Coleus Plants The Mint Family


The Mint Family (Lamiaceae of order Lamiales) is a worldwide family, including a huge number of herbs, a lot of small shrubs, and a few medium to very large trees. They are particularly noted as aromatic flavoring ingredients in cuisines worldwide, accounting for many of our most important culinary herbs. Quite a number are used as easy to grow decoratives and a few find application for their psychoactive properties.   Photo by Pharaoh Hound distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

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General & History

The Mint Family is of worldwide distribution, though only Sage has much penetrated Central and South America. These powerful aromatic herbs have been in use for both culinary and medicinal purposes since long before the dawn of history.

Note: This page is, roughly, in order of relevance to people living in North America, not alphabetical or otherwise.

Mints   -   [Genus Mentha - many species.]
Growing Mint Plant

Native to Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and North America, mints are a major genus of mint family, cultivated worldwide as an important culinary herb.

Classifying mints is difficult even for botanists because they are highly promiscuous and cross breed with abandon, even from one species to another, and many unique cultivars have been developed. Many species have a half dozen or more "scientific" names and cultivars of the same species may vary in shape and color.

See our Mint page For photos, descriptions and details of culinary usage for many varieties.

Basils   -   [Genus Ocimum - many species.]
Growing Basil Plant

Basils are a nearly worldwide family consisting almost entirely of small herbs. Even the one exception only reaches 10 feet on slender stems. Many of these herbs have important culinary uses. Most are annuals, but African basils are perennials.

See our Basil page For photos, descriptions and details of culinary usage for many varieties.

Sage   -   [Genus Salvia - many species.]
Growing Sage Plant

Sages are the largest genus in the mint family, but fortunately we need deal only with a few of them for culinary and medicinal purposes. See our Sage page for photos, descriptions and details of culinary usage for many important varieties.

Rosemary   -   [Rosmarinus officinalis]
Rosemary Stems with Leaves

Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean region. From it's needle like leaves and strong resinous aroma you'd almost think this was some sort of conifer, but no, it's yet another mint. This is a very powerful herb to be used with discretion, fresh or dried. Fresh is considered superior for all uses, and it's the easiest herb there is to have fresh - it grows eagerly under poor conditions and can even get out of control. Various rosemary cultivars are used as durable, almost indestructible hedges, ground covers and decoratives here in Southern California - and it even grows well in England!

Rosemary has an affinity for meats, poultry and some vegetables when fried in olive oil, particularly potatoes but also eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. It also has medicinal properties and is thought to help protect the brain from free radicals and possibly improve memory. It is very safe in culinary and therapeutic doses but is toxic in very large amounts (how you could eat that much of it I haven't a clue) and rosemary oil or extract must be used carefully.   Details and Cooking.

Thyme   -   [Zatar (Farsi & other), Thymus vulgaris (Mint family)]
Leafy Thyme Stems

While there are over 300 species of thyme, nearly all those of culinary use are varieties of T. vulgaris, a native of southern Europe and the Near East. Thyme is used especially for flavoring meat dishes and soup stocks. It is a very important herb throughout southern Europe, North Africa, Anatolia and the Near and Middle East as far as Persia, then tapering off into India. It is also important in the Caribbean and is well known as a powerful medicinal throughout its range. Thyme dries relatively well so it is often used as a dried herb.   Details and Cooking.

Other Thymes:   While Thymus vulgaris is by for the most important culinary thyme, others are also used. Details will be found on the Details and Cooking page.

Marjoram & Oregano   -   [genus Origanum]

Marjoram   -   [Sweet Marjoram, Knotted Marjoram; Origanum majorana]
Marjoram Stems with Leaves

Native to the Mediterranean region, marjoram was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans. It remains one of the most important herbs used in the cuisines of Mediterranean Europe and the Levant. Marjoram is as often as not used dried as it holds flavors well while drying. Flavor holds better if the leaves are removed from the stems for drying.   Details and Cooking.

Oregano   -   [Wild Marjoram; Origanum vulgare]
Oregano Stems with Leaves

Native to the Mediterranean region and farther inland, this herb is much used in Italian-American cuisine (as distinct from Italian cuisine, which is quite different). It is used in southern Italy, but the more gentle Marjoram is preferred to the north. Oregano also finds plenty of application in Portugal, Spain, Greece, Turkey, the Levant and Egypt, as well as Latin America and the Philippines. Oregano is used more dried than fresh, as its flavors intensify when dried. Flavor holds better if the leaves are removed from the stems for drying.   Details and Cooking.

