Wild mint, like other members of the Mentha genus, features opposite leaves with serrated edges and a recognizable aromatic scent released when crushed. The plant typically grows between 10 and 60 cm in height. In the summer, Mentha arvensis boasts small, lilac or white flowers that cluster around the stem in a whorled arrangement. The entirety of the plant, from stem to leaf, contains menthol, which gives it its characteristic cooling sensation. In Alberta, wild mint can often be found in natural wetlands, along riverbanks, and in damp woodlands, where it can spread prolifically, sometimes outcompeting other native plants.
The use of mint, including the wild varieties, dates back to ancient times. Across various cultures, it was used for its aromatic and therapeutic properties. In the context of Alberta and wider North America, Indigenous communities have traditionally used wild mint for various purposes. This ranged from brewing it into calming and stomach-soothing teas, using it as a flavouring agent in food, to its incorporation into medicinal remedies for ailments like colds or headaches. European settlers, upon arrival, also embraced the mint they found, integrating it into their culinary and medicinal practices. The plant's wide distribution and easy identification made it a popular herb among pioneers and homesteaders in regions like Alberta.
Wild mint, with its robust and refreshing flavour, lends itself to a plethora of culinary and beverage preparations. Fresh leaves can be muddled into cocktails or mocktails, imparting a burst of coolness. Steeping the leaves in hot water produces a revitalizing tea, which can be enjoyed both hot and cold. The herb also beautifully complements salads, sauces, and even certain main dishes, offering a counterpoint to richer or spicier flavours. For those with a sweet tooth, wild mint can be infused into syrups, candies, or desserts like ice cream and sorbets. Additionally, the leaves can be dried and stored for off-season use, ensuring that the invigorating flavour is available year-round. Beyond food, wild mint's aromatic properties make it a popular addition to homemade lotions, balms, and other body care products, providing a natural and soothing fragrance.