Mint Family

Compiled by Marc Williams                                May, 2018

Lamiaceae / Mint Family / Lamiales

A link to a photo album of members of the Lamiaceae can be seen a Thomas Elpel’s site below.

The Mint family is one family everyone should know! Almost all mints have square stems and opposite leaves. Though, not all square stemmed opposite leaved plants are mints. They all also have four stamens, with two long two short, a united corolla with two lobes up and three lobes down. Many members have characteristic aromas and pointed leaves with edge serrations. Several members volunteer readily and often grow wild. They often bring beneficial insects to the garden while repelling pests. They are a great source for edible flowers. Many plants in this family aid digestion and soothe stomachaches.  ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PLANT FAMILIES ON EARTH!


Notable genera that have been moved to the Lamiaceae include Chaste Tree (Vitex), Glory Bower (Clerodendrum), Gunhar (Gmelina), Bluebeard (Caryopteris) and Teak (Tectona) (Heywood, Brummitt, Culham, & Seberg, 2007; Hogan, 2003; Spears, 2006).


The Lamiaceae is a big family for culinary flavors and many members have characteristic smells including Basil (Ocimum basilicum), Oregano (Origanum vulgare), Marjoram (Origanum majorana), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Lavender (Lavandula spp.), Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), Bee balm (Monarda spp.) Sage (Salvia spp.) and of course all the mints which tend to be (Mentha spp.). One group of Mints that are not in the Mentha genus are the native Mountain Mints (Pycnanthemum spp.). The Mint family also contains the wild edible/medicinals Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea), All Heal (Prunella vulgaris), Skullcap (Scutellaria spp.)  and Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis).

The leaves of Teak (Tectona grandis) are used in the Javanese dish Gudeg and to culture the rhizopus spores of tempeh while the wood is used to color Easter eggs in Germany and flavoring the liquor Arrack elsewhere (Facciola, 1998). The leaves of Malay Bushbeech (Gmelina arborea) are used by the Dai people of China for a traditional New Year cake while the yellow fruits are edible as well (Facciola, 1998).


Many of the plants from the Lamiaceae can and have been traditionally used as medicine all over the world (Tierra, 1988). One common use is for stomachaches. Particularly famous medicines include Skullcap (Scutellaria spp.), Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum syn Ocimum sanctum), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), All Heal (Prunella vulgaris), Lavender (Lavandula spp.), Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea), Bugleweed (Lycopus) and Mints (Mentha spp.). The aptly named Chaste Trees (Vitex agnus-castus, V. negundo, V. doniana and V. mollis) formerly in the Verbenaceae are traditional medicinals for men and women’s issues while being consumed for food all over the world (Couplan, 1998; Facciola, 1998). Frank Cook cited Stephen Buhner with the information that Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea) can remove heavy metals in his copy of Botany in a Day 5th ed. (Elpel & Cook, 2006). He also noted that Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum), Savory (Satureja) and Shisho (Perilla) are not listed. Particular plants favored by Juliet Blankespoor include Baikal Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) and Lemon Bergamot (Monarda citriodora).


Essentials oil of many members of the Lamium Family can be toxic if not used properly due to the presence of compounds like thujone, pulegone, and perilla ketone (Frohne & Pfander, 2005). Pennyroyal (Hedeoma), Shisho (Perilla frutescens), Garden Sage (Salvia officinalis) and Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) are common plants in this family whose essential oils or certain other applications should be used with caution (Frohne & Pfander, 2005). An anthraquinone derivative is known as the contact allergen when dealing with Teak (Tectona grandis) (Frohne & Pfander, 2005). Contact dermatitis can also occur from the houseplant Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides). The use of Germanders (Teucrium chamaedrys and Teucrium capitatum) in Europe may be discounted by possible liver toxic effects (Frohne & Pfander, 2005).


Bees love many members of the Lamiaceae. The naturally occurring compound Thymol is also a natural insecticide against mites that infest bee hives. Members of the Lamiaceae also often bring in beneficial insects to the garden. The Hermit sphinx moth is hosted by Mints (Tallamy, 2009). Many members of the Lamiaceae also attract butterflies (D. Stokes, L. Stokes, & Williams, 1991, p. 14). Chaste Tree (Vitex) attracts almost any butterfly around when it is flowering including Hairstreaks, Blues and Swallowtails (Lewis, 1995).