Ditany of Crete   -   [Hop Marjoram; Origanum dictamnus] Growing Ditany Plant

This herb grows only on rocky crags of the Greek island of Crete. It is easily recognized by the light gray fuzz that covers its stems and leaves. It has been held since ancient times to have both medicinal and magical properties. It is also highly aromatic and used to flavor vermouth, absinthe and herbal teas. It is now farmed on Crete because men no longer wish to risk life and limb to pluck it from the high rocks - and because of government protection of wild plants.   Photo distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Za'atar   -   [Lebanese oregano, Syrian oregano; Ezov (Hebrew); Bible hussop (mistranslation); Origanum syriacum] Growing Zaatar Plants

This herb is extremely important in the Levant and Middle East, where it is native. A spice mix based on it is also called Za'atar. It is a small shrub, up to about 3 feet high with small white or pale pink flowers. Both the spice mix and the dried herb are used in the Levant and Middle East, and the herb, often fresh, is used in Morocco. The fresh herb is not much available in North America, but can be faked up with a mix of Thyme and Oregano. Traditionally, za'atar has been gathered wild, but the demand is now so high it has entered cultivation.   Details and Cooking.   Photo by Raffi Kojian distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.


Savory   -   [genus Satureja, also genus Clinopodium]

Summer Savory   -   [Marzeh (Farsi); Satureja hortensis]
Summer Savory Stems with Leaves

This annual herb is the savory available in markets in North America, where Winter savory is rarely seen (if ever). While savory resembles thyme, it is used more with vegetables, eggs and fish rather than meats, particularly with beans and lentils where it is said to significantly improve digestion. It is, however, also used with meats and is often an herb included in sausages.

While a minor herb in most of North America, summer savory is popular in the Maritime Provinces of Canada where it is used instead of Sage. Savory is particularly important to the cuisines of Bulgaria and Romania.   Details and Cooking.

Winter Savory   -   [Satureja montana]
Winter Savory Plant

Winter savory, a perennial shrub, is pretty much interchangeable with Summer Savory but is considered more bitter - this difference fades somewhat with cooking. It is, of course, not marketed here in Southern California, because we don't have winter.   Photo by Kurt Stueber distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

Yerba Buena   -   [Clinopodium douglasii alt Satureja douglasii]
Living Yerba Buena Plant

Properly, Yerba Buena names this species, but in most Spanish speaking countries the name is applied to whatever local mint is at hand. This herb is native from coastal Alaska down to the tip of Baja California.   Photo by Gordon Leppig & Andrea J. Pickart for US Fish and Wildlife service = public domain. 


Cuban Oregano   -   [Spanish Thyme, Mexican Thyme, Mexican Mint, Indian Borage; Orégano Brujo (Puerto Rico); Húng chana (Viet); Daun Bangun-Banun (Malay); Pok-Hor, Po-Ho; Plectranthus amboinicus]
Cuban Oregano Stem and Leaves

This fleshy leaved plant is native to South and East Africa, but has been planted in the tropics and subtropics worldwide. As some of the names imply, it's popular in the Caribbean region. With a scent and flavor similar to oregano and thyme, it is used in similar ways for seasoning meat and poultry. It is also a traditional medicinal, particularly for cough, sore throat and nasal congestion.   Photo by Obsidian Soul contributed to the Public Domain .

Lavender   -   [English Lavender; Lavandula angustifolia]
Flowering Lavender Plants

Lavender is native to the Western Mediterranean region, particularly the mountains of northern Spain. While not traditionally used in the cuisines of southern France, a commercial concoction called Herbs de Provence was invented which usually includes lavender flowers. Nonetheless, lavender buds, the only part containing the aromatic oils, are increasingly used as a flavoring and are often paired with sheep and goat cheese.

In the Mediterranean region bees gather nectar from fields of lavender, producing a monofloral honey that is sold for a premium price. Lavender flowers are sometimes candied and used as cake decorations, and dried lavender buds are sometimes blended with black, green or herbal teas to add a fresh fragrance.

Lavender oil has medicinal properties and is used to induce relaxation, but needs to be used cautiously because it does have some toxic effects, including stimulating boob growth in young boys, who would rather the growth be elsewhere.   Photo by Guywets, contributed to the public domain.

