Variability in Seed-Grown Mints
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: No Name Given
Posted on: November 07, 2004

I have seen a couple of your entries cautioning gardeners not to grow mints from seed, as they will not come true to type, such as the following entry, at the link listed:

http://www.ibiblio.org/herbmed/faqs/culi-2-9-mint.html

"From: conrad.richters.com (Conrad Richter)

Mints - Mentha spp. Seeds -- Do not buy

The best mints cannot be grown from seeds. They are propagated asexually either by cuttings or division. Often seeds are offered in catalogues or in seed racks, but the plants that grow from these will be inferior rogues not worth the bother. The flavour and odour may have some degree of menthol, but the mix of oils is almost always a disappointment to anyone who has enjoyed the fresh, clean scents and flavours from a good spearmint or a good peppermint."

First I would like to say, that I realise that there is a great variability in seedling mint, and that most often mint seed when offered is usually some form of spearmint, as the true peppermint plant is a sterile hybrid. But, here are my questions:

In fact, we are working on lines of mint that do in fact reproduce well from seeds, with a wonderful spearmint flavour. We are nowhere near being able to bring these mints to market, but we are very excited by this lines. We feel that there would be consierable interest in them because the potted plant industry can grow herbs much more cheaply from seeds than from cuttings.

How much variability can be had from a growout of commercial (spearmint) mint seeds -- that is, are the seedlings all basically equally aromatic but with variable flavor, or do you get real extremes either far stronger or weaker than the parent plant? (Is there ever a burning hot or a completely tasteless seedling?) I realise that the percentages of the flavor-containing phenols will vary in a seedling lot. How about in a growout of other mint species (apple mint, water mint, corn mint) -- is there any of this great variability?

Because of Mentha’s propensity to hybridize, you are right to expect that there is some variability. I never tried to assess the range of flavour or aroma in the commercial seed-grown mints. All of the commercial spearmint and "peppermint" are all forms of Mentha spicata and they all have poor flavour and aroma. My impression is that the seedlings of any one batch of seeds is pretty consistently poor -- that is, I don’t recall that there were a few individuals, for example, with a sweeter spearmint scent in a sea of rouges. Frankly, for our purposes, a quick pinch of leaves from a grow box of seedlings was all that we needed to satisfy ourselves that the batch was not acceptable to us, so we did not investigate more carefully to see if there were in fact some individuals that were better.

I have not noticed much variability in corn mint or water mint. But again, this is based on a very simple sampling by pinching and on gross visual features of the seedlings themselves.

Have you ever encountered a tasteless (or nearly so) mint? I mean mint, as in Mentha species; of course there are many other relatives in the mint family.

Yes, I have seen Mentha plants with little discernable scent. I wouldn’t say that they are totally devoid of scent, but I would say that their scent is both weak and difficult to characterize.

Of the commercially available mints other than spearmint and peppermint (and their derivatives) what is the most tasteless or mild mint? On the market now are many confusing and new ‘fruit flavor’ mints, pineapple apple banana lime lemon etc. that just weren’t around when I was pursuing horticulture many years ago. (I would assume the ‘hottest’ or most intense mint would be a commercial spearmint or especially a peppermint cultivar).

‘Marilyn’s Salad’ mint is very mild. I am not sure that it is the mildest of the commercial mints, but it is strikingly mild compared to many others. This of course is a good feature, as this is a mint that we are advocating should be used mixed in with salad greens.

Thank you for considering these questions. I am not a grower, this is out of pure curiosity.

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