Mints: mislabeled, promiscuous and culturally diverse
Mints are prone to be mislabelled. No wonder it is a genus which freely crosses with the results of many hybrids and cultivars. So which hybrids and cultivars are exactly available in Australia? Unfortunately, mints are variable, which means if species are raised from seeds the seedlings may or may not have the same characteristic than the parent plants. Therefore mints are mostly propagated by cuttings.
The Mint Family: mentha, Lamiaceae
Many kitchen herbs and medicinal plants belong to the mint family like: basil, bee balm, catnip, horehound, hyssop, lavender, lemon balm, marjoram, mint, oregano, motherwort, rosemary, sage, savoury, oregano, hyssop, thyme, lavender, perilla (sisho). All these plants belong to the mint family or Lamiaceae. The mint family or Lamiaceae contains over 200 geni (from genus), like mentha (mint), ocimum (basil) or salvia (sage). According to which botanist you ask, the genus mentha contains between 13 and 18 species.
Fake Mints: Minty plants which are not true mints:
There are a range of plants which have ‘mint’ in their common name, due to their minty aroma, which in most cases belong to the mint family Lamiaceae, but not to the genus mint. A number of these plants are unknown to me and I can’t tell about their scent or taste:
- Agastache spp., various common names, not very minty to my taste but makes very pleasant tea;
- Calamintha nepeta, Lesser Calamint, strong pennyroyal-like fragrance;
- Calamintha sylvatica, Calamint, Woodland calamint;
- Cunila origanoides, Stone mint or Common dittany;
- Elsholtzia ciliate, Crested late summer mint;
- Hedeoma pulegioides, American Pennyroyal, American false pennyroyal;
- Lagochilus inebrians, rather dubious intoxicating mint;
- Monarda spp., monarda, bergamot of bee-balm;
- Monardella lanceolate, Mustang Mountain Balm;
- Nepeta cataria, Catmint, Catnip;
- Poliomintha incana, Rosemary Mint or Frosted mint from California;
- Prostanthera rotundifolia, and Prostanthera cineolifera, two native mint bushes;
- Pycnanthemum spp., various mountain mints from North America.
Really fake Mints, Mint plants which aren't even Lamiaceae:
- Thelesperma megapotamicum, Navajo Tea;
- Thelesperma gracile, Hopi tea, greenthread
- Persicaria odorata, Vietnamese Mint, which is called ‘mint’ but does not taste at all like a mint! Buy Vietnamese mint.
There are probably many many more plants with a mint fragrance and aroma!
How can members of the genus mentha or mint be recognized?
The easy rule says: square stems, opposite leaves and usually aromatic. There are some exceptions however: some plants like thyme belong to the mint family and have round stems and there are some plants not belonging to the mint family with square stems.
The flowers are arranged in whorls either at the base of the leaves or at the end in spikes. The flowers are tiny and consist of two upper and three lower petals fused together (I cannot see that with the naked eye).
Members of the Mint Family have similar Medicinal uses :
Most members of the mint family contain volatile oils. These oils make them useful for:
- Clearing the respiratory system
- Digestive complaints
- Nervous system complaints.
The genus Mint: an overview of species, hybrids and cultivars and theit availability for Australian gardeners:
This is a list of mint species and cultivars thereof. The availability refers to Australia. Cultivar names, common names or names you are likely to find on plant tags are written in bold.
- Mentha aquatica – water mint, marsh mint, some nurseries sell it as ‘Druids mint’.
Mentha arvensis – corn mint, wild mint, Japanese peppermint, field mint. There are several subspecies.
- Mentha arvensis var piperascens is a subspecies with the common name ‘Japanese menthol mint’. Buy Japanese menthol mint here.
- Mentha arvensis ‘banana’ either refers to the genus or is a cultivar thereof, I don’t know. Banana mint, which smells of banana is not available in Australia.
- Mentha asiatica – Asian mint, not available in nurseries;
- Mentha australis – Australian mint, sold as ‘river mint’, widespread especially inlands, found at rivers and creeks. Buy river mint here.
- Mentha canadensis – American wild mint, not available in nurseries;
- Mentha cervina – Hart's pennyroyal; available in Australia, but uncommon;
- Mentha citrata – bergamot mint, orange mint, it is sometimes listed as a species but Wikipedia notes that: “it is probably better to regard it as a cultivar or cultivar group of Mentha aquatica”.
