I find this plant unforgettable and vividly remember the first time I stumbled upon Mountain Mint. Actually, it wasn't so much the plant I first noticed, but all the different sizes and colors of pollinating insects buzzing all around, drinking from the little flowers. Next I noticed the strong fragrance, sort of minty with notes of oregano or thyme. Finally I noticed how attractive the leaves and flowers are. The leaves are soft like velvet to the touch, the top leaves are a powdery silver, the lower ones are green, and the tiny flowers sit in clusters of white with little purple dots.
Since my first encounter, I've come to know this plant as Hoary Mountain Mint, one of some twenty-four native species of Pycnanthemums in the Lamiaceae (Mint) family growing throughout North America and Canada. Like so many native wildflower species, most, if not all, of these Pycnanthemums attract many bees (especially native bees), butterflies, hover flies, and other beneficial pollinators. I often find that the bees and wasps will spend the night on the flowers. I've wondered if they were somehow intoxicated by the flowers, unable to leave. My great-nieces say it's because it's a magical plant. I think they're right.
Pictured left is Hoary Mountain Mint, Silverleaf Mountainmint, Pycnanthemum incanum, a native perennial herb found growing in open woods, fields, and thickets in the eastern U. S. from Maine to Illinois and south from Florida to east Texas.
P. incanum (as well as other Pycnanthemums) is edible and makes a refreshing tea. The leaves can be used fresh or dried to flavor soups, stews, and desserts. This wildflower was used by Native American Indians, who would inhale the vapors before entering sweat lodges. In folklore it's said that this wild herb was considered to be a very powerful medicine and was used by Shamans to revive the dead.
With the strong vapors that this mint emits, I would think it would be good for clearing out the sinuses too. As with many in the mint family, this herb is still used to treat colds, chills, fevers, mouth sores, gum disease, and indigestion. It's known to repel biting insects, and a bath infused with the leaves is said to take the itch away from chigger bites.
Mountain Mint will make a great addition to butterfly gardens, herb gardens, medicinal gardens, xeriscape, or cottage gardens. It can succeed in most soil conditions but prefers a rich, loamy soil in full sun to partial shade. Although I have found it growing in various soils, the fullest and most beautiful plants were found in moist loamy soil with partial shade in my area.
Find more information and images here: Hoary Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum incanum) in ATP's plant files.
Pycnanthemum incanum is listed as endangered in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Ontario, Canada. After three years of drought, hot summers, and extra cold winters, I'm sad to say I haven't seen my Mountain Mint in two years now. I will keep looking, but in the meantime I'm looking at some other Pycnanthemums to try growing.
As I mentioned, Pycnanthemums are magnets for many beneficial pollinating insects. Here's a look at some of them.
Aren't they all beautiful? It's going to be really hard or impossible to choose just one.