Numerous species of the genus Mentha are appropriate for use as a culinary herb, with an array of fruity, spicy, or subtly floral flavors. Some varieties have unusually colored leaves, including light yellow or variegated. When choosing mint, select a species that suits your culinary needs as well as your visual preference. Many varieties are hybrids. Beware: all these recommended species can easily spread themselves around your garden by way of underground stems.
GardenZeus recommends Spearmint (Mentha spicata), one of the most common species of mint, as the “go-to” mint, ideal for almost all culinary uses, such as in fresh salads, meat dishes and cocktails. Spearmint has light green, serrated leaves. Absent any other information or instruction, when a recipe calls for “fresh mint leaves,” use spearmint.
Alternatively, Peppermint (Mentha piperata) has the most pronounced flavor. GardenZeus recommends Peppermint to flavor candies, desserts, and toiletries. Sub-varieties of Peppermint include Orange Mint and Chocolate Mint. Orange Mint has a slightly citrus flavor. Chocolate Mint is reminiscent of chocolate mint ice cream and known to be more tolerant of dry soils and hot weather than other mints. It has a slightly bluer leaf. GardenZeus recommends using these sub-varieties sparingly and substituting them in recipes with extreme caution. The unique flavors of these sub-varieties may be intriguing in isolation, but may not blend well into existing recipes. Peppermint leaves, often in combinations with spearmint or other plant leaves such as lavender and chamomile, are widely used in infusions.
Apple Mint (Mentha suaveolens) is growing in popularity, and produces rounder, fruity scented, smaller leaves that are slightly hairy. One notable sub-variety is pineapple mint, Variegata’ a beautiful yellow and green variegated plant with a slight pineapple scent. Golden Apple Mint (Mentha gracilis) has dark green leaves with yellow variegation and spicy fragrance. Also known as ginger mint. Again, GardenZeus recommends using these mints sparingly and substitute with caution.
For extremely wet, poorly draining areas, consider Mentha aquatica, a type of mint that thrives when grown in standing water. In its native habitat, it grows in shallow areas of streams or marshlands across Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Both Jewel Mint of Corsica (Mentha requienii) and Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) are used in landscaping but not for culinary use.
Don’t know your GardenZeus climate zone? Click here.
Other articles of interest: