Of all the true mints, only one, field mint (Mentha arvensis) is native to North America. All of the others are introduced and have established themselves after escaping cultivation.
Field mint, also called wild mint or corn mint, looks, smells and tastes like its introduced cousin, peppermint. The main difference is that field mint flowers are at the leaf axes and peppermint flowers are in a terminal spike.
Growing in damp or moist places, often along streamsides, field mint is a perennial that propagates from creeping rhizomes. The hairy stem is the four angled or “square” stem typical of the mint family. The opposite leaves have short stalks and are oval or lance shaped. Numerous lavender to whitish flowers are clustered in whorls around the leaf axes. The flowers are short, four-lobed tubes with 4 stamens and purple anthers. I think the flower whorls give field mint a most interesting appearance. The entire plants has a strong minty odor.
Field mint is edible. The leaves may be eaten raw or cooked. I will nibble a few leaves as a trail snack. However, a plate of mint tasting greens that are slightly bitter is not my idea of a “vegetable”. Field mint is delicious though when a few leaves are tossed into a salad or it is used as a replacement for cultivated mint in recipes. A tea can be made from the dried or fresh leaves and tastes exactly like commercial mint tea.
Medicinally field mint was used for a variety of ailments by native peoples and herbalists. Field mint tea has a widespread and well validated reputation as a remedy for upset stomach. It is also reputed to counteract inflammation and relieve fever, among other medicinal uses.
Field mint is used as an insect repellent and to discourage rodents. Rats and mice intensely dislike the smell of mint. Therefore field mint was used in homes as a strewing herb and was spread in granaries to keep rodents and insects away.
These specimens were growing along the Jessie Wright segment of the North Umpqua Trail in Oregon.