Whether you add them to a tabbouleh salad, muddle them for your mint julep or morning cup of tea or just set them atop a fresh bowl of strawberries, peppermint (Mentha x piperita) in many varieties adds a cheerful green color and spicy taste to your cooking. Native to the Mediterranean, peppermint spreads by underground stems and tolerates both deer and rabbits. Its aggressive growth habits and hardiness make it invasive in many parts of the country.
The most well-known of the mints, peppermint is itself a hybrid of watermint (Mentha aquatic) and spearmint (Mentha spicata). Though it is invasive with spreading, underground rhizomes, the plants are naturally sterile, and the flowers never actually produce seeds. Peppermints of all types grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 7 and reach 2 to 3 feet tall and wide.
Flavored peppermints include those with very strong tastes and fragrances, such as chocolate mint (Mentha x piperita f. citrata "Chocolate"), orange bergamot mint (Mentha x piperita "Orange") and eau de cologne mint (Mentha x piperita "Citrate"). Others have undertones of flavor, such as grapefruit mint (Mentha x piperita f. "Grapefruit") and lime mint (Mentha x piperita f. "Lime").
Foliage and Fragrance
A few peppermints have distinctive foliage, such as a variegated type (Mentha x piperita vulgaris "Variegata") with leaves splattered yellow and green that needs partial shade to keep the colors strong. Candy peppermint (Mentha x piperita) has dark red stems and dark green leaves, and black mint (Mentha x piperita) has black stems. Fragrances also vary and include lavender mint (Mentha x piperita "Lavender") and lemon bergamot mint (Mentha x piperita "Lemon").
Peppermint grows equally well in full sun or partial shade and does best with regular weekly watering. It tolerates all types of soil, but without enough water it loses leaves and becomes straggly. Pinch the tops of your peppermint to keep it from going to seed, and plant it in containers to keep it from spreading. Peppermint dies back in cold climates but reappears in the spring.
- The New Sunset Western Garden Book; Kathleen Norris Brenzel, Editor
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Mentha x piperita F. Citrata "Chocolate"
- Floridata: Mentha x Piperita
- Portland Nursery: Mints
- Mountain Valley Growers: Mentha Piperita
- Photo Credit John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images