Tag Archives: herbal medicine

Growing Mint: Is It Invasive?

Mint is one plant that stirs the pot on social media! Recently, I’ve come across several reels and posts expounding on the horrors of this plant and how you should never plant it in your garden. It’s usually labeled as an invasive, and there are stories of it traveling through neighbors’ yards, through cracks in the sidewalk, and into the woods! That said, many people enjoy growing and using mint. It’s a beautiful herb with wonderful flavor and medicinal properties. In this post, we’ll discuss how to grow mint without it taking over your property.

Is Mint Invasive?

Yes, it can be invasive. Specific types of mint, like culinary mint (Mentha spp.), tend to be aggressive spreaders. Some mint species, like the aforementioned culinary mint, are considered weeds in some states.

While mint can outcompete many of your garden plants and will happily take over disturbed areas like vacant lots and pastures, you generally won’t find it creeping into native forests. Usually, when we think of invasive species, we think of species that readily outcompete our native plants in their natural habitats, like kudzu with its long vines climbing over and killing trees in its quest for the most sun. Mint is not invasive to the degree that kudzu is. 

Mint can be controlled, and we’ll discuss how to do that below. Certain species in the mint family are less aggressive. Also, some mints may spread readily but aren’t considered invasive in the same sense because they’re native to the United States.

Controlling Mint

Many mints can spread through seed and creeping roots. This double reproduction is one of the features that allows mint to spread so effectively. There are a few things we can do to prevent this spread. 

Many folks recommend growing mint in containers, and this is a great option! Mint makes a beautiful patio or porch plant. It tolerates full sun or partial shade, and there’s some evidence that some mint species may repel insects like mosquitoes. 

Growing mint in a small seperate bed is also a good option. If your bed is surrounded by grass, it’s easy to keep it mowed short around it and prevent the mint from spreading. Alternatively, you can hand-pull any escapees. Raised beds with solid bottoms can further eliminate spreading issues. Cut mint before it goes to seed to prevent it from self-sowing in other areas of your garden.

You can also plant mint in less-than-ideal habitats. Generally, mint doesn’t do well in very hot, dry spots. It will be much easier to manage where conditions are unfavorable.

Mint Varieties

As I mentioned above, not all mint species are as aggressive as culinary mint. Do your research before you plant a mint family species. While most mints can be used for culinary and medicinal preparations, their fragrance, flavor, and benefits may vary widely. Some mints are also more ornamental, and you will find variations in appearance and growth habits.

American Wild Mint
Mjhuft, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

American Wild Mint (Mentha canadensis)

American wild mint is native to most of the United States and much of Canada. It’s an excellent, native aromatic herb that puts on masses of tiny, purplish flowers in later summer. The flowers are a great source of pollen and nectar for native pollinators. Don’t let the fact that it’s native fool you; this mint can spread just as aggressively as the non-native species.

Anise-Hyssop (Licorice Mint)Anise-Hyssop or Licorice Mint (Agastache foeniculum)

This beautiful herb is native to the North-Central US and is cherished for its ornamental beauty and versatile uses. It offers a unique flavor for tea or culinary use, has medicinal properties, and is great for bees. 

Anise-hyssop will self-seed, and new patches may pop up, but it doesn’t tend to spread as aggressively as culinary mint.

HyssopHyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)

Hyssop is a beautiful semi-evergreen sub-shrub or large herb with stunning purple flowers. It has a strong flavor and a camphor-like odor, and it’s often used to season poultry. It doesn’t share culinary mint’s strong, aggressive tendencies.  

CatnipCatnip (Nepeta cataria)

This mint can be used medicinally or to amuse your cat. Note that only about 2 out of 3 cats are amused! The remainder, who do not have the dominant gene for this response, are bored by this plant. Catnip spreads some but doesn’t tend to creep as aggressively as culinary mint.

Lemon BalmLemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon balm resembles culinary mint and can be an aggressive spreader. True to its name, it offers citrusy, lemon-scented foliage rather than the classic mint smell. Lemon balm is widely used as an herbal tea. 

MintMint (Mentha sp.) 

This is culinary mint, the king mint of spreading. It’s excellent at reproducing through its creeping roots. It’s a hardy, aromatic herb with good flavor for tea and culinary use. 

Note that mint grown from seed produces plants that vary widely in flavor and appearance, from spearmint to menthol mint to peppermint. We recommend sowing it in pots and transplanting your favorite plants. 

White HorehoundWhite Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) 

Horehound is another aggressive spreader. Its pleasant fragrance, menthol-like flavor, and medicinal benefits make it a popular choice for lozenges and candies.


The mints are hated by some for their aggressive tendencies and beloved by others for their incredible fragrance and hardiness. If you’ve always wanted to add mint to your garden, you needn’t give up the idea entirely, just because it may spread. Try some of our control tips and select the right mint for your garden to enjoy these fun herbs.

Herb Garden: Spring Maintenance

Spring is an exciting time! It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of starting annuals, building new gardens, and adding new plants to our spaces. It’s also important to remember to care for our existing gardens. Spring is an excellent time to look at and refresh our kitchen herb or medicinal herb gardens. 

