Mentha piperita (syn. Mentha x piperita, Mentha balsamea) | ‘Peppermint’ | ~500 seeds
Most commonly known as ‘Peppermint’, Mentha piperita (syn. Mentha x piperita, Mentha balsamea, Mentha lavanduliodora) is a flavoursome crossbreed between Mentha aquatica (‘Watermint’) and Mentha spicata (‘Spearmint’). Besides the English name ‘Peppermint’, it’s commonly called by names such as ‘Hierba Buena’, ‘Hortela-Pimenta’, ‘Menta Negra’, ‘Menta Piperina’, ‘Menthe Poivree’, ‘Pepermunt’, ‘Pepparmynta’, ‘Pfefferminze’ and ‘Western Peppermint’.
A vigorous, herbaceous perennial of the Lamiaceae, piperita is a smoothly square-stemmed plant which reaches to approximately one and a half metres tall. The stems and foliage are glossy and dark green to slightly purple in hue (more so when under-watered). The leaves are irregularly-toothed and reach roughly ten centimetres in length by five centimetres across. Spiky, lavender-purple flowers (under a centimetre in length) bloom during late spring to late summer, attracting a multitude of bees, butterflies and other insects.
Native to Europe and the Middle East, ‘Peppermint’ often thrives in a broad range of conditions in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-7, although naturally prefers to grow in relatively moist, shady regions. Having escaped cultivation, it’s now rather widespread around the world and is consequently considered to be an invasive species in Australia, the Galápagos Islands, New Zealand and the USA.
Historically employed for a range of culinary, medicinal and horticultural functions, ‘Peppermint’ (not to be confused with the ‘Chinese Peppermint’, Mentha haplocalyx) is among the oldest of the herbs still used by humans. Reportedly, around ninety thousand tonnes are produced annually for the commercial market worldwide. It’s considered useful mainly for its foliage and for the essential oil which it contains. Consequently, several cultivars have been developed for the increased and/or improved production of this essential oil. There are also a number of popular ornamental varieties.
Perhaps the plant’s most popular culinary uses are to brew a refreshing herbal tea, as well as providing its distinctive flavour to products such as alcoholic beverages, chewing gum, ice cream, preserves and sweets. It’s also a common ingredient of many shampoos, soaps, toothpastes and other cosmetic products. Other commercial uses for Mentha piperita include as a source of essential oils and other chemicals, as a natural pesticide in organic gardening and to test pipes and ductwork for leaks (making use of the plant’s distinctive and strong aroma). Medicinally, ‘Peppermint’ has antiseptic qualities and is used topically or in tea to treat colds and sore throats, indigestion, lethargy, morning sickness, muscle pain, nerve pain and skin complaints. However, the plant’s extracted essential oil, ‘Peppermint Oil’, can cause adverse effects when ingested or applied topically – especially in young children.
Rather easy to grow from seed (or via cuttings or rhizome division), Mentha piperita should be sown in a mildly acidic to mildly alkaline soil – preferably in a container, to avoid it becoming invasive in the local habitat! Space young plants roughly a metre apart in full sun to partial shade. Water regularly so that the soil remains moist but not soaked and you’ll soon see prolific growth! Be aware that handling this plant can cause skin irritation or other allergic reaction.
All the seed sold by Arkham’s Botanical was freshly and ethically sourced