Among the various Mentha spp. (mints) and their hybrids, Spearmint makes one of the better-flavored mint teas. Spearmint flavoring is also used in chewing gum and other products; it has significant economic importance. Spearmint has been widely cultivated since ancient times, and was introduced to the British Isles by the Romans. Distinguishing the various mints and their hybrids is often rather difficult. Spearmint can be identified by its hairless stems and leaves, the lack of petioles on its leaves, the wrinkled appearance of its leaves, the pleasant mint fragrance of its leaves, and its terminal spikes of flowers. Other mints tend to be more hairy, their leaves usually have petioles and they are less wrinkled in appearance, their leaves may not have a pleasant mint fragrance, or their flowers may occur in axillary whorls above the leaves.
This wildflower is a herbaceous perennial about 1-2' tall. The central stem and any lateral stems are light green to reddish green, 4-angled, and glabrous. Pairs of sessile opposite leaves occur along these stems. Individual leaves are 1-2½" long and ½-1½" across; they are lanceolate to ovate and dentate along their margins. The elongated teeth of the margins have narrow tips that bend toward the tip of each leaf blade. The upper surface of each leaf is medium green and glabrous; it has a
Spearmint is occasional in scattered localities throughout Illinois (see Distribution Map). Spearmint was introduced from Europe as a medicinal and culinary herb, but it has escaped from cultivation and naturalized in mainly disturbed habitats. These habitats include low areas along rivers, damp weedy meadows, roadside ditches, areas along the foundations of buildings, edges of yards, and vacant lots. Spearmint is often cultivated in gardens.
M. spicata has a very widespread distribution, but due to its long and close relationship with man, it is very hard to establish where it is native and where introduced. According to the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 2010), it is native to Europe east through Siberia and the Middle east to China. In Europe, it is native to most of the region except the Baltic states where it is absent and it is apparently introduced to Spain, Corsica, the Balearic Islands and the Crimean Peninsula. It has also apparently been introduced to Africa, Australia, New Zealand, North and South America, Madeira, the Azores and the Canaries.