Melissa / Lemon Balm   -   [Melissa officinalis]
Leafy Lemon Balm Plants

Native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean region, this herb and is a favorite in North American herb gardens - but it has escaped and now grows wild in warmer regions. The leaves have a light lemony flavor and are used in teas, fruit salads, iced teas, and in cooking as a substitute for lemon peel.   Photo distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Perilla   -   [Shiso (Japan); Deulkkae, Tulkkae, Kkaennip, Sesame leaf (Korea); Tia to (Vietnam); Pak Maengda (Laos); Zi su (China); Silem (Nepal, India); Shiso, Beefsteak plant, Purple mint, Japanese basil, Wild coleus (North America); Perilla frutescens var japonica and others]

Perilla Leaf
Perilla Leaves These large leaves are widely used, particularly in Japan and Korea, whole or shredded, as a garnish. Young flower spikes are used as a garnish and to flavor pickles in Japan and Taiwan.

the photo specimens are clearly Korean. The Japanese Shiso leaves are much more deeply serrated, they lack the purple color on the underside common with the Korean variety, and the flavor is slightly different. The Korean variety is much more available here in Los Angeles as Japanese markets are now few and far between while Korean markets proliferate like rabbits.

For unknown reasons, the Korean name translates to "Wild Sesame" or "Sesame Leaf", despite perilla being related to sesame only at the very distant order level. Actual sesame leaves are rarely eaten, though edible. The Chinese use perilla mostly as a medicinal to stimulate the immune system rather than in their cuisine.   Details and Cooking

Tia-to Leaves
Tia-to Leaves The Vietnamese variety of perilla is considerably smaller than the Korean or Japanese, and is more aromatic. It is used in soups and stews, and particularly with rice vermicelli dishes called bún. In Laos they are used in a similar dish called kao phoon.

These leaves are often available in some of the large Asian markets here in Los Angeles.   Details and Cooking

Perilla Seeds - Seed Powder - Seed Oil
Perilla Seeds

Perilla seeds are less than 0.04 inches (1 mm) in diameter. In Korea, they may be added to a recipe, or toasted, crushed and mixed with sesame and salt for use as a condiment. They are similarly used mixed with salt in Japan. In Nepal, and nearby parts of India, they are toasted, ground and mixed with salt, chili and tomato to make a condiment or dip. Powdered seeds are used as a flavoring and thickener.

Perilla seeds yield an oil high in ALA Omega-3 fatty acids. It can stand cooking temperatures up to 350°F/177°C. Seeds, Powder and Oil are all available from Korean markets here in Southern California.   Details and Cooking.


Vietnamese Balm   -   [Vietnamese Lemon Mint, Cockscomb Mint; Rau Kinh Gioi, Lá Kinh Gioi; Elsholtzia ciliata]
Vietnamese Balm Stem and Leaves

Pronounced "Kin Zoy", the leaves of this plant are thin and delicate with the taste of a lemony combination of mint and Thai basil. The plant bears flat spikes of light lavender colored flowers. Leaves are generally eaten raw, included on an herb plate that may accompany cooked foods such as grilled meats. The raw leaves may also be stirred into soups, such a Pho, included in egg rolls, meat balls and the like. Here in Southern California these leaves are often available in the big Asian markets along Valley Blvd in Los Angeles (Alhambra, San Gabriel), and in Little Saigon down in Orange County.

Horehound   -   [White Horehound, Common Horehound; Marrubium vulgare]
Flowering Horehound Plants

Native to Europe, Asia and North Africa, this herb has become a noxious weed in southern Australia and grows wild in North America. It has long been a folk medicine and is common as Horehound Lozenge candies used mainly to treat sore throats and reduce inflammation.   Photo distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Self-Heal   -   [Heal-all, Allheal; Prunella vulgaris]
Dried Self-Heal Flower Heads

Native to North America, Europe and Asia, this perennial herb has long had a reputation as a medicinal, but leaves can also be eaten fresh in salads, soups and stews. The whole plant can be crushed and made into a cold infusion as a refreshing beverage. Medicinally the plant is used internally for many complaints, and a poultice is applied externally to help heal wounds. The photo specimens, from a batch of dried flower heads ranging from 1 to 3 inches long, were purchased from a large Asian market in Los Angeles. They made a quite pleasant, slightly minty herbal tea.

