By Jeanne Rose
There is a difference between Spearmint and Peppermint, defined by their chemistry, botany, folklore, odor description, and properties. The uses of Spearmint are described.
It is called Spearmint, and it is not Peppermint or Menthol-mint. There are 13 species of the Mentha genus. The ones with the ‘X’ are made by humans by crossing one plant species with another; they are considered sterile and usually do not produce seed. They are duplicated by cloning or by replanting the underground stems. In this post, we will discuss Spearmint.
Mentha aquatica L. – water mint
Mentha arvensis L. – wild mint, field-mint, or Japanese menthol mint
Mentha x piperita – Peppermint [aquatica x spicata]
Mentha spicata L. – spearmint (the mint of the ancients)
Mentha suaveolens Ehrh. – apple mint
Spearmint Common Name/Latin Binomial ~ Spearmint, Mentha spicata. Sometimes known as garden mint, common mint, lamb mint, and mackerel mint, … including Mentha crispa, Mentha crispata, and Mentha viridis.
Botanical Family ~ Lamiaceae
Naming Information ~ The genus name comes from Minthe or Menthe, a water nymph in Greek mythology. And from a legend of the beginning of the Earth, “…When Man came, he saw the plants and remembered some of his past in the wonderful Kingdom, he smelled the wonderful scents, and saw pictures in his Mind. So, whenever man was asked the name of the fragrant plants, he called them mint.” —Kitchen Cosmetics, p. 78
COUNTRIES OF ORIGIN ~ Native to the Mediterranean.
SPEARMINT GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF PLANT ~ Spearmint is a very hardy, perennial herb with bright green, fragrant leaves that sets seeds. As it grows, it can quickly exhaust the soil of nutrients and should be replanted regularly via underground or over-ground stems or roots. Many Mints behave in this manner.
This species can readily hybridize with other Mentha species to form hybrids. This mint LOOKS different than either Peppermint or Lemon Balm. The green is softer in Spearmint than the bluish Peppermint, and it looks somewhat like Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) but is not as hairy on the leaves. The smell is eponymously Spearmint, with none of the menthol odor that characterizes Peppermint and little of the lemon scent of Lemon Balm. There are several cultivars.
PORTION OF SPEARMINT PLANT USED IN DISTILLATION, HOW DISTILLED, EXTRACTION METHODS & YIELD ~ Spearmint’s over-ground tops and flowers are harvested just prior to its bloom; after blooming, the oil content in the plant decreases. The plants are cut and allowed to dry on the ground for 2 or more days until ‘clover dry,’ that is, still flexible and NOT brittle. They are taken to the various distilleries, packed into the still, moistened by the steam, sealed in, and then steam distilled.
In Egypt, “There are two chemotypes of Spearmint dependent upon where they are grown. One had both good carvone and limonene and a better yield (grown in Siwa Oasis), while the other analyzed from Cairo had less quantity oil but a higher percentage of carvone.”8
Yield ~ The over-ground plant is steam distilled. “3,000 lbs. charge requires up to 30-50 minutes and produces over 20 pounds of oil” 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols, p. 142. One acre of Spearmint may yield 35-40 lbs. of oil.5
Spearmint & flower – photo by Jeanne Rose … Fig. 3
CO2 Extraction – …… Essential oil compositions and attainable yields were nearly the same as those by steam distillation when single pass mode of CO2 … was used for oil recovery…. The flavor and fragrance of the carbon dioxide mint extracts were closest in quality to actual mint plant leaves, compared to mint oils produced by conventional steam distillation.1
SPEARMINT OIL ORGANOLEPTIC CHARACTERISTICS ~
Color: Pale, celery-like green; some have a pinkish quality, and some oils are golden yellow
Viscosity: Non-viscous, like water
Taste: Yummy, refreshing, delightful, and delicately spearminty.
