(Mentha viridis, Linn.)--Spearmint, a member of the Labiatae, is a
very hardy perennial, native to Mediterranean countries. Its generic
name is derived from the mythological origin ascribed to it. Poets
declared that Proserpine became jealous of Cocytus's daughter, Minthe,
whom she transformed into the plant. The specific name means green,
hence the common name, green mint, often applied to it. The old Jewish
law did n
t require that tithes of "mint, anise and cumin" should be
paid in to the treasury, but the Pharisees paid them while omitting the
weightier matters, justice, mercy, and faith (Matthew xxiii, 23). From
this and many other references in old writings it is evident that mint
has been highly esteemed for many centuries. In the seventeenth century
John Gerarde wrote concerning it that "the smelle rejoyceth the heart of
man." Indeed, it has been so universally esteemed that it is found wild
in nearly all countries to which civilization has extended. It has been
known as an escape from American gardens for about 200 years, and is
sometimes troublesome as a weed in moist soil.
Description.--From creeping rootstocks erect square stems rise to a
height of about 2 feet, and near their summits bear spreading branches
with very short-stemmed, acute-pointed, lance-shaped, wrinkled leaves
with toothed edges, and cylindrical spikes of small pink or lilac
flowers, followed by very few, roundish, minute, brown seeds.
Cultivation.--The plant may be easily propagated by means of cuttings,
offsets and division in spring. They may be expected to yield somewhat
of a crop the first season, but much more the second. In field culture
they will continue profitable for several years, provided that each
autumn the tops are cut off near the ground and a liberal dressing of
manure, compost or even rich soil is given. In ordinary garden practice
it is well also to observe this plan, but usually mint is there allowed
to shift for itself, along with the horseradish and the Jerusalem
artichoke when such plants are grown. So treated, it is likely to give
trouble, because, having utilized the food in one spot, its stems seek
to migrate to better quarters. Hence, if the idea is to neglect the
plants, a corner of the garden should be chosen where there is no danger
of their becoming a nuisance. It is best to avoid all such trouble by
renewing or changing the beds every 5 or 6 years.
Mint will grow anywhere but does best in a moist, rich loam and partial
shade. If in a sheltered spot, it will start earlier in the spring than
if exposed. Upon an extensive scale the drills should be 2 inches deep
and 12 to 15 inches apart. Bits of the rootstocks are dropped at
intervals of 6 to 12 inches in the rows and covered with a wheel hoe.
For a new plantation the rootstocks should be secured when the stems
have grown 2 or 3 inches tall.
For forcing, the clumps are lifted in solid masses, with the soil
attached, and placed in hotbeds or forcing house benches. Three or four
inches of moist soil is worked in among and over them and watered freely
as soon as growth starts. Cuttings may be made in two or three weeks.
Often mint is so grown in lettuce and violet houses both upon and under
the benches. During winter and spring there is enough of a demand for
the young tender stems and leaves to make the plants pay. It is said
that the returns from an ordinary 3 x 6-foot hotbed sash should be $10
to $15 for the winter. For drying, the stems should be cut on a dry day
when the plants are approaching full bloom and after the dew has
disappeared in the morning. They should be spread out very thinly in the
shade or in an airy shed. (See page 25.) If cut during damp weather,
there is danger of the leaves turning black.
Uses.--In both the green and the dried state mint is widely used in
Europe for flavoring soups, stews and sauces for meats of unpronounced
character. Among the Germans pulverized mint is commonly upon the table
in cruets for dusting upon gravies and soups, especially pea and bean
In England and America the most universal use of mint is for making mint
sauce, the sauce par excellence with roast spring lamb. Nothing can
be simpler than to mince the tender tops and leaves very, very finely,
add to vinegar and sweeten to taste. Many people fancy they don't like
roast lamb. The chances are that they have never eaten it with wellmade
mint sauce. In recent years mint jelly has been taking the place of the
sauce, and perhaps justly, because it can not only be kept indefinitely
without deterioration, but because it looks and is more tempting. It may
be made by steeping mint leaves in apple jelly or in one of the various
kinds of commercial gelatins so popular for making cold fruit puddings.
The jelly should be a delicate shade of green. Of course, before pouring
into the jelly glasses, the liquid is strained through a jelly bag to
remove all particles of mint. A handful of leaves should color and
flavor four to six glasses full.