Types of mint: the most refreshing mint varieties for the garden
Mint is an absolute classic in the herb bed. Here are some of the best and most aromatic types of mint with information on what makes each variety special.
While everyone knows about peppermint, terms such as pineapple mint or chocolate mint remain rather unknown to most people. The genus of mint (Mentha) includes about 30 species and is therefore extremely diverse. So why not try out a new species in the garden or on the windowsill? In the following, we have compiled an overview of the most interesting mint species.
The best mint species and varieties
Mints belong to the mint and sage family (Lamiaceae). They are often planted in (fragrant) herb beds and they are also very popular in pots on balconies, windowsills or terraces. This comes as no surprise, as mint not only smells wonderful, but can also be used creatively when cooking. Additionally, mint has alleged healing properties. This herb is said to help with gastrointestinal complaints, colds, headaches or even muscle aches.
Back in the 9th century, the theological writer Walahfrid Strabo said, that if someone was to list all of the various types of mint, they would have to name as many plants as there are fish in the sea. Of course, this is a bit of an exaggeration, but the genus of mint is nevertheless impressively extensive and new varieties are being bred all the time.
The following is an overview of classic mint varieties, ranging from mint that is particularly suitable for tea and mint that is mainly found in the wild, to more exotic mint species with unique aroma.
Classic mint species
The following five species of mint belong to those that are more common. However, it is certainly worth finding out more about these heirloom species. It is also important to note that one of these types of mint, the pennyroyal, is poisonous. Find out more in the following.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
Peppermint is a well-known classic among the mint species and is often found in gardens and on balconies. However, it remains unclear where this type of mint originally comes from. What is certain is that it is a cross between the water mint (Mentha aquatica) and the spearmint (Mentha spicata). It is particularly valued for its high content of menthol and its peppery, spicy flavour. It is a plant that is undemanding in cultivation, perennial and hardy.
Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
Spearmint is probably the most commonly used mint species. It is also known as the garden mint or the common mint. This is the type of mint that gives the minty taste to toothpaste, chewing gum and some sweets, for example. Originally it comes from Europe, but nowadays it is also widespread in large parts of Asia and Africa. This mint species grows quickly and exuberantly. In fact, it can grow up to 130 centimetres in height. From July to September spearmint blossoms in white and purple.
Water mint (Mentha aquatica)
Water mint originally comes from Europe and can be found in large parts of Asia and Africa as well. As the name suggests, this mint is most comfortable in damp conditions. For this reason, it is most commonly found in areas around shores, trenches, moors and wet meadows in the wild. Furthermore, what makes the seeds of this mint species stand out is that they only spread through water. The plant grows up to 90 centimetres in height and is suitable for planting along the edges of ponds in the garden.
Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
This type of mint can grow 10 to 50 centimetres in height and it bears lilac flowers from May to September. This plant, that is also known as squaw mint, looks very similar to peppermint. However, it is important to know that pennyroyal is, in fact, poisonous. The only way to tell the pennyroyal apart from peppermint is by looking at its flowers. Other than that, the two mints are similar in both the length of the stamens as well as the flower funnel.
In the past, pennyroyal was used as a remedy, but nowadays it is avoided due to its toxicity. This mint species should generally not be plucked, as it is a protected plant that is classified as highly endangered on the IUCN Red List. However, pennyroyal can be planted in a fragrant herb garden, just don’t forget that it is poisonous.
Cuban mint (Mentha nemorosa)
Cuban mint is also known as Mojito mint, for obvious reasons. The aromatic herb is often used when mixing refreshing cocktails and drinks like Mojito or Hugo. It is probably the result of a cross between Mentha spicata and Mentha suaveolens. The vigorous plant grows between 40 and 80 centimetres tall. Besides, in summer, from the beginning of July to the end of August, it blossoms in light purple and attracts numerous insects.
Mint species for tea
The following four mint species have a strong tradition in countries where drinking tea is of major cultural importance. For this reason, these types of mint are best suitable for making tea.
