Mint foliage, although growing on related plants, varies from tiny, to broad, to red-tinged, with a range of scents and flavors. Identifying mints makes for an interesting botanical pursuit, albeit a daunting one. According to University of California at Davis Extension, more than 600 mint varieties exist. It's helpful to recognize the major plants in the Mentha species, however, as well as to learn which represent the best cooking, medicinal and fragrance mints.
The smallest mint foliage, Corsican mint leaves grow about a 1/4 inch in length and appear in great profusion over the inch-high plant. The leaves are bright green and inedible. Corsican mint is often reserved for ground covers and herbal lawns, says University of Oregon Extension. When walked on, the plants release a creme de menthe scent
With jagged teeth and pointed ends, dark green spearmint leaves boast the sweetest flavor and scent of the mints. Use in Middle Eastern entrees, sweet desserts and teas. Gardeners also use spearmint as a companion plant for roses; the leaves have a reputation for deterring aphids.
Thinner and even more jagged-looking than spearmint, peppermint boasts that distinctive "candy cane" scent. Use the leaves in teas for a stomach-settling hot or cold beverage. Infused leaves yield a liquid famed for reviving aching feet, either in the tub or when added to a homemade foot cream recipe.
The largest and perhaps the hairiest of the various kinds of mint leaves, 'Bowles' mint foliage is medium green and rounded in shape. The fragrance combines apple and spearmint. While American cooks may automatically reach for spearmint or peppermint sprigs, in England 'Bowles' is well-known for cooking, according to Growing Taste. Save the leaves for cooked dishes, however; the hairy texture of fresh leaves is decidedly an acquired taste, adds the online kitchen gardening resource.
Resembling an elongated version of the 'Bowles' cultivar's foliage, apple mint leaves grow more narrowly and longer. Like 'Bowles,' however, apple mint leaves feature a hairy surface and striking apple scent, with a brighter green color.
Variegated Ginger Mint
One of the handsomer mint leaves, variegated ginger mint foliage boasts yellowish gold or cream splashes on a medium green, medium-sized leaf. As the name suggests, the leaves smell and taste like a subtle mint-ginger blend.
Lemon mint is medium green, gently toothed and smooth, with a distinctive lemony flavor, of course. Use in lemonade, in potpourri or as a skin refresher.
Reminiscent of rose foliage, the leaves of curly mint are smaller than most other mints, with the exception of Corsican. They are also deeply crinkled, jaggedly toothed and smell of apples.
The narrow leaves on both creeping and upright pennyroyals grow no longer than an inch, appearing almost needle-like as they run along the stems. Pennyroyal is not edible, according to University of Oregon Extension, and is often used as an insect repellant. Scatter dried or fresh leaves and stems in cupboards and along house foundations to repel mice, fleas and ants.