By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America
The mountain mint in Karen O’Brien’s garden was more than pretty; it was a pollination feast. Until, one fall morning when a helper mistook it for a weed and yanked it from its bed. Undeterred, O’Brien set out to replace the plant the following spring. And, she did it from seed.
Karen lives in Mendon, Mass., and is Chair of Botany and Horticulture for The Herb Society of America.
“It was very easy to grow,” she says. “It came up gang busters. Just put it in a good starter mix, keep it warm and it comes up easily. There are about 20 kinds of mountain mint. I picked the ones that are good for my zone.”
Despite its name and minty aroma , the native herb shouldn’t be mistaken for part of the common Mentha genus. Instead, mountain mint comprises 19 plants in the genus Pycnanthemum. And, it’s one of the few mints native only to North America.
Its strengths have earned Pycnanthemum or Mountain Mint the 2016 title Notable Native of the Year. Mountain Mint was chosen by the Native Herb Conservation Committee. “They select a native plant to highlight, trying to focus on plants that cover a large range and are less well-known or underutilized,” explains O’Brien.
Native herbs are seed-bearing, generally fleshy, annual, biennial, or perennial or aromatic or useful shrub, vine and tree which grows naturally in North America, without the influence — accidental or intentional — of man. It has been in the United States before European settlement. Excluded from this definition are crop vegetables and hardwood trees used for lumber.
Natives must be useful — past or present – for flavoring, medicine, ornament, economic, industrial, or cosmetic purposes to be considered an herb.
Demonstrating the value of natives – and highlighting one each year — encourages herb lovers to include them in gardens. Conserving native plants is like protecting endangered animal species. It ensures their long-term survival and contribution, both known and unknown, to the ecosystem.
Mountain Mint is a perfect plant for gardeners engaged in the The Herb Society of America’s GreenBridges initiative to preserve native herbs as well as pollinators. GreenBridges Program shows members and others how to develop butterfly- and bee-friendly gardens. These are “green bridges” linking islands of habitat so critical pollinators can move safely around the country.
Functionality aside, O’Brien says, “I would encourage people to grow it because it really is a pretty plant and it’s useful in so many ways.”
Check out HSA’s herb profiles for more information.