While you were out for a walk you saw some wild mint growing happily on the field and the idea to make a fresh tea from fresh herbs came to your mind. Is that really mint? How can you tell it apart from other mints? What can you use it for?
Wild mint is edible but it has a stronger flavor and aroma than regular mint. You can tell it apart by smelling and examining the stem, height, leaves, flowers. Like other mints, it is used in various dishes, desserts, and drinks. You can also extract oils from it to add flavor to dishes.
As you can see, it’s also a very interesting and versatile herb. Let’s learn more.
Absolutely! You can either drink it or eat it. For example, it can be consumed as tea or as an addition to lemonade. You can even make wild mint sorbet. Some people even make food extracts out of it.
Wild mint is a plant in the mint family found in meadows, marshes, and streams that have moisture in the soil. It is a warm-loving plant but still can thrive well in partially shaded places. It grows in soil that has a lot of minerals.
This plant which can bloom all summer provides a valuable food source for bees and other pollinators. It is also a food source for these animals: spider mites, slugs spider mites, flea beetles.
In cooking, it can be added to many hot and cold drinks and as a flavor enhancer to dishes. It can also be used as an herbal tea for digestion, stress relief, reducing nausea, and improving sleep.
There are many varieties of wild mint: Mentha canadensis L., Mentha xgentilis, Mentha longifolia L., Mentha piperita, Mentha glabrior, Mentha penardii and more. This section is a general description of wild mint characteristics.
1 – Smell Test
Crushed leaves or stems will smell stronger than regular mint.
2 – The Stems
Is it square on all sides? All plants in the mint family have this characteristic. The color is from red to bright green, and is covered with fine hairs.
3 – Height
Wild mint generally grows to between 6–18 in (15.24–45.72 cm) tall.
4 – Leaves
The leaves are green and serrated on the sides and hairy on the underside and have pronounced veins. The leaves are 1-2 in (2.54–5.08 cm) long and are elliptical in shape. The tip of a leaf is pointed.
5 – Leaf Arrangement
The leaves are arranged in pairs, with each pair facing in a different direction across the stem.
6 – Flower
The individual flowers are irregular in shape, tubular, and about 1/8 inch long. The petal colors can vary from white to pale purple or pink clustered near each pair of leaves on the stem. Each flower has four petals, with one of them lobed. The plant blooms from July to September.
Although both are from the mint family, the difference between wild mint and regular mint lies in the type of habitats they grow on.
I have already described the habitat of wild mint in a previous section. Meanwhile, regular mint is an umbrella term used for several mint varieties such as: spearmint, peppermint, orange mint, apple mint, pineapple mint.
Not all wild mints in the Mentha genus are pure mints. There are plenty of hybrids as well. Some of them are: heart mint (Mentha × gentilis), peppermint (M. aquatica x spicata), and Mentha × gracilis.
There are several varieties within the wild mint family and likewise in the regular mint family. We will compare just one common variety from each family.
The leaves are very narrow, elliptical, smooth along the edges. Further, they grow on the opposite sides of the square stem.
The flowers appear in small-sized bright white clusters at the top of the stems. It emits the characteristic mint smell when you rub or crush the leaves or stem together.
It tastes the same as spearmint but it has a more pungent flavor due to the menthol (40%) content in the leaves. When you take a bite of a leaf, you will feel a slight burning sensation on your tongue and it will feel a little numb but the menthol will give you a cooling effect.
Due to its abundant menthol content, it is one of those varieties where essential oils are extracted. This plant is a hybrid that was produced by crossing spearmint and watermint.
There are so many recipes where wild mint is used: fresh tea, lemonade, ice cream, and sweet and savory recipes. In fact, I have two delicious wild mint recipes for you.
Here’s a tasty wild mint recipe that is perfect on a hot summer day!
Prepare the following ingredients:
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) mint infusion
- 3 cups (720 ml) water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp chopped wild mint
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) lemon juice
Place three large sprigs of mint in a cup (240 ml) of boiling water. Set aside for at least 30 minutes to soak and cool. Dissolve the sugar In 3 cups boiling water.
Remove the mint, lemon juice, and mint infusion from the heat and set aside to cool. If you have one, pour it into a hand-cranked ice cream freezer once it has chilled. Alternatively, a metal pan can be used in a regular freezer.
If you’re using a hand-cranked ice cream maker, make sure it is packed with ice and that is rotated frequently. If using a metal pan, remove the sorbet when it has partially frozen, pat it down, and refreeze. After that, harden the sorbet by repeating the process one more time.
Are you now interested in including mint in your garden? Then the best place to start is with our article on the best container for mint plants.
Prepare the following:
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1½ cups loosely-packed wild mint
- 1½ cups loosely-packed basil or parsley, plus some extra for garnish
- 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 can (12 oz) whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
- 1 cup Roma or other plum tomatoes, cut in half
- 1 lb cavatelli
- Chile oil (optional)
Crush garlic and a pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle. Crush the mint and basil into the garlic and salt in steps until well blended. To hydrate, use no more than 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
In a large pan over medium heat, warm 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Add pesto when the oil begins to shimmer. Cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is hot. Cook for 30 seconds, or until red pepper flakes are aromatic.
