Tennesse Wild Mint Plants

Written by timothy baron
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Tennesse Wild Mint Plants
Domestic mints share many common features with their wild cousins, including an abundant array of tiny purple flowers. (mint image by Alison Bowden from Fotolia.com)

There are dozens of edible plants that grow wild in the mountains and plains of Tennessee, including varieties of mint. While these wild species might not be as palatable as their domestic cousins spearmint and peppermint, they have a strong flavour that some individuals find appealing. There is one variant, perilla mint, which should never be eaten, however, due to its high toxicity.

Wild Mint

Technically speaking, the term "wild mint" refers to the species, Mentha arvensis L. It looks almost identical to the domestic cultivars, excepting it has glossier leaves. The taste, however, is notably different. While it still is undeniably minty, the mild tingling associated with domestic mints is amped up considerably, giving wild mint a somewhat unpleasant bite. Some people enjoy this sensation, however, and will go out of their way to chew on leaves. If you already enjoy the taste of mint, you might also enjoy the flavours of its more potent cousin. In addition to the leaves, the purple flowers can also be eaten, though they share the leaves' strong bite.

Mountain Mint

Although not technically "wild mint," mountain mint is nevertheless a wild variant of the mint family. It also has a strong mint flavour that some find unpleasant, though this same bite has given it a history of medical utility, most notably as a pain killer and stimulant. While it will not provide a rush of energy like caffeine does, it can temporarily shock an individual into alertness. The most extreme example of this is a shamanistic practice of shoving crushed mountain mint petals into the nostrils of a dying person in order to "revive" him.

Perilla Mint

Perilla mint is a distant cousin of those edible varieties used in cooking and alternative medicine. However, it is mildly toxic and should never be eaten, and according to the University of Tennessee, it especially dangerous to cattle and causes "more cattle deaths in Tennessee than any other toxic plant." It is most readily distinguished from other wild mints by its purple and green mottled leaves, though in some instances the purple doesn't come through. Because of this danger, do not casually eat wild mint unless you have a field guide and are capable of identifying the toxic variants from edible ones.

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