So many items come with spearmint flavoring: gums, mouthwash, chewing tobacco, candy and more. All this flavoring comes from a plant that now grows worldwide, first as a crop, then as a naturalized citizen.
It’s fun to come across this plant and easy to identify it due to the smell. You can chew on a leaf, but beware it’s potency.
Mentha spicata L.
June to October I Family: Lamiaceae
Flower: Flowers occur in spikes at the ends of branches. These spikes can reach several inches in length. The individual flowers are in whorls around the spike. Each white, pink or lavender flower is tube-shaped with five lobes at the open end and a five l pointed lobed calyx around the base. Four stamens are spaced around and lie along the tube. A single pistil with a split tip sticks out of the center of some of the flowers.
Leaf: Opposite, sessile leaves have numerous teeth with their pointed tips bent toward the leaf tip. The leaves are longer than wide, darker green on top than underneath and have indented veins giving them a wrinkled look. The tops have no hairs although there may be a line of hairs along the midvein on the under side. Whole or crushed the leaves have a strong, minty odor.
Stem: The green stems have four angles and are squared. They often lie prostrate but can grow erect up to two feet tall. There are usually no hairs on the stems. Every leaf node can put out roots.
Root: The perennial root is fibrous with rhizomes.
Fruit: The plant spreads vegetatively through rhizomes and rooting at leaf nodes. Some of the flowers do produce seeds with four tucked into the calyx of the flower.
Habitat: This plant prefers growing in shallow water in full sun along stream banks, springs and ponds.
Edibility: Spearmint is used as a flavoring in many foods and medicines. The leaves can be used for and in tea.
Spearmint is smelled before it is seen. The minty odor surrounds the patch and crushing the leaves increases it many times.
Much of the time Spearmint grows low to the ground, less than a foot high. It likes to grow in four or five inches of water. The plants grow so densely, few other plants grow in the area covered.
When conditions are favorable, Spearmint spreads aggressively. Most of the spread is due to rooting at the leaf nodes. The rhizomes can grow out a foot or more putting up new branches every few inches. Since the rhizomes are below the ground a little, they withstand drought and cold weather.
Spearmint is used for various foods such as mint jelly or in mint icing. The leaves make a strong tea. The crushed leaves are supposed to have an antiseptic effect. The tea is used to soothe the stomach.
A leaf can be picked and chewed on. The intensity builds quickly spreading around the mouth. It soon is like a strong mouthwash.
Too much of the juice can be toxic.