Mints are so wide spread that there is scarcely a country in Europe or a state or province in North America where they don't grow. Of the many kinds of mint, peppermint and spearmint are the best-known and widest spread. Nearly everyone has seen one of these types of mint growing in the wild, though they may not have known what they were at the time.
If you find mint growing in the wild, or want to grow some for yourself in your garden or flowerbeds, a question might arise about the differences and similarities between peppermint and spearmint. Both are aromatic herbs, they grow in the same habitat, and the aromas are similar.
There are ways to tell the difference, however.
The peppermint plant tends to grow a little taller than spearmint; up to four feet tall (1 1/3 meter). A peppermint leaf is also a little larger. When blooming, peppermint has a purplish blossom while spearmint has a pink or light to dark blue blossom not approaching purple.
Peppermint also quite often has a purplish hue to the stems and leaves. Peppermint leaves are usually arranged further away from the main stems and have more teeth than spearmint leaves. Spearmint stems, while lacking the purple, are distinctly square while peppermint stems aren't.
The scent of spearmint tends to be a little sweeter and lighter, while peppermint has a very noticeable mint smell. This is so true that it can be uncomfortable being near a peppermint field that is being harvested.
What about the similarities?
Both grow from an underground rhizome that produces upright and fairly stout stems. Because of this, once established, both peppermint and spearmint are difficult to contain or eradicate. They should be grown in areas that are bordered by waste areas, or with the use of wooden, rock, or other barriers that are at least a couple feet deep to prevent the roots from spreading. They can easily spread into a yard, otherwise.
Spearmints and peppermints also love damp and fairly rich soils. In the wild, it is not uncommon to find both growing in the same area. In both cases, it is widely believed that both kinds of mint originally escaped cultivation, which is why they are found throughout much of the world.
Medicinally, these two mints are very similar, though spearmint tends to have a somewhat milder nature than peppermint when used in the same amounts and in the same ways. They are collected in the same way, on dry warm days after the dew has evaporated, and they are dried in the same way, by air-drying out of direct sunlight. They both remain potent for about a year when stored in a cool dry place in an airtight container.
The fact that spearmint tends to be milder is useful if a person has difficulties dealing with peppermint.
Both spearmint and peppermint are used for flavoring other herbal teas and remedies, and they are so highly thought of that they also flavor a lot of foods and drinks as well.
Both species of mint plants grow readily in pots, especially when the pots are put on patios or outdoors where the mint can get plenty of sunshine and fresh air. They are not the same species, but though both grow wild in so many places, it is very difficult for a person to tell the difference in flavor or smell, unless the aroma is concentrated.
Clearly, these two mints are more similar than they are dissimilar. They are attractive plants, in either case; so either one is worth growing or collecting. Since they are used for the same things, it is not a bad thing to have either, or both, growing in your flowerbeds or garden. If you do, be sure to try adding a few mint leaves to your summer iced tea for an extra refreshing drink.