Intensity of Odor: A fresh 5
Tenacity in blend: 6
Spearmint oil courtesy of Prima Fleur Fig. 4
ODOR DESCRIPTION ~ Spearmint and Caraway have the same chemical component of scent, carvone, but a different mirror-image isomer. Spearmint has a fresh, green, and minty odor, while Caraway has a fresh, herbal, and green but spicy odor.
An easy experiment is to mix equal parts of each of these essential oils and then pass the bottle around to students and have them guess what they are smelling. Because they both contain the same molecule, carvone, but a different isomer of it, you will have guesses equally on both sides of the scent, and some people will be totally unable to figure it out. After smelling both, you will be able to isolate and identify the scent of each plant, but when mixed together, it becomes more difficult. This is a wonderful exercise for an aromatherapy class.
CHEMICAL COMPONENTS ~ You will find numerous people and websites stating that Spearmint has menthol. Spearmint does not contain menthol unless it is a specifically bred or a hybrid variety that has been bred specifically for this. Since Spearmint is used to modify the scent and flavor of Peppermint, this may be where the mix-up in the plant began with people. I have only seen one paper out of 25 that listed menthol as a component via GC/MS in Spearmint (Mentha spicata), which was at 1.88% of the total. This paper was confusing and co-listed Peppermint and Spearmint together.
Spearmint does contain up to 56% l-Carvone, Terpenes, Limonene, Phellandrenes, and, sometimes, Linaloöl and Cineol.
Carvone chemistry in Caraway and Spearmint … Fig. 5
As described above in Spearmint, the main components are carvone for the scent and limonene, myrcene, and others. It is possible to distinguish by taste and odor between the dextro- and laevo-rotatory forms of carvone; dextro-carvone in Caraway seed oil and laevo-rotatory carvone in Spearmint herb oil.
HISTORICAL USES ~ The herb tea has been widely used as a tonic drink almost everywhere it has been introduced.
The following refers to Spearmint or wild Mint, not Peppermint. In the first century A.D., the naturalist Pliny wrote, “The smell of mint (Spearmint) stirs up the mind and appetite to a greedy desire of food.”3 (Plinie’s Natural History First Century AD. Translated by Philemon Holland.). He recommended binding the head in a crown of mint, which delights the soul and is good for the mind. Pliny, along with Hippocrates and Aristotle, judged it ‘contrary to procreation,’ while the Greeks were of the opposite opinion: forbade their soldiers to eat (Spear)mint because it incites a man to love, diminishing his courage. It was found that the Greeks, not Pliny, have been shown to be correct.
INTERESTING FACTS ~ Spearmint tea is poured after every meal in Egypt. One of the more exciting properties mentioned for Spearmint tea is that that could help treat mild hirsutism (hairiness) in women.10 Drink up to 5 cups/day.10 Maybe this is one of the reasons it is so enjoyed as a tea.
The oil extracted from Native Spearmint is used in Michigan and is considered highly concentrated. One pound will flavor 135,000 sticks of gum. Chewing gum companies regularly blend Spearmint and Peppermint oils to maintain a consistent and specific flavor. An advantage to growing mint is farmers may store the oil for several years if market prices fall.9
GENERAL PROPERTIES OF SPEARMINT
SPEARMINT is an anti-inflammatory, calming, mucolytic, antioxidant, and tonic for the digestive system. When inhaled, it has a wonderful ability to create a feeling of joy and happiness and therefore makes an excellent addition to stress relief blends. It is also packed with antioxidants and is good for digestion has been said to have anti-fungal properties, as well as the properties indicated for all sorts of respiratory problems and chronic bronchitis.4
SPEARMINT PHYSICAL USES & HOW USED (IG OR AP)
APPLICATION — The essential oil is used in many body-care products for soothing the skin, treating acne, and relieving skin irritations. This is a beautiful herb to use in any bath herb, and the essential oil can be added to the skin lotion or skincare product. It is so refreshing and healing. The herb and the essential oil are excellent additions to products, blends, and foods. Please read Jeanne Rose Herbal Body Book for great information and formulas.
INGESTION — Digestive ailments. Nausea. Vomiting. Gums. Candies. Dental products.
