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A member of the mint family, mentha spicata is known by the common name spearmint. The herb’s long, spear-shaped leaves, different from the more triangular shape of other mints, are the reason for its name. Mentha spicata has long been used as a flavorful herb, upset stomach remedy, room deodorizer, and flavoring for all types of products.
Spearmint grows naturally in temperate zones, especially in shady, somewhat moist areas. Cultivars of the plant grow from 1 foot (30.48 cm) to 3 feet (1 meter) tall, and usually have bright green leaves and spikes of small white or lavender flowers late in the summer. Mentha spicata grows vigorously from runners and can easily invade a garden. To control the spread, gardeners can cut the bottom out of a deep pot, and then set the pot into a hole, then plant the specimen inside the pot, leaving at least 3 inches (7.62 cm) of the pot above the soil. This method prevents roots from spreading below the pot and runners from colonizing over the top of the pot.
Mentha spicata has a fruitier, more pungent mint taste than other varieties of mint such as peppermint. Extracts of this plant are commonly used as a flavoring for desserts, beverages, gum, toothpastes and mouthwashes, and medicines. It is a popular herb to drop into a pitcher of lemonade on a hot day. The leaves are traditionally made into mint jelly to serve with roasted lamb.
All members of the mint family have been used to calm stomach upset and nausea. Dried leaves of mentha spicata can be used in teas as a home herbal remedy for stomach complaints and gas. Used as an essential oil in aromatherapy, its clean, sharp smell, especially when inhaled in a steam bath, is said to increase mental alertness and open clogged nasal passages and sinuses. Mint tea with honey can also soothe a sore throat. Due to its cooling sensation, a drop of mentha spicata oil on a damp cloth can temporarily ease the heat and pain of sunburn.
The essential oil distilled from mentha spicata leaves is considered “hot” oil — one that can cause a burning sensation when applied in large amounts to the skin. Care should be taken to ingest only small amounts of concentrated essential oil, as large amounts can be toxic to the kidneys. However, dried or fresh leaves used in beverages, foods, and other products are safe and beneficial for unlimited use.
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