Tidy Beds

While it was once common practice to tidy herb garden beds in the fall, many of us now hold off on this chore. Various pollinators and beneficial insects use our gardens’ dead leaves and plant materials as winter habitats. Insects like solitary bees, butterflies, and predatory beetles depend on these materials to overwinter or as a place for their eggs or pupae. 

It’s best to wait until temperatures are consistently above 50°F to do your cleanup to help support these garden helpers. Then you can remove any dead material and trim perennials like lemon balm.

It’s also an excellent time to go through and pull any early weeds before they get a chance to take hold. A stirrup hoe can be a handy and quick way to remove small weeds. 

Add Compost to Your Herb Garden

Compost improves your soil by adding nutrients and structure. Adding compost can help heavy soils drain better and help sandy soil to hold more moisture. For most gardens, adding 2 to 3 inches of finished compost is a good idea once you have everything tidied up. This will allow you to get new annuals off to a good start and give perennials essential nutrients to put on good spring growth. 

It’s important to know your plants. Some herbs, especially those from the Mediterranean, like lavender and rosemary, don’t generally need or enjoy rich soil. Around these types of plants, you may only need to add compost every couple of years. 

Compost should be spread on top and gently raked in. Be sure not to disturb the roots of perennials or cover their crowns with compost. 

Mint PlantDivide Perennial Herbs

Early spring is an ideal time to divide many perennials. Spreading herbs like hyssop are good candidates for this. Take a sharp shovel and cut a clump in half or smaller sections. Try to damage the roots of each section as little as possible. Fill in around any section you leave with compost or good soil.

Dividing is easy but is a lot like transplanting annuals. There are a few essential steps to make sure your plants thrive. The first step is to stress your plants as little as possible. Avoid sunny days and transplant on cool, overcast days if possible. Transplant them into loose soil and add compost if needed. After transplanting, water your plants thoroughly and keep them moist while they get established.

You may also need to move plants to rearrange your garden or those that have self-seeded in less-than-ideal spots. Moving plants is very similar to dividing. You want to use a sharp shovel or trowel and try to get all the roots and disturb them as little as possible. 

Your divided or moved plants may wilt initially but will quickly recover if you’ve followed these steps. 

Mulch Your Herb Garden

We use mulch in all of our gardens, and it has many benefits. Mulch can help suppress weeds, keep the soil moist, and add organic matter as it breaks down. You can use whatever type of mulch you wish, but it’s best to avoid using dyed ones, especially around edible plants. 

Generally, you want your mulch to be about 2 inches thick, but some find 3 inches works better with coarser material. Don’t use too much mulch, as it can block air from the soil. Avoid putting mulch directly over the crowns of plants, as this can prevent new growth and cause crown rot in some species. 

Carefully Plan Any Changes and Additions

While completing your spring chores, taking stock and making a plan is a good idea. Did all of your perennials make it through the winter? What annuals did you enjoy most last year, and which did the best? What herbs did you run out of this winter?

Careful consideration can help you maximize your gardening efforts this season. When adding new beds, drawing them out on paper is a great idea. You can also use stakes and string to mark out their location.


Spring is fun, but we must remember essential maintenance. Completing these five tasks can help ensure you have a beautiful herb garden this summer. 

5 Edible Spring Weeds

Spring will come sooner than you think, and it’s a beautiful but challenging time! We’re busy in the garden in the spring, prepping beds, sowing, transplanting, amending, and weeding. However, it will still be weeks before most crops begin to produce. Traditionally, many folks would’ve foraged wild greens this time of year to help fill the “hungry months,” when last year’s stores are running out and this season’s crops have yet to mature. This spring, if you can’t wait to start harvesting, keep these five edible spring weeds in mind!

A Safety Note

None of this information is intended as medical advice. Always consult with a doctor. Avoid consuming any of these plants if you’re taking medications, pregnant, or breastfeeding until you’ve consulted with a medical practitioner. 

Foraging Tips

Harvest sustainably. Don’t take a whole patch or more than you need; try to leave root systems intact. This advice isn’t applicable if you’re pulling weeds from your garden. 

Avoid harvesting any wild edible from areas that may be contaminated, such as roadsides or lawns that have been sprayed with pesticides or other chemicals.

Follow local rules or guidelines if harvesting in public areas.

Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)

You’ve likely seen purple dead nettle before, even if you didn’t know what it’s called. Purple Dead Nettle is a common herbaceous plant that has naturalized throughout much of North America.

Once you know what you’re looking for, Purple Dead Nettle is easy to recognize. It has fuzzy heart or arrow-shaped leaves attached directly to a square stem. The leaves transition from green near the base to purple or pink near the top of the stem. The flowers are tiny, tubular purple flowers near the tip.

Purple Dead Nettle can be consumed raw or cooked. You can use the young leaves and the tops of the flower spikes in soups, salads, pestos, and stir-fries. You can also dry it for later use as you would other herbs.

