Mint is one of the most familiar herbs, with its fresh fragrance and flavor and its vigorous, persistent growth. But it comes in some surprising varieties.
Did you know there are more than 600 known cultivators of mint? These different mint varieties have varied scents, tastes, habits, and hardiness. This article will introduce you to just a few.
The most common, basic varieties of cultivated mint are peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and spearmint (Mentha spicata). Peppermint, which contains more menthol than spearmint, is more often used in candies, desserts, and beverages when a stronger flavor is desired. Spearmint is preferred when a milder flavor is needed and is commonly used in savory dishes.
Both spearmint and peppermint are hardy as far north as Zone 3. Both have pink or purple flowers and bright green leaves. Peppermint may grow up to 3 feet tall, spearmint to 2 feet.
13 More Unique Varieties of Mint
Here are some of the more specialized varieties of mint.
1. Apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) will grow in zones 4-9 or 5-9. It has rounded, downy leaves and a flavor variously described as “apple” and “wintergreen”. Apple mint can grow up to 3 feet tall and spread several feet wide. Better Homes and Gardens recommends it for flavoring apple jelly.
2. Banana mint (Mentha arvensis ‘Banana’) is a low-growing mint with small light green leaves and—you guessed it—a banana-like flavor. Banana mint has a creeping tendency and can be grown in containers or hanging baskets as well as in the garden. It will grow in zones 5-11 and reach a height of up to18 inches.
3. Bowles mint (Mentha x villosa var. alopecuroides) has soft downy or hairy leaves. As one of the taller growing mints, the Bowles cultivator can reach up to 2 feet tall and spreads 4 feet wide. It grows in zones 3-9. Sarah Garland calls it a good all-around culinary mint.
4. Chocolate Mint (Mentha x piperita f citrata “Chocolate”) has dark green leaves, bronzy or purplish stems, and a delicate chocolate tinge to its mint flavor. It will grow well in zones 4-9 and can reach a height of 2 or 3 feet. My mother’s chocolate mint stayed at the shorter end of that range. Chocolate mint goes well in various desserts and beverages. My mother used to flavor her coffee with it.
5. Ginger mint (Mentha x gentilis “Variegata”) is another low-growing mint that has slightly furry yellow-veined green leaves and a strong spicy scent. Ginger mint is well suited to zones 5-9 and grows up to 18 inches high. Ginger mint is used in candy making and is used to flavor chewing gum and the popular Scotch Mint candies
6. Grapefruit mint (Mentha x piperita f. citrata ‘Grapefruit’) has short stems but large downy leaves with a sharp citrus flavor. Grapefruit mint is suited to zones 6-11 and will grow slightly over a foot tall.
7. Kentucky Colonel (Mentha spicata “Kentucky Colonel”) is a spearmint variety that’s often used to flavor alcoholic drinks like juleps and mojitos. It will grow from zone 4 or 5 in the north to zone 9 in the south and reaches a height of 1-2 feet.
8. Mojito mint (Mentha x villosa) is the mint variety most traditionally used in the Cuban highball called a mojito. It’s a large-leaved variety of spearmint. Native to Cuba, the mojito mint plant grows well in zones 5-9 and has a top height of 2 feet.
9. Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum/P. incanum/P. muticum/P. tenuifolium) is not a member of the genus Mentha like the others. Still, Extension articles say that it has a minty scent and flavor and can be used in recipes and teas. American settlers used mountain mints to treat ailments including colds, fevers, and stomach aches.
Mountain mint may grow 1-3 feet tall depending on the species and the setting. The virginianum species is especially recommended for attracting pollinators of all kinds to your garden. Like Mentha species, mountain mint prefers moist soil, but it is also somewhat drought tolerant. It’s hardy as far north as zone 4 and grows south to Georgia and Texas.
10. Orange mint (Mentha piperita f. citrata ‘Orange’), which is also known as bergamot mint, has red-tinged leaves and a citrus flavor. It grows well in zones 5-9 and can reach a height of 3 feet. Orange mint is recommended for flavoring fish, poultry, fruit salads, and summer drinks.
11. Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) has a pungent and somewhat coarse flavor. This is according to Sarah Garland, who recommends it for medicinal uses and for repelling insects. It grows up to 12” high when upright, though some creeping varieties stay lower, and it’s well suited to zones 6-9.
12. Pineapple mint (Mentha suaveolens “Variegata”) has furry leaves with a dappled cream and pale green color and a fruity scent and flavor. It’s hardy to zone 5, or zone 4 with winter protection, and it grows well as far south as zone 9. Pineapple mint is sometimes grown as an ornamental. The Wisconsin Extension also recommends using it in potpourri as well as in teas, jellies, and fruit salads. Pineapple mint will grow up to 3 feet tall.
13. Strawberry mint (Mentha spicata f. citrata “Strawberry”) has small leaves with a delicate fruity flavor. It grows well in hanging baskets or other containers, and it doesn’t spread as aggressively as other mints. Strawberry mint can grow up to 2 feet tall. It’s suited to zones 4-9.
As you can see, there’s a wide range of mint plants available to suit a wide variety of tastes, purposes, and growing locations. Tastes and fragrances are notoriously difficult to describe, so see if you can taste-test or at least smell-test mint from a friend’s garden or a nursery. If not, order a few kinds that look interesting and experiment. Remember to plant different mint varieties well apart from each other to prevent crossing. Then find out what you like best.