What Are Mountain Mints?
Mountain mignonites are small shrubs or trees that grow from the ground and produce seeds. They have no flowers, but they do produce seed pods which contain tiny white berries. These seeds will germinate if exposed to light for a few days. Once these seeds mature, they become miniature versions of their parent tree or shrub.
The species name “mignonia” means “little mint”. Mignons are native to Europe and Asia, but they have been introduced into North America where they now thrive in most areas of the country.
How Do You Grow Mountain Mints?
Growing mountain mints requires little attention other than regular pruning to keep them manageable. They like full sun so it’s best not to plant them too close together because they may shade each other out. If you live in a hot climate, consider planting them further away from your house.
You’ll need a sunny location with well drained soil. Avoid growing them near tall grasses or any type of weeds since they will compete for sunlight and nutrients.
They prefer moist soil so make sure there isn’t standing water around the area where you plan to plant them. If you have sandy soil, consider planting them in clay pots so you can easily move them around to regulate the amount of water they receive.
They can be grown from seed or from cuttings. If you want to start them from seeds, find a spot outside that receives partial shade since the seeds need some sunlight in order to germinate. If you don’t have success starting them this way, try planting the seeds a couple of weeks after your last frost and keep the soil moist but not wet.
Once they’re about a foot tall, you can transplant them to their permanent location. Since mountain mints reproduce rapidly, it’s common for gardeners to divide them every three or four years. To divide them, dig up the entire clump and trim off all but the largest stem. Plant the stems in a different location.
What Do Mountain Mints Look Like?
Mountain mignonites grow from one to six feet tall and have square stems similar to mint. The leaves are opposite from one another and pale green in color with scalloped edges. They produce clusters of small white or greenish colored flowers which give way to round seed pods.
What Do Mountain Mints Taste Like?
The leaves and stems have a pleasant minty taste. The flowers are too bitter to eat, but can be used in teas or as an ingredient in potpourri. The seed pods can be dried and used as a substitute for pepper. You can also use the leaves to make tea, but most people crush the leaves and stems prior to brewing. To release the minty oils in the leaves and stems, crush them with a mortar and pestle. You can also chop them up finely with kitchen shears or blender.
Mountain mignonites can be eaten fresh or dried. They make a nice addition to salads, butters, vinegars, and soups. They’re great in iced tea as well. They can be added to any recipe that calls for mint.
Some people dislike the flavor of mountain mints and consider it to be too powerful to eat in large quantities. If you like the flavor of peppermint, but find it a bit too strong, try substituting it with mountain mint in your cooking.
Propagating Mountain Mints
Propagating mountain mints is easy. You can propagate them by division, seed, or cutting. They grow extremely fast so you’ll need to divide them every three or four years to prevent them from taking over your garden. You can also share some with your neighbors!
Tips For Growing Mountain Mints
Mountain mignonites prefer partial shade but will survive in full sun. They thrive in moist soil, but will survive in most soil types as long as it’s not too rocky or dry. Just don’t plant them in a low-lying area that floods.
Mountain mignonites will spread quickly, so be sure to give them plenty of space. If you plant them in a garden bed, consider lining the bed with plastic to prevent them from spreading into other parts of the yard.
Harvesting Mountain Mints
You can harvest mountain mints at anytime. Just pinch off leaves and stems as needed. They’re great for use in teas and for cooking.
Once the flowers start to bloom, you can harvest them and use them in teas as well.
You can also harvest the seedpods once they turn completely brown. They will release their seeds once rubbed inside your hand. Crush the seedpods and use them as a substitute for pepper.
Harvesting the leaves and stems while they’re still green will encourage new growth leading to multiple harvests throughout the growing season.
When growing mountain mints, be sure to harvest them frequently. They grow so quickly, you’ll need to keep after them or you’ll end up with bare patches in your garden.
Growing Mountain Mints From Seed
If you’d like to grow more mountain mints or want to share them with friends, you can always grow them from seed. Collect the seeds once the seed pods turn brown and dry them completely.
You can sow the seeds directly into the ground during the early spring. Plant them about 1/4 inch deep and keep the soil moist but not soggy.
You can also start your seeds indoors about six weeks before the last frost. Plant them about 1/4 inch deep and keep them moist. Transplant them to their permanent location once the danger of a frost has passed. Space the seedlings 18 to 24 inches apart.
Mountain mints are ready to harvest about three months after being transplanted. You can keep them growing through the fall by mulching around the plants. You’ll also keep the mints from going to seed in the fall this way.
Mountain mints can cross with another type of labiate plant called horsemint or lemon balm (Monarda citriodora). If you’re growing them for their oils, you don’t want them to crossbreed so isolate them from any lemon balm plants you might have.
If you keep your mountain mints well-watered and fertilized, they should thrive. They’re fairly hardy, but they can get whiteflies, spidermites, and aphids. If you notice your mountain mints losing their shine and look a little dull, they could have a spidermite infestation. You can treat them with an insecticide or try rinsing them off in a bucket of soapy water.
If your mints get powdery mildew, you can’t do much. This is a fungus that attacks a wide variety of plants, and it’s almost impossible to get rid of. Just keep your plants as healthy as possible and wipe off any fungal growth you see with a damp cloth or perhaps an alcohol-water solution.
Sources & references used in this article:
Conservation assessment for Torrey’s mountainmint (Pycnanthemum torreyi Benth.) by SR Hill – 2007 – ideals.illinois.edu
Conservation assessment for the whiteleaf mountainmint (Pycnanthemum albescens Torr. & A. Gray) by SR Hill – 2007 – ideals.illinois.edu
Resource Recovery Plan For Torrey’s Mountain Mint Pycnanthemum torreyi Bentham in Pennsylvania by TA Block, AF Rhoads – 2013 – repository.upenn.edu
and Introduction by JM Traeger, RK Sutton – Proc. Iowa Acad. Sci – er.uwpress.org
Nectar-producing plants for honey bees by S Herbert, B O’Toole, Z Pan, T Akin… – … Symposium on Medicinal …, 1995 – actahort.org
Earlier Flowering in a Restored Wetland–Prairie Correlated with Warmer Temperatures (Ohio) by D Conover, S Pelikan – Ecological Restoration, 2010 – muse.jhu.edu
The Mint Family To Plant or Not to Plant by L Furrow, M Gardener – researchgate.net
Herbs in southern gardens by WJ McLaurin, SR McLaurin – 2008 – athenaeum.libs.uga.edu