Season with salt to taste after adding the tomatoes. Simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the tomatoes begin to fall apart and the sauce thickens.
Meanwhile, start boiling a large pot of strongly salted water. Cook cavatelli for 2 minutes less than the packet recommends. Drain cavatelli and set aside 1 cup of the pasta water.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the cavatelli and the sauce. Thin the sauce as needed, with the leftover pasta water. Cook, stirring periodically, for 1 minute, or until sauce clings loosely to pasta.
Season with salt to taste. If desired, garnish with basil leaves and drizzle with chile oil. Serves 4–6 people.
Wild mint is edible, but it is slightly bitter compared to what you can usually get from the supermarket (spearmint and peppermint). Crushed wild mint has a strong aroma. There are many varieties of wild mint. Let’s look at the three most common.
1 – Wild Field Mint
The leaves of the wild mint (Mentha arvensis) have a strong mint flavor which you can eat raw or cooked. Raw leaves can be used in fresh tea and lemonade. It is also possible to extract an oil that can be used to flavor lollipops, ice cream, and even cakes.
2 – Mountain Mint
The two popular mountain mints (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium and Pycnanthemum muticum) have a strong mint flavor. When making mint jelly, you just need a little amount to reduce the mint and emphasize the earthy flavor.
You can use this plant pretty much how you use regular mint in both sweet and savory recipes, and in making tea.
This mint is also known by the name, narrow-leaved mountain mint.
3 – Purple Bee Balm
The purple bee balm (Monarda) has a flavorful minty orange fragrance and has a taste that will remind you of oregano. It is safe for human consumption.
The flowers and leaves can be eaten raw, as an addition to a dish, or prepared as a tea. Dried purple bee balm leaves are used as flavor enhancers to dishes
Other names for this mint variety are: bergamot, horsemint, and oswego tea.
Can You Chew Mint?
Yes, you can chew mint. In fact, mint can help fight off the bacteria that cause bad breath. Also, chewing the leaves has the effect of cleaning the tooth surface by scraping away food debris.
If you are new to mint cultivation we also have an article on whether or not mint is a creeper.
Here is a simple step-by-step procedure for making a mint extract from any kind of mint variety which you can use to flavor your dishes.
What You’ll Need:
- Enough amount of wild mint
- Vodka or any unflavored alcohol that is 40% or higher
- Mason jar or any glass jar that has a tight lid
- Kitchen paper towels
- Mortar and pestle
- Any tool you can use to tamp down the leaves
- Sticker label
- Check the leaves. Clean and remove the parts you don’t want to use.
- You can use either the leaves or the stem or the part that has the stronger flavor.
- Fill the strainer with the plucked mint leaves.
- Rinse the leaves and let the water drain.
- Lay out the leaves on the counter.
- Lay kitchen towels on the leaves and gently pat them to dry. Let sit a few minutes to let the paper absorb the remaining water.
- Gather up the leaves and crush them with your hands to release the oils. You can also give the leaves a gentle crushing using mortar and pestle.
- Pack the leaves into the bottom of the glass jar up to about half of the jar or less.
- Pour vodka or any alcohol until the leaves are fully immersed.
- Use any kitchen tool to pack down the leaves further into the bottom. This will lessen the space between the leaves that was created when we did step 9. Be sure that all of the leaves are submerged in alcohol, if not, mold could develop.
- Cover the jar with the lid and shake vigorously.
- Repeat step 10 then cover again.
- Label your jar with the date you started it.
- Leave the jar in a dark spot for 4 to 8 weeks.
It is important to always wash wild mint because we can assume that the leaves are full of contaminants such as animal urine or droppings, bugs, fertilizers, homemade or commercial pesticides, and so on.
If you only harvested enough mint for one portion of cooking, then it’s okay to place your mint in a strainer and wash it under cold water.
If you gathered a bunch for other purposes such as for drying (where the concentration is then higher), here’s what to do. First, remove dead leaves and other debris from the plant. Then cut off the roots or shorten the stems because during handling, as you may have introduced contamination on the stalk.
Method 1: Using a bowl of cold water
Gather the bunch of herbs and place them in a bowl of cold water leafy side fully submerged. Shake the leaves gently, to ensure that all the dirt falls into the bottom of the bowl.
Take the herbs out of the bowl and place them to dry on paper towels. Throw away the dirty water and refill the bowl then proceed to wash the herb one more time.
Method 2: Using running tap water
Gather the herbs and with the top of the herbs facing downward, place the bunch under cold tap water. Let the water run through the entire leaves and stalks.
Then hold the herb with your free hand and starting from the top going down, gently rub the leaves to remove stubborn dirt. Place the bunch on a clean surface to air dry a little bit and then place on paper towels to thoroughly dry.
