father had an alloment in the Fens and the ground was stone free, loamy and very fertile.  He grew marvellous asparagus, but had a mint 'bed' which he had to  surround by an underground wall made of slates and anything else he found handy to stop the mint taking over the whole plot. 


It will grow in pots, it will grow from very unpromising cuttings.  It is a very hardy plant.  What it thrives on most of all is sun and warmth, it does not like shade conditions.  It actually makes quite a nice border to a paved path.

In the UK at least, it dies down in winter and resprouts in the spring.  All you need to do is cut down the woody stalks in the winter. 

To have enough mint for winter use, gather leaves in summer and freeze them in 'packets'.  In other words put enough leaves for a helping in a square of aluminium foil and then fold over the packet and freeze it.  In order to use it, you get a pair of scissors and simply snip the frozen leaves into whatever it is you want to use them in.  The leaves quickly defrost in the mint sauce or yoghurt, for example, and keep their texture and taste.  Do not dry mint, it is horrible.  All the taste of mint comes from the volatile oils and being volatile they disappear.


Medicinal uses

As if to add icing on the cake, mint also has considerable medicinal value. 

The observations below show the activities the mentha family can help with.  Each observation describes the specific mint involved, as chemically they may all have slightly different constituents and properties.

It is worth mentioning that Limonene is to be found in practically all the mint species and Limonene is a selective adenosine A2A receptor agonist, which means it is potentially a really useful as an aid to relaxation.  Thus mint tea, which is described below, should be an extremely relaxing calming drink, good for frayed nerves and stress.

Furthermore, Menthol acts as a weak kappa Opioid  receptor agonist, which is why it is supposed to have some pain relieving qualities.  I suspect few who smoke menthol cigarettes, for example, realise they are smoking an opioid, albeit a very weak opioid!



One of the culinary favourites of the English is mint sauce.  It is only ever served with lamb [or mutton - though caper sauce tends to be the standard with mutton].  The ingredients sound unpromising, but I can assure you, you are unlikely to want anything else with lamb after you have tried it. 

Mint sauce [for lamb]

It should only ever be made with fresh mint.  There are bottled varieties of mint sauce and .......... well ................ best forgotten.  In a small jug, dissolve two tablespoons of sugar in two table spoons of very warm water.  Now add a small cup of malt vinegar [it must be malt vinegar] to the jug.  Let it cool to room temperature.  Chop a very large handful of fresh mint fairly finely. Now add the mint to the vinegar.

Serve as it is spooned over the lamb - chops or roast, so that you get a bit of the vinegar [sweet sour] and the mint.


Mint tea

Put green tea leaves and fresh mintleaves into a tea pot.  Pour boiling water over the two.  Leave to steep.  Serve in a china cup with sugar to taste.  NO MILK!!

The tea goes well with home made Turkish delight, and/or figs.

Courgette salad

Peel and dice courgettes.  Add salt to taste and chopped mint to plain creamy yoghut eg Greek yoghurt.  Add courgettes.  Serve with lamb or fish.

The courgettes can be replaces by sliced cucumber in which case you have the claasic Indian dish Raita.

Pudina Kobbari Pachadi ~ Mint Coconut Chutney

1/4 cup mint leaves

1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves/kothimira/dhania

1 cup fresh grated coconut

2 green chillis (slit lengthwise)

1 tbsp dalia/roasted chana dal/putnala pappu

¼ tsp cumin seeds/jeera/jeelakara (optional)

salt to taste

2 tsps oil

For seasoning/poppu/tadka:

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp split gram dal/minapa pappu

pinch of hing/asafoetida/inguva

few curry leaves

1/2 tsp oil


1 Heat 2 tsps oil in a vessel, add cumin seeds, let them splutter. Add the coriander leaves, mint and green chillis and fry for 3 mts. Remove from heat and cool.

2 Grind the sauteed mint mixture, grated coconut, roasted chana dal and salt to a paste. Add few tbsps water while grinding.

3 Heat oil in a pan, add the mustard and let them splutter. Add the split gram dal and allow them to turn red. Add curry leaves and hing and turn off heat. Pour this seasoning over the chutney and serve with any tiffin like idli or dosa.



Minty rice

Again this can be served with lamb.

Boil one cup of basmati rice in a pan of water with one tablespoon of whole coriander seeds.  When tender, drain and add generous amounts of butter to the rice.  Finally add at least 3 tablespoons of chopped mint and serve immediately.






Related observations