•The herb tea is taken for digestive disturbances and is lightly fever-reducing.
•Chewing gum ~ Of all the flavors incorporated into chewing gum, Spearmint and combination mint flavors have been some of the most popular. Most widely used have been Peppermint and Spearmint, as well as blends of the two in the form of their essential oils. Oil of Spearmint is derived from the distillation of several varieties of this genus. The principal species and varieties are Mentha spicata L. and Mentha verticillata, and Mentha cardiaca. —part of a patent application filed in 1989 and 2020-03-28. Application status is Expired – Lifetime
Spearmint – 1 cup 2x/day women with hirsutism had less free testosterone in the blood. Drink up to 5 cups/day to help this problem. Some say it also increases breast size.
INHALATION — Spearmint can be added to any blend for respiratory ailments and chronic bronchitis. It has a relaxing and happy odor. When diffused — Spearmint oil can be added to almost any blend where you want the scent of refreshment and joy. Try it. It will make you feel joyous.
EMOTIONAL USES (AP OR IN)— Spearmint is applied to the temples for headaches; it can be inhaled as a memoristic antidepressant, alleviates mental strain and fatigue, and acting as a tonic for the entire system.
•Calming Spearmint E.O. is used by inhalation, and blends can include Bergamot, most citrus fruit oils, Cumin, Eucalyptus citriodora, Lavender, Marjoram, Spearmint (calming and joyous), and their comparable hydrosols used as spray mists.
•Emotional/Energetic Use – Uplifting. Reduces nervous stress and tension. Ylang Ylang Extra with a touch of Spearmint is a delicious scent to inhale for headaches or to soothe your depression. Dilute with a carrier oil or alcohol and put it into a small bottle to carry around and inhale whenever.
Scott Cunningham, in his book, Magical Aromatherapy, suggests that Spearmint is an element of Air and whose magical influences are Healing, protection, and promoting sleep when inhaled; it helps one with visualization to speed healing; wrap the fresh sprigs in a bag and inhale the bag as you fall asleep, visualizing that it is wrapping you in protective energy.
Jeanne Rose bizarre growth on Spearmint – Fig. 6
GENERAL HERBAL USES OF SPEARMINT – Mentha spicata
Medicinal uses ~ Herb Spearmint has been used extensively for its medicinal properties for over 3000 years. It can be used internally as a tea, to make poultices or balms, or inhaled to make use of joyful quality. Spearmint’s medicinal properties include stomachic, stimulant, calmative, disinfectant, and nervine. The following afflictions are treated with Spearmint herb and/or essential oil:
•Colds– The Flathead and Kutenai Indian tribes drank native wild mint or Spearmint teas to treat both the coughs and fevers associated with colds.
•Digestive Ailments – An overall aid to most digestive disorders, it is especially beneficial in treating flatulence, diarrhea, colic, retching, and vomiting. A poultice of Spearmint leaves over the stomach region also helps to aid in digestive distress. Spearmint tea also helps to promote appetite.
•Female afflictions- Spearmint can be used to treat menstrual cramps. In Near Eastern societies, it helps to increase sexual desire, suppressed menstruation, … and helps to relieve the breast of curdled or congested milk via compress. Spearmint tea reduces hirsutism in women.10
•Heart Ailments – The Blackfeet Indians and other tribes chewed wild Spearmint leaves to treat chest pains and strengthen heart muscles.
•Nervous System- All Spearmint teas have a soothing quality and are used to treat nervousness, fatigue, nausea, vertigo, hiccoughs, palpitations, anger, confusion, depression, and mental strain.
•Rashes – Spearmint oil can be rubbed on poison ivy rash, diaper rash, and athlete’s foot.
•Toothache – A drop of Spearmint essential oil can be used directly on the source of pain to help alleviate the pain from both cavities and gum disease.
