- Water Mint
Water mint is an herb from the mint family (Mentha genus), with the scientific name Mentha aquatica. It is very similar to other mint types like Mentha arvensis (or the corn mint) but like the name implies it prefers wetlands and will even grow in water. It has a wide spread and can be found in almost all of the countries in Europe, as well as in north-west Africa and south-west Asia. It is a perennial herb that likes very wet soils.
It is usually encountered on the edge of water areas like ponds or rivers. It also grows alongside streams, or even in streams if the water is shallow. It also enjoys any other type of wet areas like marshes or wet forests. One of the best locations for the plant are dark wet woodlands, where it is not unusual to find a large number of water mints.
Like all plants form the mint family, water mint has a distinctive pleasant smell. The scent is very strong and can be noticed even after breaking a single plant or stepping on one. Besides the fresh aroma, water mint shares many other features of the mint family. The cross-section of the stem has a square shape and leaves grow in opposite fashion, each row growing at an angle of about 90 degrees from the previous one. It blooms at the end of summer or in early fall.
The water mint grows from a rhizome and can reach up to 90 centimetres in height. The stems are green or can have a purple color, are sometimes covered with hairs and have a four-sided shape. The roots are fibrous and emerge from the rhizome. Leaves are either oval or lance-shaped, grow in opposite pairs and have jagged edges. They can be 2 to 6 cm long, 1 to 4 cm wide, and just like the stems the color varies from green to purple and they can be sometimes hairy. The flowers are very small and grow in a group on top of the plant forming a shape resembling a half-sphere. They have a cylindrical shape and can be purple or pink. The characteristic mint aroma is present in all parts of the herb. It is a popular flower for insects and pollinates well, but it can also propagate through its rhizomes.
All species of mint have medicinal benefits and the water variety is no exception. The main usage is external, the plant can cleanse open wounds and relax irritated muscles. A tea brewed using the dried leaves of water mint is good for digestion and can decrease the pain caused by ulcers.
The leaves can be added directly to salads for an aromatic boost but they are also very rich in essential oils, which improves the taste of cooked or baked dishes. The water mint is a pesticide created by nature, insects and rodents can’t stand the smell and avoid areas where the plant can be found. Water mint essential oil is a valued ingredient in cosmetics and can be found in some brands of toothpaste, mouthwash, after shave or shower gel.
The most useful quality of water mint is its very attractive aroma. The scent alone has a positive impact on human health, since people find it refreshing and relaxing. It is used in aromatherapy and also added to flower bouquets. It shares the common quality of all mints to clear the nose and improve respiration. The scent can also improve cleaning products and adding some leaves to them will improve the air and the cleanliness of the house. It is also very popular in gardens, since it is both an edible plant and a medical one.
Water mint relieves head pain when ingested in crushed form, because of the very high content of vitamins A and E. The oil can stop the spread of skin diseases like eczema and eliminate acne, while reducing the unpleasant pain of insect bites. Leaves are refreshing and have numerous medicinal properties, acting like a stimulant, stomachic, vasodilator and refrigerant. It can also prevent motion sickness. Water mint tea has many uses, it is a natural mouthwash effective against ulcers, nasty breath and infected throats but also treats digestive issues, fever or migraines. The oil pressed from the leaves is also an antiseptic but must be used with caution, since large amounts are toxic. The leaves should be cut from the plant right when it blooms and preserved in dried form.
The leaves have the strong minty flavour common to all related plants and are edible, both in raw form or added to dishes. It adds a distinctive flavour to food even when used in small quantities. However, some people dislike the strong taste, so it is not a common ingredient. It is mainly consumed as a tea brewed from either the fresh leaves or the dried ones. Adding honey or a piece of citrus fruit (lemon or orange) to the tea greatly improves its taste.
Habitat and cultivation
Water mint has an extended native range and grows almost anywhere in Europe, as well as North Africa and Southern Asia. Humans have introduced it on all the other continents and it can be found today in Australia, both Americas and some remote islands.
Unsurprisingly, water mint loves to grow near water and needs moist soils. It likes the edges of river, streams, ponds, lakes, canals, ditches, marshes, fens or dikes. It can grow in shallow water but only the roots are submerged while the plant’s body is above the water level. It enjoys acidic and mineral soils, as well as peaty ones. It favours soft limestone and can often be found on this type of ground. However, it will grow in any type of soil that is wet enough, even on ground with a high percentage of clay.
The oil content of the herb is higher on sunny locations but it can grow in shaded places as well. As a water-loving plant, it can survive in standing water with a maximum depth of about 15 cm. All species of mint have a very aggressive root system that will spread on a large area, this can cause problems in some gardens. The easiest way to prevent it is to grow the water mint in boxes deposited in the ground, which will stop the roots from expanding too much. The water mint is closely related to other mint types and will create various hybrids if they are close to each other. The potent aroma resembles the ones of a bergamot fruit, it is present in all parts of the plant and will be easily noticed if it’s crushed. Flowers produce a lot of nectar that attracts insects, especially bees. Water mint repels flies and rodents and is rarely eaten by deer and other forest animals. It is a vigorous plant that will expand fast in the right locations.
If you want to propagate the plant using its seeds, they must be sowed in spring during a cold period. The seedlings emerge very fast and can be moved into pots then planted in the garden when summer comes. Since mint species freely form hybrids between them, you can never be certain what will grow from a seed and their aroma and oil content can vary a lot anyway. Water mints are a good companion for broccoli, cabbage or cauliflowers.
If you like the aroma or taste of a particular plant, the best way to preserve it is through division. Water mint can be divided at any time but this should be done either in autumn or in spring so that the new plants have enough time to grow. The root system is very vigorous, even small root sections are capable to produce a new plant. Large root divisions can be planted directly into the ground. However, the smaller ones of about 3 cm should be placed in pots during the spring. By the time summer comes, they are big enough to be moved in the garden.