Peppermint VS Spearmint – What’s The Difference?

Peppermint vs Spearmint

There are over 15 types of mint but spearmint and peppermint are the most popular. But, do they differ? Here’s a comparison of peppermint vs spearmint.

Sometimes, people use the words spearmint and peppermint interchangeably. While both plants belong to the Mentha genus, they are different species. They differ in physical characteristics, chemical concentration, and uses. Below is a detailed comparison of spearmint vs peppermint.

Origin and Naming

Peppermint, Mentha Piperita, is a hybrid mint variety of spearmint and water mint. It mostly grows naturally near water bodies like rivers and ponds, but you can also grow it in your garden. Spearmint, Mentha Spicata, is more popular as a garden mint. It can also grow wildly as a weed.

Peppermint VS Spearmint – Physical Features

While peppermint and spearmint plants are quite similar, there are slight differences in their physical appearance. Both have serrated leaf edges and a similar, ovate shape. They can both grow up to 3 feet tall in the right conditions.

Stems

Both spearmint and peppermint have square stems. There are some hairs on the stems but the hairs are more pronounced on spearmint stems. The key distinguishing feature in their stems is that peppermint stems have a purple hue while spearmint stems are green.

Leaves

As the name suggests, spearmint leaves are spear-shaped. Although both spearmint and peppermint leaves are serrated, spearmint leaves have sharper serrations. Furthermore, spearmint leaves are thicker than peppermint leaves.

Peppermint VS spearmint: peppermint leaves

Peppermint leaves have distinctive purple or dark red veins on the leaves. The veins are more pronounced on the back of the leaves. Younger peppermint leaves may also have a purple hue on the edges.  On the other hand, spearmint leaf veins are green. Spearmint leaves may also be hairy.

For both types of mint plants, leaves grow in pairs. Typically, the leaves in each pair are opposite to each other. The subsequent set of leaves grows in the opposite direction from the previous set. As a result, the leaves form a cross shape at the stem.

Flowers

Spearmint flowers

Both spearmint and peppermint produce flowers. Spearmint flowers grow in a cone-shaped arrangement in small bunches at the top of the stem. Spearmint flowers are pink or white while peppermint flowers are mostly a darker shade of pink than spearmint flowers.

Taste and Smell

One of the easiest methods of telling peppermint apart from spearmint is by tasting the leaves. Peppermint has an intense minty taste while spearmint has a mild taste. This is because, peppermint contains higher concentrations of methanol, the chemical that gives mint its minty taste. Peppermint has a 40% methanol concentration while spearmint has 0.5%.

Spearmint is also sweeter as it contains a compound known as carvone while peppermint has a pungent, peppery flavor. Whether peppermint or spearmint, fresh mint has a more intense smell and flavor than dried mint.

How To Use Peppermint VS Spearmint

Peppermint VS Spearmint Culinary Applications

Iced mint tea

Both peppermint and spearmint are used for culinary purposes, however, the minty flavor is more intense in recipes when you use peppermint rather than spearmint. As such, you will require a smaller amount of peppermint for your recipes than you would spearmint.

In some recipes, the two types of mint can be used interchangeably. You can also use the two types of mint together. Spearmint and peppermint are also used to infused in edibles such as chewing gum, candy, ice cream, and chocolate.

You can easily make peppermint or spearmint tea at home by infusing the mint leaves in hot water and then sweetening the tea with honey. You can also consume the tea unsweetened or ice cold.

Peppermint VS Spearmint Essential Oils

Peppermint vs Spearmint Essential Oils

The usability of both spearmint and peppermint goes beyond culinary purposes. They are both used to make essential oils. They are also infused in different cosmetic, body care, and hygiene products including soap, shower gel, mouthwashes, lotion, etc.

Note that essential oils should not be ingested directly. Even when used topically, you need to dilute them with water or carrier oil to avoid irritating the skin.

Spearmint and peppermint essential oil contain the following chemical components in different concentrations: menthol, menthone, limonene, bata-pinene,1,8-cineole, and beta-caryophyllene.

Peppermint VS Spearmint Health Benefits

Both spearmint and peppermint have medicinal benefits. The methanol content can help in alleviating symptoms such as toothache, muscle pain, cramps, indigestion, nausea, gas, and sore throat.

Peppermint has shown health benefits in treating conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and some skin conditions. The mints are also used in aromatherapy to aid in relaxing muscles and to calm the nervous system. Both are antifungal, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory.

