by J. Thomas Gebauer, ASLA
Each week TLC brings you one featured native plant to highlight the wonderful, beautiful native plants that are available to us here in Teton County. We choose to highlight natives specifically for the adaptations to this climate, their food value to regional wildlife, decreases the damage done by exotic invasive species and we believe they promote the true natural beauty of this land.
This weeks featured native plant to Teton County is the wild mint (Mentha arvensis). This plant is so widely distributed that it is considered circumboreal, which means that it is found around the world in the northern boreal regions. With this large distribution, the plant has been adapted and used for a wide variety of applications throughout human history as a food source, medicine, teas, deodorant, and oil extracts to name a few.
North American Indians made a cold infusion of the plant as a lotion for fever and influensa. A compound infusion was taken and poultice was applied to the chest for pneumonia. A decoction of plant parts was taken for stomach pain, colds, swellings, headaches, diarrhea, and fevers. Dried leaves were chewed and swallowed for chest pains and heart ailments. Fresh leaves were put in the nostrils for colds. An infusion of leaves and stems was taken for vomiting, colds, pains, swellings, fevers, headaches, to prevent influensa, for stomach troubles. and indigestion. Leaves were used for carious teeth and in the sweatbath for rheumatism. A poultice of crushed leaves was applied to swellings, to the gums for toothaches, to areas of pain and swellings, for rheumatism and arthritis, and for eye trouble.
The leaves of wild mint are edible, raw or cooked. Having a quite strong minty flavor with a slight bitterness, they are used as a flavoring in salads or cooked foods. A herb tea can be made from the fresh or dried leaves. The North American tribes used the leaves to make tea or beverages, to spice pemmican and soups, and to add flavor to certain meats in cooking. Plant parts were packed in alternate layers with dried meat for storage. An essential oil from the plant is used as a flavoring in sweets and beverages. The leaves contain about 0.2% essential oil.
Wild mint is often used as a domestic herbal remedy, being valued especially for its antiseptic properties and its beneficial effect on the digestion. Like other members of the genus, it should not used by pregnant women because large doses can cause an abortion. The whole plant is anaesthetic, antispasmodic, antiseptic, aromatic, and has agents that counteract inflammation, that relieve and remove gas from the digestive system, induce sweating, promote or assist the flow of menstrual fluid, promote secretion of milk, relieve fever and thirst, give strength and tone to the stomach, and is a stimulant.
The plant is used as an insect repellent. Rats and mice intensely dislike the smell of mint. The plant was therefore used in homes as a strewing herb and has also been spread in granaries to keep the rodents off the grain. The leaves also repel various insects. Native people used leaves and stems as perfume to deodorize houses. Leaves were powdered and sprinkled on meat and berries as a bug repellant. Plants were boiled with traps to deodorize them so that the smell of blood would not deter animals. Plants were boiled with traps to destroy the human scent. An essential oil is obtained from the plant. The yield from the leaves is about 0.8%. The sub-species M. arvensis piperascens produces the best oil, which can be used as a substitute for, or adulterant of, peppermint oil.
Consider planting next to streams or water features. The wild mint can have a weed-like appearance but the small size and coarse texture of the simple leaves can be used to accent a fallen rock wall or rustic feature. The main function in the modern landscape is as an herb. Put in your herb garden to make teas, medicines or to simply eat in salads.
Scientific name: Mentha arvensisCommon name: Wild MintDuration: Short PerennialLife form: ForbGrowth form: Single StemGrowth Rate: ModerateFire resistance: NoFire tolerance: NoneToxicity: NoneDrought tolerance: Low Commercial availability: Readily AvailablePalatable to browsing animals: LowPalatable to grazing animals: Lowmoisture use: MediumSoils: Loam, Clay, Wet Height: 8-32 inches tallLeaves: Opposite, narrowly ovate, simple, toothedFlowers: Funnel-shaped with 4 spreading lobes, white to
light purple or pink, 4-7 mm long, numerous in compact,
separate whorls, borne in the axils of the middle and upper
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– Frank Lloyd Wright