- Mentha crispata – wrinkled-leaf mint, not available in nurseries;
- Mentha dahurica – Dahurian thyme, not available in nurseries;
- Mentha diemenica – slender mint, native mint, coastal areas from Brisbane southwards;
- Mentha laxiflora – forest mint, native to moist woodland in Victoria and New South Wales);
- Mentha longifolia (syn. Mentha sylvestris) – horse mint, not available in nurseries;
- Mentha piperita – peppermint, listed under hybrids;
- Mentha pulegium – pennyroyal, commonly sold, groundcover; (Buy pennyroyal)
- Mentha requienii – Corsican mint: cute and low growing ground cover, very strong peppermint-like aroma, one of the smallest mint (3-10 cm), available;
- Mentha sachalinensis – garden mint, not available in nurseries;
- Mentha satureioides – native pennyroyal, contains more menthol than pennyroyal, mat forming groundcover,
Mentha spicata (syn. M. viridis, M. cordifolia) – spearmint, Strong spearmint flavour. Most cultivars are not available in Australia. (Buy spearmint)
- Mentha spicata var. ‘crispa’ curly mint or curly spearmint, not available;
- Mentha spicata var. ‘crispa’, ‘Moroccan’, Moroccan mint, used for Moroccan tea, available. I don’t know whether this is the same plant than the cultivar Mentha spicata 'Nana', the nana mint of Morocco. (Buy Morroquan mint)
Mentha suaveolens – apple mint, commonly available, but only one of the many cultivars is available in Australia:
- Mentha suaveolens 'Variegata', Pineapple mint is a cultivar of apple mint
- Mentha vagans – grey mint, not available.
Hybrid mints and their cultivars:
M x gracilis (M. arvensis x M. spicata), there are several different hybrids:
- M x gracilis ginger mint (Red mint, Slender Mint, Red Stemmed Mint, Austrian Mint and Scotchmint), good essential oil content, available
- M x gracilis Hung Cay Mint used in Vietnamese cuisine.
- Mentha x niliaca (syn. Mentha sylvestris), Egyptian Mint: hybrid plant with a flavour similar to apple mint. I cannot tell who the parents are, available in Australia.
M x piperita (M. aquatic x M spicata), Peppermint, common plant, Although “peppermint” seeds are widely sold by seed companies, the true peppermint, Mentha x piperita, is a sterile hybrid that cannot produce seeds.
- Mentha x piperita officinalis, white peppermint, milder taste than peppermint, available.
- Mentha x piperita vulgaris, black peppermint stronger acting than white peppermint, not available in Australia; weather white and black peppermint is a cultivar or subspecies is unknown to me.
- Mentha x piperita 'Crispa', curly mint, leaves wrinkled not available in Australia.
Mentha x piperita citrata (subspecies of Mentha x piperita), leaves aromatic and hairless. Available cultivars:
- Basil mint
- Eau de Cologne
- Chocolate mint
- Other cultivars of Mentha x piperita citrata which are not available include: ‘Candymint’, 'Lavender Mint', Lime mint, 'Variegata'.
Eau de Cologne Mint,
- Mentha x smithiana (Mentha aquatica x Mentha arvensis x Mentha spicata), syn. Mentha rubra raripila, rust free mint; other common names Raripila Mint, Red Mint, Pea Mint and Red Raripila: cross between three species: Corn Mint, Water Mint and Spear Mint. Good culinary mint, available.
- Mentha × villosa (M. spicata × M. suaveolens also called M. nemorosa) – large apple mint, old fashioned mint, foxtail mint, hairy mint, woolly mint, Cuban mint, mojito mint, and yerba buena in Cuba, available in Australia.
Mentha suaveolens, Round-Leaved Mint, Apple mint, Pineapple Mint,
- Mentha suaveolens 'Variegata' pineapple mint, however in Australia a not variegated form of ‘M suaveolens’ is sold as pineapple mint.
- several other cultivars like ‘grapefruit’ are not available in Australia.
Is a Mint missing? Did I get a cultivar, or any Mint family relationship wrong?
I find mints are very confusing! Any botanic input to clear up missing mums and dads, unclear subspecies, hybrids, or forgotten mints are highly appreciated! There's one mint I could not find out the correct Latin name it is called Mentha 'Berries and cream' a formerly trademarked cultivar. Buy Mint 'Berries & Cream'
I add a link to an English website dedicated to mints, which gives and overview of the mints available over there: http://www.mentha.info/plants.html