Some research studies indicate that spearmint can help to alleviate or manage hirsutism. Hirsutism is a condition in women that results in excessive growth of hair on the face, chest, and stomach. It is usually a result of high androgen hormone levels. The research shows that drinking two cups of spearmint tea every day can reduce androgen levels in women.

Precautions for Using Peppermint

Some people are allergic to peppermint due to its high ethanol content. Such people may experience sore throat, throat irritation, or itchy skin when they consume or apply peppermint.

Do not apply peppermint oil or peppermint-containing skincare products on kids as it may cause life-threatening breathing problems. It is also not recommended for use by people with pre-existing health conditions such as hiatus hernia, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or diabetes.

Peppermint is also contraindicated for use alongside medication such as Pepcid, cyclosporine, low blood sugar, and diabetes drugs, hypertension drugs, and drugs metabolized in the liver.

Peppermint VS Spearmint Nutritional Facts

Both spearmint and peppermint are rich in a wide range of micronutrients, but the specific amounts vary between the different types of mints. They both contain iron, manganese, copper, potassium, riboflavin, pyridoxine, vitamin C, vitamin A, and folate.

Peppermint contains higher levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate while spearmint has higher levels of iron. Peppermint is also more calorie-dense as 100g contains 70 calories while 100g of spearmint contains 44 calories.

How to Grow, Care, And Maintain Peppermint VS Spearmint

freshly grown spearmint
Image Source: Shutterstock

Conditions for growth

Both spearmint and peppermint are easy to grow. They are both perennial crops that last several years. Peppermint, however, is a bit more delicate to grow and care for. It requires more moisture than spearmint. It also thrives better in full sun exposure. On the other hand, spearmint gets easily damaged when exposed to a full day on the sun especially if the weather is hot.

Propagation

While both plants can be grown from seeds, the propagation success rate for mint seeds is generally low. You also require specific soil temperatures for the seeds to germinate. The best way to grow peppermint or spearmint seeds is during the warmer seasons but ensure you keep the soil moist without oversoaking it.

Alternatively, you can grow peppermint or spearmint from cuttings. Get some healthy mint cuttings either from a mint plant in your garden or a grocery store. Strip the bottom 2” of the stem of its leaves. Dip the lower bottom of the cutting in a growth hormone and then plant the cuttings directly in the soil or glass water.

Putting the cuttings in a glass of water allows them to develop roots before potting them. The cutting should develop roots within 4-6 weeks. If you planted them directly in the soil, they should root up and show signs of growth within 6-8 weeks.

Spearmint in a pot

Spearmint is more invasive and may be better off potted or planted in a bed to control how far it spreads. Conversely, peppermint is a rather low-grower and does not spread out as rapidly.

Since peppermint is a hybrid plant, it is sterile and does not produce on its own. As such, it does not produce seeds that would self-propagate. Peppermint needs to be repotted or relocated every 3-4 years to keep it thriving. It grows up to a height of 1-3 feet.

Whether to Use Fertilizers

Both types of mint require high levels of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous to keep yielding for 4-5 years. This necessitates regular fertilization. It is best to use organic, liquid fertilizers or water-soluble fertilizers.

Maturity and Harvesting

Mint takes 60-90 days to mature depending on the propagation method and environmental conditions. Seeds take 90 days to mature, while cuttings take about 60 days.

Once the plant has grown to at least 2 inches long with several leaf sets you can harvest. Do not wait for the mint plant to flower before you harvest, otherwise, it will cause the plant to seed prematurely. As a result, the stems will get woody, the foliage will subside, and the leaves will turn yellow and become bitter.

Peppermint VS Spearmint Pests and Diseases

Both spearmint and peppermint are prone to pests and disease. The most common mint diseases include mint rust, verticillium wilt, anthracnose, powdery mildew, black stem rot, stem and stolon canker, and Septoria leaf spot. Common pests include flea beetles, aphids, cutworms, and spider mites.

Aim to control mint pests and diseases naturally. For instance, applying neem oil helps to ward off pests and to kill pathogens on the plant. Ensure the plant is placed in a well-ventilated area to prevent mold and mildew growth due to poor aeration or excess moisture.

Conclusion

Peppermint in a tea pot

Spearmint and peppermint are among the most common types of mint. Although they can be used as a substitute for each other, peppermint is more flavorful as it contains high levels of methanol. Both perennial crops are relatively easy to grow and maintain.

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I'm Jad, a biologist, blogger, and experienced indoor gardener. I am knowledgeable in plant biology, particularly in plant cultivation and propagation. I founded HerbsWithin.com in 2019 to share my knowledge in indoor gardening with passionate home growers.

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