The perennial mints are upright growing plants that reach 2' in height. Peppermint has dark green leaves and a reddish stem, while spear mint is lighter green in color with sharply pointed leaves. Both emit a characteristic warm, spicy scent when bruised or crushed. Peppermint flowers are a lavender shade, while spearmint flowers are pink.
The mints are easily propagated by division of clumps. The plants send out many runners that can be divided and lifted. It is wise to keep this spreading tendency in check, for the mints may become quite invasive and weedy if left untended. Try keeping the mints in a separate bed of their own to avoid crowding the other herbs. Mints flourish in a moist, partially shaded to sunny location. Space the plants 2' apart. Harvest the leaves as needed or cut en tire stems 1" above the ground just before flowering. You can cut the stems back severely without damaging the plants. The leaves dry easily and retain their fragrance, but they become brittle.
The mints are excellent groundcovers due to their tendency to spread. If you keep them mowed, they will form a thick carpet. Fresh mint is added to salads and summer beverages. The dried leaves make an aromatic tea that is sometimes considered to be an aid to digestion. Spearmint has a slightly milder flavor, less medicinal, than peppermint. The dried leaves can also be added to sachets and potpourris to give an impression of “coolness.”
Mint was used by the ancient Assyrians in rituals to their fire god. The ancient Hebrews scattered mint leaves on the synagogue floor so that each footstep would produce a fragrant whiff. Spearmint was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans as a flavoring herb, culinary condiment, and in perfumes and bath scents. Mint was named by the Greeks after the mythical character, Menthe. During the Middle Ages, besides culinary use, powdered mint leaves were used to whiten the teeth.