Thursday, April 25, 2013

Double the Pleasure. Double the Fun. Spearmint vs. Peppermint

Okay, so I totally ripped off the tag line from a famous mint chewing gum - well, sort of. I changed it a smidge because it's trademarked but, it seemed like a fitting tag line to use when discussing peppermint vs. spearmint. So, what's the difference? Well, here's a little overview.

Peppermint is a hybrid of spearmint. It's also been called American Mint, Lamb Mint (or Lammint). It was native to Europe and brought to America by the colonists. The leaves are 1 to 2 inches long and have a toothy edge. Peppermint is used in tea and for flavoring ice cream, candy, gum, toothpaste.

Spearmint, also a native of Europe, is referred to as Common Mint, Garden Mint, Our Lady's mint, and Sage of Bethlehem. The leaves are long, spear-shaped and attach to the stalk of the plant vs. stems. Spearmint is most commonly used in teas, mint juleps, mojitos, candy, and gum.

Although they both come from the mentha family, peppermint contains more menthol so it may seem stronger. Spearmint is sometimes described as greener or sweeter while peppermint has a candy cane flavor.

I don't think you can go wrong with either one, it's basically a personal choice according to what you are going to use it for or which plant you like the looks of best.

These perennial herbs thrive in moist, part-sun to shady locations, and expand quickly by underground rhizomes or runners (these are sneaky little shoots that pop up in seemingly random places). I planted some mint in a container full of various herbs thinking, novice gardener that I am, that I could control the stuff with pruning. Wrong! I learned quickly that there is no use struggling with it, because it WILL TAKE OVER. So, I suggest if you plant it, give it its own pot and don't plant it in your open garden.

Mint is best used fresh and should be stored only briefly, in plastic bags or in the refrigerator. Here are some ideas for using fresh mint:

  • Crush mint leaves and fold them in whipped cream for an excellent topping on chocolate desserts.
  • Combine freshly-minced mint leaves with watermelon and feta cheese for a delicious summer salad.
  • Try a traditional tabouleh salad with lots of minced mint, minced parsley, couscous, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, olive oil and lemon juice. 
  • Steep mint leaves in boiling water for refreshing tea that also soothes indigestion, stomachache and, may improve your memory.
  • Make Mint Water. Twist or bruise 1 cup of peppermint, spearmint, or other mint. Place in a clean half-gallon container. fill with fresh, cool water. Chill in refrigerator. Strain and serve on ice. 
  • Make mint-infused rum for the perfect Mojito. Take a bunch fresh mint. Put it in a plastic baggie with a 1/4 teaspoon of sugar and smash it up a little. Then, stuff the mint into a bottle of white rum and wait a few days. To make your Mojito, combine two ounces of infused rum, one ounce of fresh-squeezed lime juice and one teaspoon of sugar and shake vigorously. Pour over ice and top with two ounces of sparkling water. Garnish with a sprig of mint and a lime wedge and enjoy!
What is your favorite mint - peppermint or spearmint? What do you make with fresh mint?

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