Friday, November 13, 2009

The Mint Family

With the cool fall weather there are areas where the ground is covered with a number of species of mints. The mint family, Labiatae, is an important family of bee plants; and some of the mints are highly favored by the honey bees. The mints are mostly strongly aromatic herbs which can be identified by their square stems. Rubbing the leaves between the fingers releases the fragrance of the plants. Today’s photo shows henbit in bloom in the early spring. Henbit will be one of the year’s first plants covering the ground which will bring a sizable flow of nectar to the bee hive.

Many of the mints are of economic importance as ornamental plants, culinary herbs, and as sources of aromatic oils used in perfumes and other fragrances. The mints make excellent candidates for plants to be grown in pollinator gardens. Many can be found in culinary herb gardens at the kitchen door. Sage and thyme are quite drought hearty and can be grown in planter boxes or upturned concrete blocks. Spearmint is quite tolerant of wet soils and can be grown in either sunny or shady areas. Some common members of the mint family are spearmint, peppermint, sage, thyme, lavender, and the colorful coleus. Purple dead nettle is a close relative of henbit. The two plants are often found together covering lawns in the early spring. Other members of the mint family include motherwort, bee balm, or wild bergamot, horsemint, false dragonhead, or obedient plant, self-heal, or heal-all, and mountain mint. Other mints are the blue sage, cancer weed, or lyre-leaved sage, calamint, hairy skullcap, wood sage, or germander, forked blue curls, lemon balm, and catnip. Many of the mints make enjoyable flavorings for foods, and many are excellent sources of nectar and pollen for honey bees.

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