Written by Julia Russell, Herbalist and Forager
For info about foraging, read the column: First Forays into Foraging
Joining Meadowsweet in swampy meadows and woodlands, river edges, canal-sides or at the margins of ponds, is Water Mint (Mentha aquatica), our most common wild mint, which likes its roots below the waterline or in damp soils.
All mints (Lamiaceae family) are perennials, sharing common features such as their square stem, creeping rootstock and aromatic scent. Water mint is no exception, so rubbing the leaves will elicit the strongly mint-like scent to help with identification.
Illustration by Megan Bowyer.
Water Mint leaves start appearing from springtime, but it is easier to spot once in flower, locally in mid-late summer. Water mint varies in height from 20cm – 90cm, depending on conditions and growing taller with plenty of light.
Identified by its densely-packed lilac or pinkish-lilac flowers, each with a four-lobed corolla and the stamen protruding. Flowers form a rounded terminal spike with often another whorl or two of flowers a little lower down the stem.
Leaves are opposite, each a toothed oval, broader at the short stalk, narrower at the tip, though not overly pointed. Both the leaves and stem can be tinged purplish, otherwise they are a mid-green, and the stem can be either hairless or quite hairy.
With its aromatic oils rich in carvone, Water Mint has a pleasantly crisp and clear aroma, a flavour that is mellower than peppermint with its high menthol content. This lighter, more refreshing taste proves ideal for flavouring drinks and including in salads and desserts.
It also has the benefit of aiding digestion, settling indigestion, easing nausea and flatulence.
Using Water Mint as a herbal infusion (2 teaspoons of fresh material per mug) makes a refreshing drink whether drunk hot or cold.