Spearmint, or garden mint, grew in my garden at home and grows wild across Europe. I don't use it often in cooking, but when I need it, there's no substitute for this herb.
|Species:||Mentha spicata, m. viridis.|
Central or Southern Europe.
Spearmint is sometimes found wild in Central and Southern Europe, but was cultivated widely across Europe in ancient times and brought to Britain by the Romans, where it was later crossed with water mint to produce peppermint. Its cultivation later spread to Africa and the US. All species of genus mentha are aromatic, although the aroma of many is less pure than that of spearmint and peppermint.
The dried leaves and flowering tops collected before the flowers are fully developed. Spearmint is cultivated like peppermint for the production of oil, but on a less extensive scale.
Lamiaceae (mint family).
Characteristically pure and refreshing odour, pungent and cooling taste.
The names for mint are uniform in most European languages, e.g. German minze, Danish and Norwegian mynte, Dutch munt, Basque menda, Czech máta, Polish mięta, Russian myata, French menthe and Italian menta. All these names derive from the Latin mentha "mint", itself loaned from the Greek minthē whose origin is unknown.
In Semitic tongues, closely similar names for mint may be observed, e.g. Arabic na'na' and Hebrew nana. There are also similar forms in languages outside the Afro-Asiatic family, e.g. Turkish nane, Albanian nenexhiku and Farsi nana, but the derivation of these names is unknown.
The name "spearmint" was first recorded in 1539, the first syllable derived from Old English spere and originally from Greek speri (cf. Norse spjör, Dutch speer and German speer, all meaning "spear", from the Indo-European stem sper- "spear" or "pole").
Latin species name spicatus is the past participle of spicare "to arrange in the shape of heads of grain", from spica "resembling a spike". Related species name viridis is Latin for "green".
Spearmint is one of three chief species of mint in cultivation and general use, the others being peppermint (m. piperita) and pennyroyal (m. pulegium). Of the three, spearmint is the one ordinarily used for cooking. Spearmint has been bred with other members of the mint family to generate a number of other members with culinary and medicinal properties. Spearmint has been hybridised with watermint to produce peppermint, with cornmint to produce gingermint and with applemint to produce large apple mint. All of the mints yield fragrant oils by distillation.
Spearmint greatly aids the digestion. When eaten with lamb, finely chopped in sweetened vinegar in the form of mint sauce, it makes the crude, albuminous fibres of the immature meat more digestible. The volatile oil stimulates the digestive system and prevents septic changes within the intestines.
Fresh sprigs of spearmint are used to flavour green peas and new potatoes, being boiled with them. The powdered, dried leaves are also used with pea soup and in seasonings. In Germany, the powdered, dried mint is often used at table as a condiment for pea and bean purées, as well as on gravies. A grating of mint is introduced sometimes into a potato salad, or into a fowl stuffing and in Wales it is traditional to boil cabbage with some mint.
Mint jelly can be used instead of mint sauce, in the same manner as redcurrant jelly. It is made by steeping mint leaves in apple jelly, or in one of the various kinds of commercial gelatine to produce a jelly that is a delicate shade of green. Spearmint is also the basis of mint julep and mint water, a cordial distilled from the plant. Mint cake is made of flour and dripping or lard, flavoured with sugar and chopped fresh mint and rolled out thin.
The ancients used spearmint to scent their bath waters and as a restorative, as smelling salts were used in more recent times. In Ancient Greek society, where each part of the body was perfumed with a different scent, mint was specially assigned to the arms.
Spearmint is a valuable medicinal herb for reducing vomiting during pregnancy. It is gentle enough to use for colic in babies, while aiding in curing colds, flu and wind. Its medicinal properties were known in the Middle Ages, when it was ordered to be planted in monastic gardens across Europe in accordance with Charlemagne's Capitulare de Villis and was reputedly used to address some forty different ailments.
In the C14th, spearmint was used for whitening the teeth and its distilled oil is still used to flavour tooth-pastes today, as well as to flavour confectionery and chewing gums and to perfume soap.