Quite a few introduced members of the Lamiaceae are aggressive and can take over areas.  Catnip (Nepeta cataria), Shisho (Perilla frutescens), All Heal (Prunella vulgaris) Mints (Mentha spp.) and Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea) are all especially aggressive. Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), Purple Lamium (Lamium purpureum), Mediterranean Sage (Salvia aethiopis), and Lanceleaf Sage (Salvia reflexa) are all considered weeds out west (Ball et al., 2001) whereas i have noticed the first two are very common in the east as well. Hemp Nettle (Galeopsis tetrahit), and Marsh Hedgenettle (Stachys palustris) are also considered weeds in the east (Royer & Dickinson, 1999). A number of species of Glory Bower including Rose Glory Bower (Clerodendrum bungei), Stickbush (Clerodendrum chinense), Tubeflower (Clerodendrum indicum) and Javanese Glory Bower (Clerodendrum speciosissimum) are considered invasive in Florida and other parts of the southern U.S. (Burrell, 2006).

Two Weevils (Phrydiuchus tau) and (P. spilamani) have been introduced to deal with Mediterranean Sage (Salvia aethiopis). With only the former being established (Coombs, Clark, Piper, & Cofrancesco, 2004).

Dye Plants:

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) Bugleweeds (Lycopus spp.) (Fern, 2008)

Horehound (Marrubium vulgare), Peppermint (Mentha ×piperita), and Mintleaf Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa L. ssp. fistulosa var. menthifolia  syn Monarda menthifolia) (Bliss, 1993).

Catnip (Nepeta cataria), Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium) (A. Krochmal & C. Krochmal, 1974)

Purple Basil (Ocimum basilicum), Marjoram (Origanum majorana), Oregano (Origanum vulgare), Perilla (Perilla frutescens) (Buchanan, 1995).


Sachets can be made from many members. Several members also make good dry flowers. Sages, Bergamots and Mountain Mints may be dried to good effect in particular.

Many members of the Lamiaceae make good cut flowers i.e. Bee Balm (Monarda spp.), Anise Hyssop (Agastache spp.), Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina) and Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum spp.).

Clerodendrum (Clerodendrum spp.) formerly in the Verbenaceae is a gorgeous ornamental. We have one species called Harlequin Glorybower (Clerodendrum trichotomum) that is just barely hardy in Asheville. Many other members from this family are famous ornamentals. i always love to come across collections of Sages (Salvia spp.) at Botanical gardens or friend’s homes such as Ken Crouse and realize the diversity of this one genus alone.

Literature Cited

Ball, D. A., Dewey, S. A., Elmore, C., Lyn, R. G., Morishita, D. W., Swan, D. G., & Zollinger, R. K. (2001). Weeds of the West.  (T. D. Whitson, R. Parker, & D. Cudney, Eds.) (9th ed.). Jackson, WY: University of Wyoming.

Bliss, A. (1993). North American Dye Plants. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press.

Buchanan, R. (1995). A Dyer's Garden : From Plant to Pot: Growing Dyes for Natural Fibers. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press.

Burrell, C. C. (2006). Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Coombs, E. M., Clark, J. K., Piper, G. L., & Cofrancesco, A. F. (Eds.). (2004). Biological Control of Invasive Plants in the United States. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press.

Couplan, F. (1998). The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America. New Canaan, CT: Keats Pub.

Elpel, T. J., & Cook, F. (2006). Botany in a Day: The Patterns method of Plant Identification (Frank Cook personal copy.). Pony, MT: HOPS Press.

Facciola, S. (1998). Cornucopia II: A Source Book of Edible Plants. Vista, CA: Kampong Publications.

Fern, K. (2008). Plants for a future - 7300 useful plants database. Plants For a  Future. Retrieved April 23, 2009, from

Frohne, D., & Pfander, H. J. (2005). Poisonous Plants: A Handbook for Doctors, Pharmacists, Toxicologists, Biologists and Veterinarians (2nd ed.). Portland, OR: Timber Press, Inc.

Heywood, V. H., Brummitt, R. K., Culham, A., & Seberg, O. (2007). Flowering Plant Families of the World (Revised.). Buffalo, NY; Richmond Hill, Ont.: Firefly Books.

Hogan, S. (Ed.). (2003). Flora (Vols. 1-2). Portland, OR: Timber Press, Inc.

Krochmal, A., & Krochmal, C. (1974). The Complete Illustrated Book of Dyes from Natural Sources. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Lewis, A. (Ed.). (1995). Butterfly Gardens. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Royer, F., & Dickinson, R. (1999). Weeds of the Northern U.S. and Canada. Winnipeg, Manitoba: University of Alberta Press.

Spears, P. (2006). A Tour of the Flowering Plants: Based on the Classification System of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group. St. Louis, MO: Missouri Botanical Garden Press.

Stokes, D., Stokes, L., & Williams, E. (1991). Stokes Butterfly Book: The Complete Guide to Butterfly Gardening Identification and Behavior. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Tallamy, D. (2009). Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants (Updated Ed.). Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Tierra, M. (1988). Planetary Herbology (1st ed.). Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

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