Apple mint is a member of the mint genus "Mentha" (Mentha suaveolens) that ranges through southern and western Europe and the western Mediterranean region.
Apple mint is commonly called hierbabuena in most South American and Spain, literally meaning "good herb". The spanish term hierbabuena generally refers to any local growing "True Mint" (Mentha) and should not be confused with Yerba Beuna (Clinopodium douglasii). Yerba Beuna (Clinopodium douglasii) is a very fragrant herb that grows readily along the western North American coastline with its natural habitat stretching from Alaska to the California Baja and it too, is often called hierbabuena.
Sometimes called Wooly mint (Apple mint), has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years in many parts of the world, including Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas and is a very robust, herbaceous, upright perennial. Commonly grown as a culinary herb and ground cover, Apple Mint (M. suaveolens) has light green leaves, which are somewhat hairy on the upper surface and downy underneath, with serrated edges. It can grow up to 3 feet high, but should be kept lower. Native to southern and western Europe, it is quite a hardy plant and is resistant to disease. Mints are aromatic, almost exclusively perennial, rarely annual, herbs.
Apple Mint (Mentha suaveolens) is a member of the taxonomic family Lamiaceae, known as the mint family but includes many of the other important aromatic cooking herbs, like basil, rosemary, sage, oregano, and catnip.
Estimates of the number of species vary from 13 to 20.
Some of the more common mint varieties are listed below.
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Other plants are sometimes refered to as "mint" but are not true mint (mentha) include:
An attractive herb, apple mint is often used as an ornamental plant. It is hardy and easy to grow, preferring full sun to lightly shady conditions. Pineapple mint (Mentha suaveolens 'Variegata') is a cultivar of apple mint that has leaves which are banded with white. The leaves of this plant can be used to make apple mint jelly, as well as a flavoring in dishes such as apple mint couscous. It is also often used to make a mint tea, as a garnish, or in salads.
In ancient Greece it was the custom to perfume every part of the body with a different scent and mint was used on the arms.
Hippocrates, in his medical exposition on plants, mentioned mint for its diuretic and stimulant properties. Hieroglyphics dedicated to the god Horus in the temple of Edfu, describes the use of mint in a ritual perfume. Galen thought of it as an aphrodisiac while others suggested that it diminished sexual appetite. The Romans looked upon mint as a carminative, helping flatulence and the digestion of heavy foods.
There are several references to mint in Greek and Roman mythology and poetry. The name itself comes from the myth of the nymph Minthe, (as told by Ovid,) who was surprised by Persephone in the arms of her husband Pluto; she was metamorphosed into the herb to be trampled underfoot (probably pennyroyal, which has a creeping habit).
Both Apple mint and Pineapple mint (Mentha suaveolens) have a pleasant, fruity taste, sweeter than other mints. Mainly popular for culinary purposes, its milder taste makes it ideal for use in fruit salads and fruit cups and punches. The leaves of the Apple mint or Pineapple mint plant can be used to make mint tea or mint jelly, in salads and added to beverages like lemonade and black tea. It can also be used to flavor syrups and ice cream. This herb has a very pleasant warm, sweet taste with a cool aftertaste and is very aromatic and makes an attractive garnish.
In Middle Eastern cuisine, mint is used on lamb dishes, while in British cuisine and American cuisine, mint sauce and mint jelly are used, respectively.
Tabouleh salad is made with mint and fresh parsley, while mint is prominently featured in another Middle Eastern salad called Fattoush. Traditionally, Touareg tea, (a popular tea in northern African and Arab countries) mint is added to the recipe.
Alcoholic drinks sometimes feature mint for flavor or garnish, such as the Mint Julep and the Mojito. Crème de menthe is a mint-flavored liqueur used in drinks such as the grasshopper.
Mint essential oil and menthol are extensively used as flavorings in breath fresheners, drinks, antiseptic mouth rinses, toothpaste, chewing gum, desserts, candies, and mint chocolate. The substances that give the mints their characteristic aromas and flavors are menthol (the main aroma of Peppermint and Japanese Peppermint) and pulegone (in Pennyroyal and Corsican Mint). The compound primarily responsible for the aroma and flavor of spearmint is R-carvone.
Mint leaves are said to relive the pain caused by bee and wasp stings.
Medicinally, Mint's traditional uses include treating stomach ache and chest pains. Powdered mint leaves were used to whiten teeth during the middle ages. Mint tea is a strong diuretic and aids in digestion. It is also used to treat insect bites (often along with camphor). Mint has been used in cigarettes as an additive because it blocks out the bitter taste of tobacco and soothes the throat. The scent and the strong flavor of Mint can be used as a mild decongestant when you have something like a common cold.
Apple mint, like many other members of this genus, is often used as a domestic herbal remedy, being valued especially for its antiseptic properties and its beneficial effect on the digestion. Like other members of the genus, it is best not used by pregnant women because large doses can cause an abortion. A tea made from the leaves of most mint species has traditionally been used in the treatment of fevers, headaches, digestive disorders and various minor ailments. The leaves are harvested as the plant comes into flower and can be dried for later use. The essential oil in the leaves is antiseptic, though it can be toxic in large doses.
Mint was originally used as a medicinal herb to treat stomach ache and chest pains, and it is commonly used in the form of tea as a home remedy to help alleviate stomach pain. During the Middle Ages, powdered mint leaves were used to whiten teeth. Mint tea is a strong diuretic.
Dangers: Take care when using mint essential oil. Observe the following guidelines:
Dried apple mint leaves retain their scent and make excellent pot pourri.
An essential oil is obtained from the whole plant. The plant repels insects and was formerly used as a strewing herb. Rats and mice intensely dislike the smell of mint. The plant was therefore used in homes as a strewing herb and has also been spread in granaries to keep the rodents off the grain. Menthol from mint essential oil (40%-90%) is an ingredient of many cosmetics and some perfumes. Menthol and mint essential oil are also much used in medicine as a component of many drugs, and are very popular in aromatherapy and used in some shampoo products. Mint essential oils are used widely in pharmaceuticals like toothpastes, mouthwashes, and massage cream.
Mint leaves are often used by many campers to repel mosquitoes and some believe that extracts from mint leaves have a particular mosquito-killing capability. Mint oil is also used as an environmentally-friendly insecticide for its ability to kill some common pests like wasps, hornets, ants and cockroaches. Mint plants planted near doorways help drive ants away and ants, mice and cockroaches dislike the smell of peppermint oil and will usually be deterred by it.
Known in Greek Mythology as the herb of hospitality, one of the first known uses for mint in Europe was as a room deodorizer. The herb was strewn across floors to cover the smell of the hard-packed soil. Stepping on the mint helped to spread its scent through the room. Today, it is more commonly used for aromatherapy through the use of essential oils.
Peppermint, spearmint, lemon balm and other members of the mint family have some of the most distinctive aromas in the plant world. Their pungent, spicy scents have earned the various mints a place in the traditional medicine cabinet since the time of the Romans. Today's aromatherapists follow a long tradition of using mint for healing and emotional well-being. Practitioners still recommend that you massage your temples and forehead with peppermint oil to ease migraine. For a sinus headache, add eucalyptus oil and peppermint oil to steaming water and inhale the steam. Mint essential oil is used in aromatherapy to treat dermatitis, acne, bronchitis, asthma, colic, nausea, flatulence, cramp, colds, flu, headaches, stress, indigestion, travel sickness and shock.