1975. JEANNE ROSE’S TOMATO TALES – Spearmint
In the early days of keeping records of all the essential oils I used, I also kept an emotion chart that I used with my students to get their favorite scents for specific emotions. This was in 1972, and I called the chart “Scent & Psyche: Experience Aroma.” I had a paper file of dozens of these charts from all my previous classes and had included the information in a book that I had written called “Aromatherapy – Inhalations for the Mind.” You have never heard of that book, and that is not a surprise as I took the written prototype with me when I went to New York in 1975 to speak before the “Fragrance Foundation” and lost it along with my suitcase at the airport and all my lecture notes as well on the way to the Plaza Hotel where I would be staying. It was a devastating loss to me not only because I lost my lecture notes but also because it was the only draft of the book that I was delivering to the publisher. This book was once written, was not rewritten but eventually evolved into “The Aromatherapy Book – Applications & Inhalations.”
One thing I learned from the collection of these charts is that my American students always said that Spearmint made them happy, that it smelled like their childhood, and that it smelled like chewing gum, but my Asian students thought it smelled like cleaning fluids. Scents have power and cultural differences depending upon where you grew up and where you experienced them.
Europeans also do not have the same ‘feelings’ about Spearmint as Americans do, even though Spearmint is indigenous to Europe and Asia and then became naturalized in North America, where it became a favorite.
BLENDING AND PERFUMERY ~ Spearmint has a bright and joyous scent and can perk up any heavy perfume on the floral bouquet. It mixes well with Ylang-Ylang. You just need a bit. Start with 10 drops of Ylang Extra and 1 drop of Spearmint. Smell it. Then add either more of the floral or green herbal scent, depending on what pleases you. Remember that Spearmint contains carvone and not menthol and has an herbaceous and green note.
Spearmint blends with the herbs such as Basil, Lavender, Marjoram, and Rosemary; it combines with spices such as Black or green Pepper, Ginger; with florals such as Jasmine and Ylang-Ylang and with many citrus scents like Grapefruit and Lemon. These all can be used as mixtures for room diffusing.
SPEARMINT HYDROSOL is known to have calming, cleansing, and carminative effects on the digestive system when taken as a drink and is used externally as a spray for skin irritations, soothing to the senses, and cooling on the skin. This hydrosol is an excellent skin toner, and when kept in the refrigerator, it makes a wonderful relieving mist during a ‘hot flash.’
PLEASE NOTE: A true hydrosol should be specifically distilled for the hydrosol, not as a co-product or even a by-product of essential oil distillation. The plant’s cellular water has many components most are lost under pressurized short steam runs for essential oil, or by using dried material. We recommend that the producers specifically distill for a product by using plant material that is fresh.
Fig.7 Spearmint Hydrosol, courtesy of Positively Aromatic
HERBAL USE OF SPEARMINT
•HERBAL TEA of SPEARMINT. As previously stated, science has shown that 2-5 cups per day of Spearmint tea will relieve hairiness and PCOS in women. It is also delicious to drink and is very refreshing.
•HERBAL BATHS, SHAMPOOS, AND HAIR CONDITIONERS. Customizing your hair, skin, and body care products with herbs is so easy. And Spearmint is ideal for this. I am in love with a mixture of Spearmint and Rosemary herbs in my shampoo and hair conditioner. I just get my favorite shampoo or conditioner and customize it by adding ¼ cup of a strong infusion of these herbs to 1 oz of the product and then proceed to wash or condition as usual. The Herbal Body Book is 400 pages of skincare formulas and recipes using both the herbs and essential oils. It is available from jeannerose.net.
•CULINARY USE OF SPEARMINT ~ Spearmint has been used extensively in the preparation of foods throughout the world. Though seldom cooked, mint can be in teas, jellies, candies, and gums. In the Middle East, mint leaves are added to salads, which makes them more flavorful, as well as add high concentrations of vitamins A, C, and carotene. Spearmint sauce is the basic accompaniment to roast lamb and veal and is said to help in the digestion of these meats. [see The Herbal Guide to Food for more uses.]
