Do Tomato Plants Smell Like Mint? (Quick Facts)

If you recently got into gardening or just smelled tomato plants, you might be quite surprised. It might smell like mint or be a bit pungent. Nailing down the actual smell of a tomato plant can be quite difficult. Some like it, and some don’t. So, do tomato plants smell like mint?

The distinct smell of a tomato plant is its defense mechanism. The plant uses it to keep itself safe from pests and also diseases. There are oils stored in the tip of the hair which are called trichomes.

This fuzzy part of the plant is the reason for the smell. And it’s very different from a tomato itself. Don’t worry. Your nose isn’t broken. Tomato plants actually have a unique smell. And in this guide, we’ll talk about all you need to know.

Why Do Tomato Plants Smell The Way They Do?

Probably one of the first things anyone notices about tomato plants is their distinct smell. It’s quite a unique smell. And not everyone likes it either. It’s a very polarizing smell. Kind of like tomatoes themselves, if you think about it.

Some people like tomatoes, others not so much. People might want tomatoes in their hamburgers or sandwiches. And others go out of their way to order without them or remove them before eating.

So, what’s the deal here? What are you smelling? Describing the smell of a tomato plant isn’t that easy. To some, it smells a bit minty, or piney. To others, it can smell earthy, musky, or even pungent.

The interesting bit is that the smell isn’t from the fruit. Only the leaves and stems smell like that. Tiny seedlings that haven’t even seen the sun also smell similar. It gives the plants a distinct smell. Let’s dig deeper.

The Secret Is in The Hairs

Look very closely at a tomato plant and you’ll see very fine hairs. That’s where the smell is coming from. Plain and simple. The stems are fuzzy and called trichomes. Trichomes aren’t exclusive to tomato plants.

You can find this fuzzy hair-like thing on other plants as well. And they serve a couple of purposes. There are different types of trichomes and each does its own thing.

One type of trichome is responsible for keeping water from evaporating. Plants need water, big shocker. I’m being sarcastic, of course. Well, anyway, these trichomes keep the water trapped inside so it doesn’t lose it all to evaporation.

The other type of trichomes helps the plants deal with stresses like temperature. There are trichomes called glandular trichomes. And these are the ones that contain oil seeds at the very tip.

And as I mentioned, these act as the plant’s defense mechanism against diseases and pests. The purpose of the smell is to deter pests away that might want to feed on the foliage. And that’s where you get the weird smell.

What Are In The Oil Seeds?

There are a couple of active ingredients that cause the smell. Namely, (Z)-3-hexenal, eugenol, limonene, linalool, beta-phellandrene, eugenol, 1,8-cineole, caryophyllene (E)-2-hexenal and humulene.

These compounds are exclusive to tomatoes. Or more accurately, the tomato hairs are called trichomes. This sort of unfolds the mystery of why no other plants have that distinct smell. I’m calling it distinct. It’s up to you to decide whether you like it or not.

And there’s a reason why I mention that. Some people might want to add that distinct smell to their food. Especially if they’re making homemade tomato soup or tomato sauce. To do this, you can just grab a couple of stems that have tomato leaves in your pot when cooking.

The trichomes will burst and simultaneously release their distinct flavor. And voila, you instantly have a pretty unique smelling (and tasting) dish. Bon Appetit?

Are These Compounds Safe?

There’s a common myth surrounding tomato leaves and particularly a compound called alkaloids. Alkaloids are believed to be toxic. Well, the answer is yes and no. Let me explain. We consume some type of alkaloids every day.

And all vegetables have alkaloids. Some alkaloids are very bad for you. Some aren’t. Alkaloids like nicotine and cocaine are bad!

Alkaloids like theobromine are found in chocolate or caffeine. And eating alkaloids to the point that they become harmful in one sitting is very, very difficult to do is not impossible. And this general lack of knowledge can be one reason why tomatoes get a bad rep.

Tomato plants contain a chemical compound called glycoalkaloid. Glycoalkaloids are alkaloids combined with sugar. Here’s the thing. A tomato plant will have different levels of glycoalkaloid concentration in different parts.

The highest concentration is found on the senescent leaves. Then the stems are second, followed by fresh leaves, then calyxes, then the fruits. And roots have the least amount of concentration. But the difference between the compound levels found in the fruit and the leaves is pretty negligible. This means that you can’t specifically say that the fruit is safer to eat.

Another thing is that this compound, glycoalkaloids, will naturally pass through your feces or urine. There’s a small caveat. Some people are allergic to this. This can make people uncomfortable when exposed to it.

If you’re allergic, you might feel some stomach irritation. But to feel any kind of severe effect, you’ll have to consume an unrealistic amount of it. A toxic dose of tomatine is at least a pound. This can be considered ‘hazardous.

Meaning, you would need to eat at least one pound of tomatine for it to be a problem. If you’re curious about a scientific study, you can check this paper out. It concluded that there was no significant harm to body weight, or liver weight and isn’t considered adverse for humans.

You can check out this great article for more references on how sometimes tomatine can be helpful. So, all in all, tomato leaves aren’t as harmful as some might think.

Smelling Scents That Aren’t There

Before wrapping up, I would like to mention something about phantosmia. This isn’t directly related to why tomato plants smell like mint particularly. But it’s something I would like to touch on.

Phantosmia is an olfactory condition that makes you smell things that aren’t there in your environment. An underlying condition can also cause it. And the smell can be either foul or pleasant. This depends on the person.

There are a couple of reasons why this might happen. It could be from an upper respiratory infection or head injury. Not only this. Other causes can include trauma, brain tumors, inflamed sinuses, temporal lobe seizures, or medical conditions like Parkinson’s disease.

If you have any symptoms like this, I highly suggest that you talk to a doctor. If you landed on this guide because you’re smelling tomato plants randomly, then it’s worth looking into it. As the old saying goes, better safe than sorry.

Not to bring the mood down. It’s just something I want to touch on to make sure that I cover every aspect.

If you landed on this article because you recently started gardening and discovered how tomato plants smell, that’s cool.

Wrapping Up

 Alright then, to wrap up, do tomato plants smell like mint? Well, first of all, it doesn’t specifically smell like mint. And it can smell different depending on the person. And some love the smell, others don’t.

The distinct smell comes from the oil in the tip of the hair. And it’s a defense mechanism for the plant to keep pests and diseases away!