Peppermint leaves are known for making delicious teas, but this herb also has many other uses. Find out where peppermint actually comes from and how to care for it.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is a widely known and very popular herb. Thanks to the essential oils it contains, peppermint has an extraordinary fragrance. Read on to discover everything there is to know about peppermint, including how to care for it and propagate it.
Peppermint: flower, origin and properties
Although evidence of the use of mint can be found as far back as ancient Egypt, the now familiar peppermint (Mentha x piperita) actually first appeared in the UK rather late in the 17th century. Its origin and development are debated, but it is widely assumed to have evolved organically as a cross between water mint (Mentha aquatica) and spearmint (Mentha spicata). Peppermint is also known as brandy mint and lily-rail. Botanically, Mentha x piperita belongs to the Lamiaceae family and is part of the mint genus (Mentha), along with roughly 30 other mint species.
The perennial, herbaceous plant has strongly branched, square, hairy stems that can grow up to one metre high. Peppermint has light to dark green leaves that are elongated to egg-shaped and serrated at the edges. They are distinctly streaked with leaf veins and there are oil glands on the underside that contain essential oils. Peppermint has a shallow root system and quickly forms runners. The colour palette of the labiate flowers, which grow together in false spikes, ranges from white to pink to purple. These attract all kinds of insects, like butterflies and wild bees. Let your peppermint flower a second time in autumn, as this provides an important food source for insects in autumn.
Is peppermint perennial? Peppermint is a perennial herb that sprouts anew every year in spring.
When does peppermint flower? We can enjoy the splendour of peppermint’s flowers from June to September. During this time, a lot of insects are seen visiting the fragrant herb.
What is the difference between peppermint and mint? Peppermint belongs to the mint genus, which means it is one of 30 or so different species. Compared to other mint species, peppermint is characterised by its high menthol content and its refreshing, peppery aroma – the reason for its name as well as its continued popularity to this day. Find out about the loveliest peppermint varieties in our other article.
Caring for peppermint
Since peppermint is native to our region, it is very well adapted to the climate conditions in the British Isles and is extremely easy to care for. Find out how to grow peppermint at home here.
Fertilising, watering and pruning peppermint
Peppermint feels most at home in humus-rich soil. Therefore, a light feeding in spring, for example with compost or a slow-release fertiliser, such as our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food, is just the right thing. This provides a balanced, continuous supply of nutrients and gives the plant everything it needs. Simply spread the granules around the plant and lightly work into the soil. Then water the peppermint.
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The herb prefers a moist location, so in dry and hot conditions water it daily. Peppermint usually recovers from short dry spells.
Peppermint retreats into the soil every winter and sprouts again in spring. Prune peppermint close to the ground in autumn, so that it can start over again the following year.
Common diseases and pests
Peppermint can be attacked by both insect pests and fungal diseases. To avoid pesticide residues, it is better to use natural control methods for herbs.
One dreaded fungal disease is peppermint rust (Puccinia menthae). This fungus is characterised by dot-like, rust-red spots on the underside of the peppermint leaves and yellowish spots on the top. Affected plants are no longer suitable for harvesting. The afflicted plants must be radically cut back, after which healthy stems usually grow back. Transplanting can help with particularly heavy infestations or susceptible varieties. Both too much shade and plants growing too close together can lead to peppermint rust infestations.
Another fungus that can affect peppermint is powdery mildew (Erysiphaceae). This can be recognised by a white coating on the top of the leaves. A natural remedy against powdery mildew is to spray the plant with field horsetail tea, which can now be bought ready-made in specialist shops. In addition, remove affected parts of the plant immediately to prevent the fungus from spreading. Pruning close to the ground can usually be done without hesitation, as the peppermint will always sprout anew.
An infestation with the mint leaf beetle (Chrysolina herbacea) can be recognised by severely chewed leaf edges. The beetle is a metallic green to grey. To counteract the infestation, collect the beetles and eggs. It is best to pull out and dispose of heavily infested plants.
Is peppermint hardy?
Peppermint is well adapted to our climate and is therefore very hardy. It can withstand temperatures down to -40 °C. Nevertheless, a light winter protection of brushwood will not hurt. To do this, simply cover the peppermint with twigs in autumn. To protect peppermint in a pot from freezing temperatures, you can bring it indoors or insulate the pot well and store it off the ground.
As peppermint is a cross between water mint and spearmint, the plants are sterile. Instead of seeds, peppermint is propagated by division, root runners and cuttings. Because most varieties tend to spread, there is always enough plant material available for propagation. To do this, simply cut off rooted runners from the plant with a spade and plant them elsewhere, either directly outdoors or in a pot.
Is peppermint poisonous to dogs or cats?
Peppermint is not poisonous to humans or animals and can therefore be grown in the garden without hesitation. With its high menthol concentration, essential peppermint oil should only be used with caution on pets. It can cause nausea and vomiting if the animals ingest too much of it.
Even after flowering, peppermint leaves can still be used. Find out how to harvest and use peppermint properly in our dedicated article.
Peppermint is not only an extraordinary bee pasture during flowering, but preserved peppermint leaves can also be of great use to us, such as in the medicine cabinet. You can find out how to dry peppermint leaves correctly here.