Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
Spearmint (Mentha spicata var. Crisp)
Common names: –
Mint species belong to the Lamiales order and the mint (Lamiaceae) family. They are perennial herbs surviving the winter by modified underground stems (stolons). The roots are shallow. Some peppermint stolons reach the surface; they are green-violet and suitable to form both new roots and stems. The rectangular stems are 30-90 cm tall, violet and are densely branched. The leaves are oblong-ovate with serrated or crenate margins; they are dark green often having purple veins. Both sides are covered by gland-tipped hairs which contain the essential oil. The flowers have light purple petals, which can be easily removed. Spearmint has a vivid green colour, its stolons rarely reach the surface. The stems are 30-80 cm tall and have a light green colour. The leaves are curly and light green with serrated margins. The leaves are oblong-ovate, with a smooth surface or covered with rare hairs.
Although some authors believe that peppermint is native to the Far East, current studies indicate that it comes from England. Spearmint probably appeared in Southern or Western Europe. Mint species require lots of sunlight and warmth but during their hibernation they are extremely cold-resistant, under the snow, the stolons resist even at temperatures below -30 ° C.
Folk medicine often uses horse mint (Mentha longifolia) to treat the same diseases and symptoms as peppermint or spearmint.
Mint species are planted during autumn. They are extremely demanding when it comes to soils. For a rich harvest, you need soils of medium consistency with a deep humus layer and good drainage. Because they are hybrid species, they can be propagated by vegetative reproduction with stem cuttings, seedlings or stolons. Planting seedlings with rhizomes implies rapid propagation but the most commonly-used method in plantations for medical purposes is by stolons. Planting should be completed by mid-November. Mint can be planted during springtime only in exceptional cases, because delayed planting will bring a relatively poor harvest in the plantation year. In both cases, the species require intensive irrigation after plantation. Under favourable conditions, peppermint stems can be cut up to three times a year. To extract essential oil, the stems are cut twice a year.
In case of both mint species, the drug is made from the dried stems with leaves, from the dried leaves and the essential oil. Peppermint has substantial essential oil content, concentrated mainly in its leaves and flowers. Peppermint oil has over 20 components, the most important being menthol, but the plant also contains large amounts of menthon, piperiton, menthofuran and pinene. Peppermint stems also contain flavonoids and rosmarinic acid. Spearmint has a lower essential oil content. Its main component is carvone but the plant also contains linalool, pinene, limonene, caryophyllene and cineole. In addition to essential oil, spearmint also contains flavonoids, tannins and bitter substances.
Mint species are known and used for over 2000 years. Currently, peppermint has the biggest medical and economic importance. Due to menthol, its main active ingredient, peppermint accelerates bile and salivary secretion and has slight antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory effects. It is a local anesthetic but it also has refreshing and antiseptic effects. In medicine, it is used to treat stomach, intestinal or bile cramps, to prevent gallstone formation and for its carminative effects. Cold mint tea reduces nausea. As an external treatment, mint is used in ointments and powders to treat itching skin. In form of drops, lotions or ointments, it has beneficial effects in case of nose or throat inflammation. Alcoholic extracts are used as lotions against muscle pain and rheumatism. Peppermint oil is also used in significant quantities in the food industry, especially as a flavour for beverages and sweets. It is frequently used as a component of cosmetics, mouthwashes and toothpastes.
The spearmint is used in digestive, appetizing, carminative and anti-spasmodic products or tea blends but also as cold medication. As a spice, it is often used to flavour toothpastes and sweets.