Apple mint (botanical name Mentha suaveolens) is an herbaceous, perennial plant that grows straight and is generally cultivated in the form of a ground cover or culinary herb.
Usually, apple mint plants grow up to a height of anything between 40 cm and 100 cm (16 inches and 39 inches) and they spread by means of stolons to develop into clonal colonies. The foliage of this herb has a pale green hue, bearing opposite, rumpled, sessile (attached by the base) leaves.
The shape of the leaves varies from oblong to ovate and they grow up to 3 cm to 5 cm (1.2 inches to 2.0 inches) in length and are about 2 cm to 4 cm (0.8 inch to 1.6 inches) wide. While the leaves of apple mint have a slightly hairy top surface, on the downside they are downy and have serrated margins.
The flowers of apple mint appear in terminal spikes that are about 4 cm to 9 cm (1.6 inches to 3.5 inches) in length and comprise several whorls of white-hued or pinkish blooms. The herb blossoms between mid-summer and the end of summer.
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Apple mint is also referred to as hierbabuena in Spain as well as nearly all countries in South America, which, when translated into English, means a "good herb". For several thousand years, this herb has been employed for therapeutic purposes in several regions of the globe, counting Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa.
People in the Mediterranean region have employed apple mint in their traditional medicine and it has an assortment of effects as well as applications. Mentha suaveolens possesses analgesic, antispasmodic, stimulating, tonic, sedative, carminative, hypotensive, stomachic and insecticidal properties. This herb has demonstrated analgesic, depressor and anti-inflammatory activities.
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The leaves of apple mint are boiled in water to prepare an herbal tea, which when ingested promotes digestion. In addition, this tea also aids in alleviating stomach aches, various ailments, such as intestinal disorders, and an assortment of other health conditions. This herbal tea also aids in breaking down ingested fats and augmenting the level of metabolism.
Similar to several other plants belonging to this genus, apple mint is also frequently employed in the form of a home made herbal remedy. It is particularly held in esteem owing to its antiseptic attributes as well as its positive effects on the digestive system. Similarly, like other plants belonging to this genus, it is best if women avoid using apple mint during pregnancy, as taking the herb in excessive dosages may result in abortions.
A tea prepared from the leaves of apple mint as well as other mints has been traditionally used for treating headaches, fevers, digestive problems and a number of other trivial health issues. The essential oil extracted from the leaves possesses antiseptic properties. However, when taken in excess doses, this essential oil may prove to be toxic.
In addition to the essential oil extracted from the leaves, the whole apple mint plant also yields an essential oil. As rats and mice have an intense loathing for the mint aroma, there was a time when people used apple mint in the form of a strewing herb. It was also strewn in their granaries with a view to ward off rodents to protect their grains.
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The leaves of apple mint are edible and can be consumed both raw as well as after cooking. These leaves are used in salads and cooked foods to add essence. The flavour of apple mint leaves is akin to that of spearmint, but is considered to have a better flavour compared to spearmint. However, apple mint leaves have bristles and this makes them less suitable for use in garnishing. The leaves are also used to prepare an herbal tea.
Apple mint leaves are also used to prepare apple mint jelly. In addition, they are also employed to add essence to various preparations, including apple mint couscous. Often the leaves of apple mint are also used in salads or for garnishing.
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Indigenous to the western and southern regions of Europe, over the years, apple mint has been naturalized in other parts of the continent, such as northern and central Europe. This herb is found growing naturally in moist and damp places.
A cultivar (a species cultivated from the natural plant) of apple mint, pineapple mint (botanical name Mentha suaveolens 'Variegata') produces leaves that have a white band on their top surface. This hybrid mint variety has its origin in grapefruit mint (botanical name Mentha suaveolens x piperata).
It is very easy to cultivate apple mint, as it grows well in nearly all types of soils and conditions, provided the soil is not very dry or parched. Apple mint thrives excellently in heavy clay soils. However, if you desire to obtain the essential oils of the herb, it is best to grow them in a sunlit position. However, these plants also thrive well in semi-shaded positions. Often, apple mint is grown in the form of pot herbs. A number of named varieties of apple mint are in existence.
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The aroma of the flowers of apple mint is faintly sweet. Apple mint is an extremely invasive herb, as it spreads rapidly at the roots. You need to restrain the plants from spreading randomly unless you have sufficient place to allow them to roam. The plant's spread can be restricted by planting them in containers and then burying the containers into the soil.
This species is considered to be an excellent companion plant, especially for tomatoes and cabbages. The smell of apple mint leaves wards off insect pests from plants growing in the neighbourhood. However, you should also consider the plant's intruding root system while growing apple mint as a companion plant.
The entire apple mint plant possesses a minty fragrance. The flowers of this species are extremely gorgeous and, hence, draw plenty of butterflies and bees. If ever, the browsing deer seldom create problems for the plants belonging to this genus. Apple mint has an inclination to hybridize readily with other members of the same genus.
Apple mint is usually propagated by its seeds, ideally sown in a cold frame during spring. When the seedlings have grown quite large and suitable for handling, prick them out carefully and plant them into their permanent positions outdoors during the summer.
As the seeds of different Mentha varieties are inclined to hybridization, you cannot depend on them to breed true species. However, even when there is no hybridization, it is very unlikely that the seedlings will be uniform. Hence, their content of therapeutic oils and other elements will also differ considerably.
Therefore, if you are growing Mentha plants for a specific aroma, it is advisable that you propagate them by means of root division. In fact, division can be carried out very easily and nearly throughout the year. However, summer or autumn is the best time to undertake root division, as doing so allows the plants to establish more rapidly.
Practically, any portion of the roots of Mentha plants has the ability to develop into a new plant. It is possible to plant the comparatively bigger root divisions directly into their permanent positions outdoors.
Nevertheless, if you desire utmost increase in the plants, you ought to divide the mentha plant roots into several segments, each not measuring longer than 3 cm. Subsequently, plant these divisions in a cold frame and a slightly shaded position. The divisions will soon give rise to new plants that will establish very quickly. You may plant these young plants into their permanent positions outdoors during summer.
Plants belonging to Mentha suaveolens family enclose elevated proportions of a number of oxides, including piperitone oxide (PO), piperitenone oxide (PEO), terpenic ketones (piperitenone and pulegone) and terpenic alcohol (terpineol, geraniol, fenohol, borneol, and p-cymen-8-ol).
Together, these comprise anything between 65 percent and 90 percent of the entire essential oil. Piperitone oxide has anti-microbial actions and when compared to the anti-microbial actions of piperitenone oxide, its actions are about half of the latter against yeasts.
Generally, apple mint does not result in toxicity. However, it has been found that when some plants belonging to this genus are taken in excessive amounts, particularly the essential oil extracted from the plants, it may lead to abortions. Hence, pregnant women should either avoid using apple mint or, if necessary for their condition, should use it very cautiously.