The mint family is the Lamiaceae family, which also consists of other herbs and flowers that appear in most gardens. There are more than 7,000 species within the family, making it the most extensive family of plants. Just within the menthe group, there are hundreds of species that are found in most home and garden centers.
Description and History
Most plants in the mint family have square stems, and the leaves of the plant grow opposite of each other. Stems can be green, and in some instances have a reddish tinge. Leaves are almost always green but can vary from red to purple. In most plants of this family, flowers grow on long spikes in clusters.
Romans used mint in their baths for the scent. During medieval times, mint was strewn on the floors of homes so that it masked vile odors common at the time. Most plants in the mint family have medicinal properties, and the plants were brought to America by people who used them.
There are many types of mint, but there are several kinds that almost everyone has heard of. Spearmint is probably the most popular mint of all. It is used in flavoring foods and is most likely the ingredient that makes mint gum taste minty. Lemon mint is another type that is used in cooking. It is used to flavor iced tea. Peppermint is a strong smelling and tasting mint. Although the others were also used medicinally, this is the one that was used most often for nausea and other stomach problems and congestion due to allergy or cold.
Chocolate mint tastes much like an Andres mint and often flavors tea. Pineapple mint has the faint taste of pineapple and can be substituted for spearmint in mint julep. Apple mint has a green apple flavor and is added to fruit salads. Orange mint is used in beverages and salad dressings. Lavender mint smells can be used in potpourri. Banana mint smells like a banana and can be added to a fruit salad.
Other Family Members
Lavender is a member of the mint family that produces sweet smelling flowers that can be dried. It is an ingredient in Herbs de Province, which is added to many meats. Rosemary is also in the family and is used to flavor meats. The needle-like leaves contain many vitamins, calcium and iron. Thyme is a low-growing herb that is used often in French, Greek, Spanish and Italian cuisines. It is also a natural antiseptic. Basil looks like mint but smells and tastes much different with a licorice-like flavor. It is used in Italian and Greek dishes and soups or stews. It is also in many egg dishes. Sage is also in the family. Salvia is a type of flower that is also in the family and is purely ornamental.