The mint family (lamiaceae) is very large. Although right now I'm thinking about the mentha or menthol group, this family includes lavender, basil, thyme, and catnip for starters, and even many common weeds like dead nettle and ground ivy. A family reunion for lamiaceae would be quite diverse.
In this part of the country, meadow mint is something that most country kids brought home for tea. It was also encouraged in farmhouse gardens.
|Meadow mint - Spearmint|
Spearmint is what I think of as "meadow mint" and it grows wild in many places. The creek where I spent most of my childhood summer days was lined with it - along with stinging nettle (we called it burn hazel), wild forget-me-nots, and jewelweed. For years, I associated the scent of spearmint vaguely with tadpoles, newts, sweat, and sunfish.
It showed up here on the farm, and has become a renewed favorite for my brother-in-law, who has nurtured a patch (in addition to that which has been plowed in the fields, and will forever continue to spread).
Around the same time, another mint that Susan Hess identifies as "fuzzy mint" while many also call it apple mint, but it is a very sweet and mild spearmint to my tastes, showed up and has also spread.
|Fuzzy mint or apple mint, a type of spearmint|
|Chocolate mint. Note the dark stems and veins.|
|Meadow mint, fuzzy mint, and chocolate mint together in a basket.|
Medicinally, mint has a lot to offer too.
It is so cooling and relaxing that it just claims a hot summer night. Iced mint tea on the porch, nice and sweet - right? It's full of antioxidants, has antibacterial properties, and has long been used for settling an upset tummy or flatulence. If you're prone to GERD, avoid peppermint, though. My friend Betty Pillsbury clued me into the fact that peppermint will relax the esophageal valve that causes that particular problem - but spearmint is fine. The tea calms coughs, soothes colds and sore throats, and can help bring down a fever.
One important caution -
While the essential oil is used commercially in all of these culinary treats, a very small quantity is toxic or even fatal (less than 1/4 ounce). A single drop can more than sufficiently flavor over a pound of mint candy. Use of the essential oil on infants can cause cardio-respiratory failure.
Grow and use the plants - it's got all the strength you need.