Moroccan mint (Mentha spicata var. crispa ‘Moroccan’)
Moroccan mint originally comes from North Africa. As the name suggests, it is highly appreciated especially in Morocco, where people drink it in teas with lots of sugar. However, it is not only the cool, refreshing taste that makes this mint species so popular, but also its compact growth and easy maintenance. The Moroccan mint grows between 30 and 60 centimetres tall. Its leaves are lancet-shaped with jagged edges and its flowers are lilac.
Nana mint (Mentha spicata var. crispa ‘Nana’)
The name nana mint actually refers to three different mint species. It describes both the species Mentha spicata var. crispa ‘Nana’, as well as Mentha x piperita var. piperita ‘Nana’ but also the aforementioned Moroccan mint, which is also sometimes referred to as nana mint. However, the actual nana mint goes by the name of Mentha spicata var. crispa ‘Nana’.
In Turkey and in North Africa this mint is often drunk combined with black tea and sugar. In said regions, this mint species is also often used for seasoning oriental dishes. It can grow up to 90 centimetres tall and it is perennial and hardy. The flowers of nana mint are white to pink and appear from July onwards.
Mitcham peppermint (Mentha x piperita ‘Mitcham’)
Mitcham peppermint is an old cultivated mint species that comes from England, more precisely from the area near Mitcham. It is probably a coincidental cross between garden mint and water mint (Mentha aquatica), which grows in the wild. Mitcham peppermint is characterised by its intense and very spicy flavour. It is therefore commonly used for tea, soups and desserts. The leaves of Mitcham peppermint are green to red. Furthermore, the plant can grow up to 80 centimetres tall and is persistent and vigorous.
Apple mint or round-leafed mint (Mentha suaveolens)
Apple mint is also referred to as round-leafed mint due to the oval shape of its leaves which sets this species apart from the others. Its leaves smell and taste of apple, hence the name ‘apple mint’. Due to its mild aroma, apple mint is particularly suitable for teas. Nowadays, apple mint can be found in large parts of China, as well as Turkey, North Africa and Central Europe. The plant can grow up to 100 centimetres tall and when it blooms in summer, it is covered in gorgeous lilac blossoms. This plant also loves dampness and is therefore frequently found on meadows and along roadsides.
Wild mint varieties
The following types of mint are wild varieties that can still be discovered growing out in fields or on sides of roads. Nevertheless, they can be cultivated in the garden or in a pot.
Field mint (Mentha arvensis)
Field mint, also called corn mint, is a wild mint species. It is common in all temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. The plant usually grows to a height of 5 to 30 centimetres and blooms in pink to purple. It prefers humid locations with nutrient-rich soils, and it is less vigorous than its cultivated siblings.
Horsemint (Mentha longifolia)
Horsemint is found everywhere ranging from the temperate zones of Eurasia to southern Africa. In Central Europe, it is often found in low mountainous regions and in the lower altitudes of the Alps. Horsemint needs wet soil rich in nitrogen in order to grow well. Therefore, it is often found close to rivers or near agricultural land. Horsemint grows up to 130 centimetres tall and bears pink to violet flowers between July and September.
Corsican mint (Mentha requienii)
Corsican mint can only be found on three islands in the Mediterranean. Of course, Corsica is one of them, but this type of mint also grows in Sardinia and Montecristo. What makes this mint species stand out is the fact that it does not grow upright but rather like a carpet. This way, lawns are formed, and the plant exudes an intense, spicy smell. On a side note, the popular liqueur Crème de Menthe is made from this mint. Due to its Mediterranean origin, Corsican mint is not hardy and therefore needs to be protected during the cold season.
Aromatic types of mint
The following seven mint species all have one thing in common. Not only do they smell and taste of mint, but they also have another, very particular aroma that sets them apart.