Coleus Potato   -   [Chinese Potato, Country Potato, Native Potato, Madagascar Potato; Plectranthus rotundifolius alt Solenostemon rotundifolius | Welayta dinich (Amharic); Plectranthus edulis | Dazo, Rizga, Umbondive; Plectranthus esculentus]
Coleus Potato Roots with Leaves

This plant, native to tropical Africa, is farmed as a root crop in tropical Africa and South and Southeast Asia.   Photo by Manojk distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

The closely related P. esculentus is grown in East Africa and is more difficult to cultivate than P. rotundifolius but produces a better yield.

The closely related P. edulis is grown as a root crop in Ethiopia. It is cooked before eating.

Frosted Mint   -   [Poliomintha incana]
Desert Frosted Mint Shrub

This mint, unlike many, can stand very dry land. It is one of the flavoring herbs available to the Hopi and Tewa pueblo peoples of the American Southwest. It is a highly aromatic small shrub with light purple flowers. Photo by U.S. National Park Service = public domain.

Bergamot / Beebalm   -   [Oswego Tea, Horsemint, Monarda fistulosa, M. didyma, M.citriodora, M. punctata and a bunch of other species]
Flowering Beebalm Plants

Native to North America, these plants have a long history as powerful medicinals, particularly as antiseptics and to treat headache and fevers, but some were also eaten by American Indians as a flavoring herb. Beebalm tastes like a mix of spearmint, peppermint and oregano, and was used mainly to season wild game, particularly birds.   Photo distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Muña / Peperina   -   [Minthostachys mollis (Muña) | M. verticillata (peperina) and some local species]
Peperina Flower Stalk

Native to the Andes region of South America, these herbs are very important as medicinals and to protect stored tubers from pests. They are also used as a condiment for flavoring food. Currently the stocks have been over exploited and researchers are trying to find ways bring it into cultivation.   Photo by Fotografia propia distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Korean Mint   -   [Blue Licorice, Purple Giant Hyssop, Indian Mint; Huo xlang (China); Bangannip (Korea); Agastache rugosa]
Korean Mint Flowers, Leaves

In Korea this herb is used to flavor some forms of Jeon pancakes. More famously it is used in stew, particularly Bosintang, a stew of dog meat, to remove objectional odors. While this stew has been banned by the government of South Korea, it is still popular and easy to find in restaurants if you ask around. In North Korea all the dogs were probably eaten long ago. This plant is one of the 50 fundamental herbs of Chinese medicine.   Photo by Stanislav Doronenko distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Hyssop   -   [Hyssopus officinalis]
Flowering Hyssop Plants

Native to southern Europe, east to the Middle East and around the Caspian Sea, this herb has been known for its medicinal properties since ancient times. Beekeepers favor hyssop for a rich and aromatic honey. It is used in cooking, but judiciously due to the intensity if it's minty aroma. It is also used to flavor Chartreuse liqueur.   Photo by H.Zell distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Mexican Giant Hyssop   -   [Agastache mexicana]
Mexican Giant Hyssop Plants

Native to semi-arid regions of southern North America, this herb can grow to a little over three feet tall. The leaves are lemon scented and often used to flavor food. Young leaves are brewed into an herb tea.   Photo by Chhe released to the public domain.

Beautyberry   -   [Callicarpa americana]
Beautyberry Leaves with Fruit

Native to North America, this shrub ranges from Maryland to Florida and west to Texas and Arkansas. It can also be found in the Caribbean and parts of Mexico. While the berries of other species of Callicarpa are too bitter to eat, americana berries are fairly sweet, but are quite astringent. The berries are made into jams and are used to make beautyberry wine. The roots are used to make an herbal tea. Crushed leaves are a powerful insect repellant, effective against mosquitos and flies.   Photo by Eric Hunt distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Teak   -   [Tectona grandis]
Teak Tree

Teak is the largest of the mints, growing to over 130 feet tall. While it is best know for decay resistant lumber used for fine furniture and yacht decking, it does have culinary uses. The use best known in North America is salad bowls and salad serving utensils, but in the regions where teak grows (the tropics of India and Southeast Asia) the leaves are used for wrappers when making jackfruit dumplings.   Photo © i0112 .

mt_mints* 2006   -   www.clovegarden.com
©Andrew Grygus - agryg@clovegarden.com - Photos on this page © cg1 - Linking to and non-commercial use of this page permitted