Pycnanthemum muticum

Pycnanthemum muticum, Short-toothed Mountain Mint

Mountain Mint is a terrific, multi-tasking native perennial. It attracts beneficial pollinators to the garden like a magnet. It is incredibly aromatic and makes a wonderful tea or addition to herbal lotions. It is not a true mint like peppermint or spearmint (Mentha spp.), so it doesn’t behave like those notorious garden mints that spread everywhere. Because of the strong fragrance it tends to keep deer away when planted among other garden plants.

This is a hardy native plant. Individual plants get to be 2-3 feet tall and spread about 2 feet. They tolerate full to partial sun and a medium moisture level (however I’ve known it to grow in some fairly dry conditions).

In any garden, a critical part of growing your food is attracting bees and other insects to do the actual work of pollination. They move from flower to flower, bringing the fertile pollen down into the flower where it can begin growing into the tomatoes, apples, zucchini, etc. that we eat. To ensure that the pollinators visit your yard, it’s wise to plant things that will really draw them in. For anyone considering keeping bees, this plant is among my top recommendations.

I like to harvest mountain mint in the spring while the leaves are tender and the scent is strongest. You can harvest while it’s blooming, if you’re nervous about bees I recommend doing this in the early morning, the bees are typically still waking up and haven’t clocked in to work yet. You can use the plant fresh in tea or you can dry it for later use. To dry it, hang bunches from the stems indoors for a few days until it is bone dry. If you’d like to expedite the process, leave it in a hot car on a sunny day with the windows cracked. I’ve done this in the morning before work and had the mint be bone dry by the end of the day. Pycnanthemum tea is really tasty and very refreshing. In the spring its very nice combined with some spicebush (Lindera benzoin) twigs added to the mix.

Whether you grow fruit and vegetables, make your own tea, keep bees or not, Mountain Mint is a fascinating plant simply due to the number and diversity of insects it brings in. Don’t be too concerned about getting stung, as the insects are so engrossed in collecting the nectar that they don’t seem to notice you watching. All of the activity on the flowers is also sure to attract the interest of some other beneficial insects to the garden. Plant some Pycnanthemum Muticum and watch the garden come alive.