About Spearmint: Mint received its name from the Greek legend of "Minthe," a river nymph who was turned into a lowly plant to be trodden underfoot; the stimulating, sweet smell perpetuated the memory of Minthe. Though "spear" may be derived from the shape of its leaves, a more likely story is that it comes from a form of "St. Pierre," the French monastery where it may have first grown. Though native to Europe, spearmint can now be found throughout North America; in the era of sea exploration, it was a valued source of vitamin C and helped prevent scurvy. Tea of spearmint has been used to treat many ailments, including nausea, hiccups, and poor digestion. The extract of spearmint is a very popular flavor for chewing gum, toothpaste, beverages, and candy, in addition to being a common ingredient in personal care products.
Spearmint Germination: Mint grows well in rich soil and partial shade, and damp soil. Direct sow after the last spring frost, thinning the seedlings to 10-12". Keep in mind that mint spreads easily and can nearly take over the space it is planted in. Because of this, some gardeners prefer to grow mint in an isolated location or as a container plant because of its vigorous spreading habit. As a companion plant, mint benefits nearly every garden plant and repels many harmful insects. Mint also grows well from root cuttings or by division.
Growing Spearmint Seeds: Mint appreciates rich soil, and will benefit from organic matter such as compost. Keep the soil fairly moist, but avoid getting the leaves wet when watering, since this can cause disease. In areas with cold winters, cut the plant down to the ground after frost and provide a thick layer of mulch for protection.
Harvesting Spearmint: Fresh leaves can be harvested as soon as the plant reaches a height of 3-4". The small, young leaves tend to have the best flavor. Cut the stems down to within 1" of the ground level to allow for new growth. Keep the tops pruned to prevent blooming, since this causes the leaves to deteriorate in flavor. To dry the leaves, hang the stems upside down in a dry location until the leaves feel completely dry; strip them from the stems and keep them in an airtight container. Fresh mint leaves can also be frozen.
Saving Spearmint Seeds: Since many types of mint produce sterile seed or seed that is not true to type, saving the seed may be somewhat of an experiment. Harvest the seed heads as soon as they grow dry and brown; spread them out to finish drying out of sunlight, then thresh them to remove the seed. Store the seed in a cool, dry place.
Detailed Spearmint Info: Mentha spicata. Also known as Green Mint, Lamb Mint, Pea Mint. Perennial. 80 days. Zone 4-9. 18,700 seeds per oz. 36-40" height. 10-12" spacing. Produces a plant with pointed, strongly flavored green leaves with serrated edges, and pale purple or pink flower spikes.