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We have moved in to a new home and the flower bed is overrun with what looks and smells like mint.

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Am I correct in assuming this is an edible mint plant which can be used in cooking?

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    I agree with @Catija here. We are the better cooks, but they know possible non-edible "doppelgaengers". That said, it sure looks like one of the many varieties of mint. Is the stem round or angular/square(-ish)? – Stephie Nov 11 '15 at 20:52
  • There is at least one poisonous doppelganger, and it can even hybridize with edible mints, making unknown breeds of mint-like plants unsafe: Pennyroyal. – rackandboneman Nov 11 '15 at 21:49
  • So, it sounds like, for safety reasons, you should not eat unknown mint-like plants. – Catija Nov 11 '15 at 22:15
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    I cook with Pennyroyal. In the proper amounts. it's quite tasty. Makes an interesting addition to pizza. – Wayfaring Stranger Nov 17 '15 at 18:05
  • I don't know, but if I were to guess, I would guess a generic mint that was probably grown from seed, and is probably it's own variety (since mint seeds typically don't breed true, if I've heard correctly). It certainly looks like mint to me, especially with the new shoots. I don't know much about the toxic mint relatives, though. – Shule Nov 18 '15 at 3:58
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If you really want to try to figure out if it is edible or not, you could try this method: How to Test if a Plant Is Edible (Although in some people even edible mints can cause contact dermatitis (via wikipedia))

However; also from wikipedia, i believe the poisonous variety mentioned in the comments is mint variety Perilla frutescens - Which while it appears it is not poisonous to humans, it is toxic to cattle & horses.

All that said, I'd say go for it & enjoy some mint! (In small quantities at first, by perhaps just chewing the leaf for a bit & spitting it out.)

  • No, not Perilla, which is in some cultures (Japan!) considered edible... – rackandboneman Nov 12 '15 at 1:52
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The plant in your picture doesn't look anything like typical mint (Mentha sylvestris varieties); this link shows a typical mint leaf

http://pantrygardenherbs.com/shop-for-organic-herbs/mint-varieties/mint-julep-4/

That doesn't mean it isn't a form of mint, but its certainly not one I recognise - those tiny, short hairs all over the surface of the leaf and on the base of the leaf stems I've never seen on any variety of mint, though there is supposed to be a variety with some short hairs, just not quite so noticeable as these are. The leaf shape's not typical of mint either, and there's none of the typical crunkled appearance on the leaf surface - but the leaves are opposite and in pairs, which is typical of mint. Can't tell if the stem is square, looks like it might be. The trouble with mint is, there are many varieties which look somewhat different - three illustrated here

https://www.plantvillage.org/en/topics/mint/infos/diseases_and_pests_description_uses_propagation

and your plant looks somewhat etiolated, so there are large gaps up the stem between leaves, not something you'd see in mint usually, although its possible that's a result of low light conditions indoors.

Unless anyone else ID's it as mint for sure, I'd not risk using it - what would be helpful to see is a photo of it growing outdoors so we can see how its growing in the ground, but I'm guessing that's not an option now its so late in the year. Also, have you ever seen it flower, and if so, what were the flowers like?'

It may be Mentha arvensis though, wild mint, but that usually has brown streaking on the stems, slightly less round leaves and short, fine hairs on the edges of the leaves as well as the leaf surface:

https://gobotany.newenglandwild.org/species/mentha/arvensis/

  • Orange mint (Mentha x piperita citrata) looking leaves: google.com/… However, you'd smell that upon crushing. – Wayfaring Stranger Nov 17 '15 at 18:11
  • Not hairy though, orange mint - pineapple mint is close to the shape of the leaves too, but again, not hairy.... – Bamboo Nov 17 '15 at 18:20
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    Granted, Bamboo. The genus Mentha is a little complicated: theplantlist.org/browse/A/Lamiaceae/Mentha – Wayfaring Stranger Nov 17 '15 at 19:39
  • We had mint labeled as peppermint in the 1990's that was much furrier than this. Have you grown peppermint, and if so, was yours not furry? Whatever it is, it looks more closely related to spearmint than catnip, horehound and creeping Charlie do. I'm not saying it's spearmint (but probably a closer relative than those others). – Shule Nov 18 '15 at 3:31
  • If it's true that mint typically doesn't breed true from seed, it would make sense that my peppermint would look different than yours, because peppermint is a hybrid of spearmint and watermint (and as far as I know, neither parent is stabilized). If that's true, peppermint should be looked at more like a species than a variety, in my opinion (kind of like a mule, since there can be all sorts of mules). Both parents of peppermint are different species. – Shule Nov 18 '15 at 4:07
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It sure looks like a mint to me. Square stem, smells like mint = mint. But it's really not possible to go beyond that without more. Leaves are notoriously variable in mints. You would need the flowers. Some cultivars nearly never flower though. So one of the best ways to distinguish mints is aroma. Get some mint that you know - spearmint and peppermint, for instance, and compare. If it's really like spearmint, I would not worry and use it. Pennyroyal, also a mint, has a distinctly different aroma as well, more menthol and almost a wintergreen aroma. Pennyroyal is much shorter ( foot or less minus the flowering stems) than the other mints, more of a ground-cover, while the other mints are usually taller (to 2 feet or more). Pennyroyal is the only problematic mint in having some toxic components, but in small amounts it's pretty safe. It's the extracted oil that is the problem, and you need a huge number of plants to get a little oil. The fresh herb is about %1 oil. https://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/p/pennyr23.html - this reference contains a lot of folklore but I think this part is pretty accurate as I used to live near mint farmers who extracted the oil.

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OK, to put it in an answer format:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mentha_pulegium https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedeoma_pulegioides

are the two best known members of the "mint" family that are downright medicinal/poisonous. At least the first is known to cross pollinate readily with edible mints, yielding new varieties that might or might not inherit the poisonous traits.

So if the species of mint cannot be positively identified - eg by an experienced gardener or botanist, or because the plant is still the same generation as it was intentionally planted as -, consider it unsafe.

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    Could you perhaps provide a reference to your assertion that these two varieties (both of the same family, but one of a different genus) can in fact hybridize with other common mints? (fwiw, I admit that my knowledge of biology is not that great, so if it is common accepted knowledge that members of a given family or genus can easily hybridize, I will concede the point). Thank you for elaborating on your previous comment! – renesis Nov 12 '15 at 2:33
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    From link in answer: "Pennyroyal was commonly used as a cooking herb by the Greeks and Romans. The ancient Greeks often flavored their wine with pennyroyal." It takes a fair amount to make you sick: drugs.com/npp/pennyroyal.html – Wayfaring Stranger Nov 17 '15 at 18:16
  • An amount of the leaves, maybe, but don't dare drink the essential oil! :) A tablespoonful can mean death, apparently. I would be leery about using very much of the herb without more information than is in the Wikipedia article. For one thing, there are no toxicity symptoms listed (other than death), and it doesn't even say the symptoms that led to death. Was it painful, or did they just drop dead suddenly? Did they vomit? Anything? Can it cause long-term damage in less than fatal dosages? – Shule Nov 18 '15 at 3:43
  • @rackandboneman So, do you think it's one of those plants you listed? – Shule Nov 18 '15 at 3:51

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