In permaculture design, the mint family is especially important for many reasons. For one it is extremely hardy, existing generally in all climates, soil and sun conditions. Mints generally can run to cover an area. They are known for there stolons(underground or above ground herbaceous stems that root readily) which allow the plant to spread readily. For this reason we can use mints to cover an entire herbaceous understory of a food forest.
Be advised that not all mints do this, for instance lavender and rosemary are woody, prefer sunny well draining environment and don’t spread quite as readily. Most other mints are extremely opportunistic and will out compete most other herbaceous plants in the understory.
Mints are almost always culinary and medicinal plants; there are many examples. They also are almost all aromatic giving them the unique skill of deterring pest insects from them and other pest-prone plants in their vicinity. They are also important insect nectary sources. This means that they flower rampantly giving bees and other beneficial insects constant sources of nectar; an example is Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum).
These important nectary sources will attracts beneficial predator and parasite wasps that will often times target pest insects as there prey/host. By planting mint in our gardens and food forests, we are essentially creating an immune system for our designed environment, how cool! Because mints attract pollinators like bees, they are especially helpful for apiary systems and orchards will heavily rely on nectar and pollination. Mint have also been known to repel bee mites (Varroa destructor) which are becoming an ever-increasing problem for beekeepers. A close relative to the mint family, the nettle family (Urticacea), behaves in much the same ways and also accumulates important minerals from the subsoil.
Mints can be identified by there signature flowers (refer to image above), square-shaped stems, and aromatic oils.
Examples of plants in the mint family:
- Lavender (Lavendula spp.)
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
- Oregano and Marjorams (Oreganum spp.)
- Spearmint, Horsemint, Peppermint, Applemint, Pennyroyal etc. (Mentha spp.)
- Beebalm and Bergamot (Monarda spp.)
- Anise hyssop and related species (Agastache spp.)
- Sages (Salvia spp.)
- Thyme (Thymus spp.)
- Verbena family (related to mint family ) ‘Verbenacea’
Summary of mint family description and functions:
- Herbaceous spreader
- Pioneer, hardy plants
- Insect nectary
- Groundcover (at times)
- Square-shaped stems
- Often aromatic
- Pest detterent
- Predator/Parasite attractors
- EXTREMELY COMPETETIVE
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