Lemon mint (Mentha gentilis var. citrata)
One of the mints that takes its name from its aroma is lemon mint. Its leaves give off an intense scent of citrus. Thus, it is ideal for teas, lemonades, desserts or cocktails. Lemon mint can grow up to 40 centimetres tall, it is perennial and hardy.
Pineapple mint (Mentha suaveolens variegata)
The leaves of pineapple mint exude a light pineapple aroma. This species is therefore particularly suitable for desserts or cocktails. The leaves of this mint are also unique, since they are variegated in the colours green and cream. Therefore, pineapple mint is a real eye-catcher in the garden bed or pot. However, it is not very hardy and should therefore be overwintered indoors. It is also not as vigorous as other types of mint and it grows to a maximum height of 40 centimetres.
Eau de Cologne mint (Mentha piperita var. citrata ‘Orange’)
Eau de Cologne mint, also known as orange mint or bergamot mint, exudes an intense, fruity aroma reminiscent of bergamot or Earl Grey. This makes it ideal for cooking, where it can be used to season sauces or vegetables. Eau de Cologne mint grows 50 to 80 centimetres in height and almost the same in width. They flower in purple from July to September, they are very vigorous plants and spread quickly in the garden.
Chocolate mint (Mentha x piperita var. piperita ‘Chocolate’)
For the people who like to eat mint flavoured chocolate like After Eight, this mint species will probably be their favourite. Chocolate mint combines both mint and chocolate aroma in one plant. However, the chocolate aroma is rather subtle, less intense and is perceived differently by every individual. For some people, chocolate mint may smell and taste a lot like chocolate, while others do not notice the chocolate undertones at all. Chocolate mint plants grow to a height between 40 and 60 centimetres and flower in light purple from July to September.
Basil mint (Mentha x piperita var. citrata ‘Basil’)
This is another mint species that has a one of a kind aroma. It tastes a lot like basil and its smell will remind you of Italian cuisine. What further adds to its Italian flair is the name Bastardo, which is what basil mint is also sometimes referred to. The leaves still do taste and smell very minty and slightly peppery, however. Basil mint is perfect for salads, sauces and pesto. The plant grows 45 to 60 centimetres tall and can be up to one metre wide.
Strawberry mint (Mentha ‘Strawberry’)
Strawberry mint is another curiosity amongst the various mint species. It tastes almost nothing like mint, but actually like strawberries, which comes as no surprise considering its name. It can be used for making tea, lemonade or cocktails. Strawberry mint plants grow to a height of only 50 centimetres and bloom in pink.
Banana mint (Mentha arvensis ‘Banana’)
Banana mint is a variation of the field mint (Mentha arvensis). It was cultivated in France and its leaves exude an intense scent reminiscent of bananas. The herb can be experimented with in the kitchen and incorporated into desserts or drinks, for instance. The plants of this species are small, as they only grow to a maximum height of 50 centimetres and do not spread much either.
Shared features of the different kinds of mint
Even though there are more than 30 mint species with individual characteristics and aromas, all of these different types have lots of things in common. First off, they are similar in their overall appearance. Of course, the individual species and varieties have some unique features, but most mint varieties look very much alike. Thus, one doesn’t have to be an expert to recognise a member of the mint genus. Identifying and distinguishing the various species is much more difficult, however.
Furthermore, almost all mint species are very vigorous and spread very quickly, even if that is not the intention of the gardener. Additionally, basically all mint species are perennial plants and most of them (with exceptions) are hardy as well.
Moreover, all mints are easy to grow and to care for, so technically anyone should be able to cultivate mint. Most mint species also have very similar requirements when it comes to location, as almost all of them appreciate a semi-shaded spot with soil that is fresh and moist. Finally, what all mints have in common are the essential oils they contain, which give them their unique aroma.
Summary: what do the different types of mint have in common?
- Their appearance
- Vigorous growth
- They are perennial and hardy
- They are easy to care for
- Location requirements: semi-shady with fresh and moist soil
- They contain essential oils