What is Hierbabuena and How is it Different from Menta?

There's no easy answer...

Hierbabuena
••• Hierbabuena. Andres Nieto Porras/Creative Commons

Hierbabuena and menta are different things in Spain, but both are generally translated into 'mint' in English. So what's the difference?

When you visit Granada, you'll find hierbabuena (pronounced 'YER-ba BWEN-ah') offered in a couple of different drinks. The Moroccan-style tea houses all offer green tea like you'd get in north Africa - very sweet with lots of mint in it - while many restaurants and bars offer limonade con hierbabuena - a refreshing mixture of lemon juice, sugar, mint and water.

 

"No es menta, es hierbabuena", a Spaniard will tell you when you say "Ooh, fresh mint in my mojito". But they're never able to tell you exactly what the difference is.

So what is hierbabuena and how is it different from menta, the Spanish word for mint? And how do they correspond with the English words 'mint', 'spearmint' and 'peppermint'?

The short answer is that hierbabuena is 'spearmint' in most cases. This is the mint you will get in your local supermarket for most culinary uses. 

See also:

Hierbabuena and Menta: the Dictionary Translations

The popular translation site wordreference.com gives the following translations:

hierbabuena sustantivo femenino
mint

menta sustantivo femenino
mint

Well that wasn't much help. Let's try the reverse:

mint sustantivo
uncountable (spear~) menta f (verde)
uncountable (pepper~) menta f, hierbabuena f

Still not a great help, is it? Even this Hierbabuena v Menta Forum Post leaves us none the wiser.

Hierbabuena v Menta According to Wikipedia

According to the Spanish Wikipedia:

Hierbabuena puede referirse a:
El nombre común de la planta Mentha spicata;
El nombre común de la planta Mentha pulegium.

According to the English Wikipedia, Mentha spicata is spearmint and Mentha pulegium is pennyroyal.

On the other hand:

Menta puede referirse a:
El género botánico Mentha
El nombre común de la planta Mentha pulegium.

Huh? So Mentha pulegium (Pennyroyal) is referred to as both menta and hierbabuena, while spearmint is only known as hierbabuena.

And hierbabuena can therefore indicate either Pennyroyal or spearmint.

I wish I'd never started now!

(Incidentally, peppermint in Spanish is menta piperita or sometimes menta peperina (possibly in Latin America)).

So How do I Recreate my Hierbabuena Mojitos and Moroccan Teas When I Get Home?

I have it on good authority that the hierbabuena that you find in mojitos and Moroccan-style tea in Spain is spearmint. Most common 'fresh mint' plants bought outside of Spain tends to be spearmint.

So, after all that, 'hierbabuena' is mint as far as most visitors to Spain are concerned!