Spearmint has a special place in my household. Every time I move, the first thing that I do is transplant a very large clump into my front yard, as close to my entryway as possible. After being out on cold rainy days, I pick a few sprigs for a cup of tea before I enter the building. On a warm sunny day, I grab a few leaves for a
One thing that I love about mints and other members of the Lamiaceae is that the mint family is often easy to distinguish from other families. Frequently with square stems and opposite leaves, possession of these characteristics points one toward identifying a species as within the Lamiaceae. True, there are members of other families with one or both of these characteristics (e.g., members of the Lythraceae, Verbenaceae, and Urticaceae and more), so to try to confirm an unknown plant as belonging to the Lamiaceae, you can crush one of the leaves between your fingers. Does it smell like mint (or at least has some sort of a potent scent)? If so, then chances are highly likely you are holding a plant from the mint family. The flowers can also be used to make a family-level identification: flowers with 5 sepals and 2 petals, clustered in false whorls (actually cymes) at the end of the flowering stalks or in the axils of leaves are also good indicators for the mint family.
I am hardly alone in my love of mint. Audrey Stallsmith’s article Worth A Mint, recounts some of the ancient uses and superstitions associated with Mentha spicata and peppermint, Mentha × piperita. One of the more curious uses of mint was as a wealth-booster: coins were thought to multiply when placed in a mint patch. I am tempted to try it, but I think that a likely result is that I would just lose my coins altogether. Apparently, mint leaves were also scattered on the floors, rubbed onto tables, and added to baths in order to add their strong aroma to the room.
Many gardeners avoid mints due to their aggressive nature. Mentha spicata has fleshy, vigorous rhizomes that will in most cases spread as far as they are physically able to spread. In my previous home, my mint had begun to overtake a gravel path leading to my front door; I took this as a sign that I was not drinking nearly enough mojitos! At my current home, I have more sensibly planted my spearmint within a concrete border, but would not be surprised if it somehow managed to emerge under, grow over, or break through the concrete and begin to overtake another part of the garden. Rhizomes are amazing things. I have often found the most difficult weeds to contend with are rhizomatous (perhaps one day I will write a post about Ranunculus repens). Rhizomes are not roots; they are modified subterranean stems that travel perpendicular to the force of gravity. Along the rhizome are nodes that can sprout new shoots upwards, and roots downwards. Rhizomes store carbohydrates and other nutrients, and when disconnected from the main plant, can form new individuals. Not only have rhizomes brought into being many a new mint plant, they have also inspired an entire philosophical concept, Deleuze and Guattari’s Rhizome Philosophy.