Mentha spicata could also be considered an antioxidant source. In fact, Spearmint and Spearmint extracts are often used as preservative agents to delay the oxidative degradation that occurs in food during processing or over time with storage.6
•Cocktails with Spearmint Include The famous ‘Mint julep” from Kentucky that you drink in May at the start of the Kentucky Derby – except maybe, in 2020, when we are all ‘sheltering in place’ because of the COVID-19 Virus. The Kentucky Derby has been run continuously since 1875 and has been only postponed once.
Fig. 8 – the Julep
•Herb and flower-butters are a delicious and easy way to add flavor to foods. Herb-butters are simply freshly picked herbs that are finely chopped and blended into sweet (unsalted) butter, mixing it thoroughly, and then refrigerated in a glass container so that the flavor and scent permeate the butter. Also, label it so you will remember one from the other. These butters are delicious on vegetables or spread on toast or crackers. They are necessary when having a tea party. They have not been widely used since Victorian times and may have simply dropped out of fashion…
In most cases, fresh herbs are preferable to dried herbs and flowers. Mashed dried seeds, such as Anise seed, are also used. And margarine will not do; you must use good, sweet butter. Finely chop the fresh herbs or flowers and then mash them into the butter; cream your herbs or flowers into the softened butter with a fork or the back of a wooden spoon. Two tablespoons of herb part for every quarter-pound stick of butter. Add just a touch of Lemon juice or white wine vinegar to bring up the herb’s flavor, and refrigerate overnight to allow full flavor to develop. Spearmint butter is good with meats such as lamb and on cookies and pastries. —The Herbal Guide to Food.
•Spearmint jelly is really delicious. I used to make it whenever we had lamb for dinner. I have a very simple recipe in my Herbal Guide to Food, p. 216. It only says mint, but I can assure you I was discussing Spearmint. When I wrote this book, I was not as particular as I am now about the name of which mint I was discussing.
KEY USE of SPEARMINT ~ Dentifrice products and as an antidepressant.
This work is sponsored and supported by Prima Fleur Botanicals.
RESOURCES ~ Many herb stores, nurseries, home product-makers, and skincare companies make and use Spearmint. When you look at the label, make sure the mint they mention is Spearmint, Mentha spicata, for that sweet and joyous herb we all enjoy.
Fig. 9 – Spearmint illustration – 1850
REFERENCES used to both Peppermint and Spearmint ~
1 https://doi.org/10.1016/0896-8446(92)90002-2 • Supercritical carbon dioxide extraction of peppermint and spearmint
2 Staff of L. H. Bailey Hortorium • Hortus Third • Macmillan Publishing. 1976
3 Plinie’s Natural History First Century AD. Translated by Philemon Holland.
4 The Mint Family – Uses of Mints ~ Mints are not Just for After Dinner By Linda L. Hein; additions by Jeanne Rose
5 Guenther, Ernest. The Essential Oils. Vol III, p. 679. Krieger Publishing. 1974
10 https://www.endocrine-abstracts.org/ea/0015/ea0015p282 (there are many articles about hirsutism and Spearmint tea)
Landing, James E. American Essence, A History of Mint in the United States. Kalamazoo Public Museum. 1969
Rose, Jeanne. 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols. Berkeley, California: Frog, Ltd., 1999
Rose, Jeanne. The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations. San Francisco, California:
Rose, Jeanne. Herbal Guide to Food. 1989.
Rose, Jeanne. Kitchen Cosmetics. 1978. Available from http://www.jeannerose.net/books.html
Rose, Jeanne. The Herbal Body Book. 2000. Available from http://www.jeannerose.net/books.html
Herbal Studies Course/ Jeanne Rose & Berkeley, California: 1992.
Spearmint, Caraway, and Thyme
Makes me feel good and feel fine
Two of them are chiral
They go into a mirror spiral
And it is always good as a rhyme. – JeanneRose2011
Moderation in All Things.
Be moderate in your use of essential oils as they are just not sustainable for the environment.
Be selective and more moderate in your usage.
Use the herb first as a tea or the infusion. —JeanneRose 2014