Herbalists also employ purple dead nettle for various reasons. It’s believed to have anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, diuretic, and antibacterial properties. Traditionally, herbalists use purple dead nettle in teas, tinctures, salves, and poultices to boost the immune system, treat minor wounds and irritations, alleviate joint pain, and help ease colds.

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Native to Eurasia, chickweed has naturalized throughout the world and is a common sight in spring gardens, lawns, and waste places. It’s an annual in most areas but may be perennial in warm climates. 

Chickweed is sparsely hairy with oval, opposite leaves. The lower leaves have stalks or petioles, while the upper leaves are attached directly to the stem. It has dainty white flowers, and if you look closely, you’ll notice that they’re composed of five deeply lobed petals. Chickweed has green seed capsules that may appear hairy or fuzzy.

As the name suggests, it’s often grown for poultry, but it’s pretty tasty and nutritious for humans too! Unlike many wild greens, I’ve found chickweed to be mild and tender. It makes a wonderful addition to salads and pesto.

Chickweed is also sometimes used in folk medicine. It’s rich in iron and is a popular choice among herbalists for treating anemia. Historically, herbalists also employed chickweed to treat mild skin irritations like bug bites, sunburn, bronchitis, arthritis, and period pain.

Cleavers (Galium aparine)

Cleavers is known by many common names such as velcro plant, catchword, bedstraw, stickyweed, and hitchhikers, with most referencing the seeds’ ability to cling to people and animals. It’s native to North Africa, Europe, and Asia but has naturalized worldwide.

Cleavers is a low-growing annual with stems that creep along the ground and may become three feet or longer. The stems are angular or square-shaped and have hooked hairs that allow them to climb over other plants. It has simple narrow lance-shaped leaves borne in whorls of six to eight. 

In early bring or summer, cleavers produces tiny white or greenish, star-shaped flowers. The flowers are followed by spherical burrs forming clusters of two or three. The burrs are covered in hooked hairs that allow them to stick to fur and clothing, aiding in dispersal. 

Despite the hooked hairs, cleavers is edible. The stems, leaves, and flowers can be eaten before the seeds form. They’re best when cooked in dishes like soups and stews. Interestingly, cleavers are in the same family as coffee. The seeds can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute. 

In herbal medicine, folks have used cleavers as a diuretic tea and salve or poultice to treat minor wounds, burns, and rashes. As the common name bedstraw indicates, dried cleavers were once commonly used to stuff mattresses. Cleaver roots were once commonly used to make a permanent red dye. 

Some people experience a skin rash when coming in contact with the hairs of cleavers.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Taraxacum is a large genus of plants commonly known as dandelions. While this includes many species, for this post, we’ll focus on one of the most common species worldwide, Taraxacum officinale often referred to as common dandelion or dandelion.

It’s likely that you already know how to identify the common dandelion. The leaves form from the base and are oblanceolate, oblong, or obovate and narrower near the tip. They are usually shallowly or deeply lobed and have sharp or rounded teeth. Dandelions form yellow flowers, followed by seeds attached to silky pappi, which create parachutes allowing for wind dispersal. Dandelions have large taproots.

The leaves, roots, and flowers of dandelions are all edible. The young leaves and buds are often eaten raw in salads. Older leaves get more bitter and are better for use in cooked dishes. The roots can be eaten like other root vegetables or dried and ground into a coffee substitute. 

Dandelion flowers are often used to make dandelion wine or are sometimes added to baked goods. Recently, there has been some concern about using so many flowers and how this may harm bees. In reality, dandelions are not bees’ earliest or preferred food source. Many other species provide good early nutrition for bees, like willow blossoms and violets. Additionally, pruning dandelions encourages growth. 

Herbalists use dandelions internally and externally to help treat various ailments. They are believed to help with indigestion, support a healthy liver, treat inflammation, heal mild skin irritations, and more. 

Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album) 

Native to Europe, lambsquarters is now naturalized worldwide and is known by many names, including goosefoot, white goosefoot, fat-hen, wild spinach, and meld. Although it’s a cultivated plant in some areas, it’s considered a noxious weed in many others and can significantly impact crop yields. 

Lambsquarters leaves are widely varied in appearance but are generally more or less diamond-shaped and toothed. They grow in an alternate arrangement on the stem and often have a mealy white coating, especially on the underside. The stems have conspicuous grooves and are hairless and branched. The flowers form in clusters at the stem ends and are green and unassuming. They give way to shiny, black to brown seeds encased in star-shaped papery coverings.

The leaves, young shoots, flowers, and buds of lambsquarters are all edible and make an excellent cooked green. However, lambsquarters are high in oxalic acid and should be eaten in moderation. The seeds can also be eaten like a grain. Archeologists have found them mixed with other grains at Roman, Viking age, and Iron Age sites. It is also used as animal feed.

Herbalists often use lambsquarters to create a poultice for insect bites, sunburn, rashes, and minor wounds. Historically it has also been made into a tea to treat or prevent scurvy, diarrhea, gout, and rheumatic pains.