I have already discussed the usual places where this mint can be found. However, when foraging there are certain places that are to be avoided because of high chemical activity that has possibly made the plants unsafe for human consumption.
Do not forage in areas known for the use of pesticides and herbicides. If you do not see any weed for instance, then probably some type of chemical is used in the area.
It is also discouraged to gather herbs near highways because of water runoff from roads where chemicals were used also where pollution from vehicles could easily reach the herbs.
Many people use mint and mint essential oils to repel insects such as mosquitos, flies, ants, beetles, aphids, cabbage moths, spiders, and ants.
Many gardeners use the same things, sprigs of mint, or mint planted in pots to deter unwelcome animals from foraging or destroying plants. Deer, rats, mice, skunks, voles, and groundhogs are repelled by the mint.
There are some mint varieties that you can allow your pets to access.
1 – Dogs
Wild mint, spearmint, and peppermint are all non-toxic to dogs.
The truth is, mint is used in dog treats and dog food to freshen breath. Fresh mint leaves can be eaten by dogs, but only in small amounts each day to avoid gastrointestinal issues.
The English pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) is a mint variety that is hazardous to dogs because it contains the chemical pulegone. This compound is toxic not only to dogs but also to humans. It causes liver damage and organ failure when consumed in excessive amounts.
Another mint that is dangerous to dogs is the perilla mint which I will discuss further in section 6 – Livestock below.
2 – Cats
Most varieties of mint are safe for cats in small quantities.
In fact, catnip and catnip are members of the mint family. The dangers of mint lie in the essential oils in the leaves which causes gastrointestinal illness.
The English pennyroyal has the side effect of liver failure in cats. Mint poisoning is a blanket term that describes mint toxicity in cats. Symptoms are 1) nausea, 2) vomiting, 3) diarrhea, and 4) muscle weakness.
3 – Rabbits
Rabbits can safely eat with no risk a large number of herbs including mint.
A small amount of mint is good for your rabbit’s health requirements. Including a sprig of mint in your rabbit’s feed will give your furry friend proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins A, potassium, and iron.
Do not go over the top with the mint or your furry friend will have a stomach upset. Also, be sure that the mint you give is free from toxic chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides.
4 – Hamsters
Mint is safe for hamsters but only if given in small amounts.
The side effect is gastrointestinal irritation.
5 – Pet Reptiles
Mint is safe to feed to most common reptiles kept as pets.
You can feed your bearded dragon tiny quantities of mint but don’t forget not as daily regular feed.
Many lizards are repelled by mint fragrance. Some people use peppermint essential oil to repel lizards from their gardens.
These mint varieties are recommended for terrariums: Mentha sachalinesis, M. spicata, and M. sauveolens.
6 – Livestock
The Perilla Mint (Peri indicutescens L. Britt.) is a very poisonous variety that causes serious side effects to cattle, horses, and other ruminants that are usually left out to pasture.
Its toxicity is attributed to the compone ketones. These compounds are used in tanning, hydraulic fluids, as a solvent in the manufacturing lacquer, and more.
The effect of perilla mint ketones on livestock is acute respiratory distress (ARDS) where lungs get inflamed to an extent that breathing gets harder. It is also known as panting disease.
This plant is known by other names too: beefsteak plant, Chinese basil, purple mint, and rattlesnake weed.
Wild mint is known by the scientific name, Mentha arvensis. “Mentha” comes from Greek mythology. The tale goes that Persephone the goddess of the Underworld turned the nymph Minthe into the plant beside the river Cocytus so that she would be trampled on forever and so that Hades couldn’t seduce her anymore.
Indeed there are other mint species that share some characteristics with wild mint which makes them look similar to it. Two species that come to mind: Northern Bugleweed and American Water Horehound.
Both plants have a leaf arrangement and flower appearance similar to wild mint. The only way you can tell which is wild mint is to examine the stem and smell the crushed leaves. The two plants mentioned are less hairy and have a weak mint aroma compared to wild mint.
1. There are many genera and varieties of mint and a lot are safe to consume however some of them are toxic to pets in large quantities and to livestock.
2. There are a few mints that are specifically toxic to animals: perilla mint and English pennyroyal
3. Placing mint in your garden is a humane way to deter some animals from destroying your crops.
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“Mentha arvensis (Wild Mint)” by n.a. in Minnesota Wildflowers
“Pycnanthemum tenuifolium” by n.a. in North Carolina University
“Cool Down with Wild Mint (+ A Wild Spearmint Chocolate Pear Cake)” by n.a. in Food52
“Are Bee Balm Poisonous” and “Are Bee Balm Deer Resistant” by n.a. in Plant Addicts
“What’s the Difference between Mint and Peppermint?” by n.a. in Imperial Sugar
“Wild Mint (Mentha arvensis L.)” by n.a. in BWSR
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“Get Fresh Breath Now: Parsley and Mint” by Debra Ronca in howstuffworks
“Perilla Mint” by Larry Steckel and Neil Rhodes in University of Tennessee
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