Two Spring Mints


Look around in our soon to be planted fields and you’ll see a mass of pink to purple. The two likely culprits are henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) and dead nettle (Lamium purpurea). Both are exotic invaders from the mint family and both are edible with medicinal uses.

Henbit is more of a loose runner. Its square stems are thinner. Heart-shaped leaves with rounded teeth clasp the stem. They have no little stem (petiole) between the main stem and leaf blade. Amplexicaule is Latin for clasping. Abundant flowers tend to be pink. Dead nettle flowers usually display more purple.

Purple dead nettle grows more upright and a petiole connects the blade to the main stem, which is usually thicker than those on henbit. Plants can get over a foot tall. Leaves are roughly triangular and become purplish and smaller near the stem tips. Dead nettle gets its name because the hairs on the stem will not sting you like true nettles will.

Being mints, both of these Lamiums reproduce profusely by seeds, each plant capable of producing several thousand. Henbit also spreads and gains vigor when stems root to the ground, much like crabgrass does. Both can depress yields of wheat and other cool-weather crops. They can crowd a young stand of row crops and carry disease-causing nematodes and fungi. These mints also contain chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants.

Most broad-leaf weed killers will knock both out of lawns. This time of year there is very little risk of turf injury to warm-season grasses like Bermuda, St. Augustine, and centipede, since they are dormant. Both henbit and dead nettle will colonize bare spots quickly when grass is dormant.

By the time your turf greens up though, these two species will likely be gone. Warm weather is not their friend. They don’t thrive when temperatures increase and they become very susceptible to powdery mildew, which usually finishes them off. Unfortunately, before they disappear they further inoculate the area with that fungus.

Another control solution could be to let chickens graze the area. They love it, but this is probably not practical. Hummingbirds sample their flowers on warm early spring days too, but with no harm to the plants.

If you can harvest these mild mints before the leaves are covered with dusty white mold they are quite palatable and nutritious. I prefer them cooked with a little salt and butter, but some people eat them raw in salads. Seeds are extremely high in antioxidants and the leaves are rich in fiber and vitamins. Foliage has diuretic properties and increases sweating and urine flow. Like the plantains, dead nettle and henbit also diminish bleeding. Extracts and teas are used for menstrual problems.

They also show promise as anti-inflammatories and pain reducers. Purple dead nettle works by interfering with the release of the hormone prostaglandin-2. Dead nettle contains chemicals called sterols, which among other things help treat enlarged prostates. It appears they can be good for men and women.

purple deadnettle

purple dead nettle

Henbit

Henbit

powdery mildew on henbit

powdery mildew on henbit

"pretty" field of henbit on a cloudy day

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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6 Responses to Two Spring Mints

  1. Sharon says:

    How timely! I was just trying to identify one of these plants this afternoon! Though I’m still a little confused. The plant I’m trying to identify looks like you describe henbit (for example, no petioles–the leaves definitely grasp the stem), except that its flowers are definitely purple, not pink. Is there a purple variety of this? One that could have colonized my entire yard?

    • tedmanzer says:

      Flower color can vary a lot. Some of it is orchid to purple. The ground ivy is purple too, but it has petioles and is usually a little later in the spring.

      • Sharon says:

        Thanks! The more pictures of these plants I see, the more obvious it is that I’m looking at henbit (since the top leaves have no petioles, and the leaves are round, not triangular). Thanks for your great blog!

  2. Tons of henbit around here – although I’ll never convince my husband it isn’t chocolate mint, for some reason – and the flowers are deep purple.
    Thanks for the info on using it, since I’ll never be able to get rid of it!

  3. amandawensel says:

    This plant sounds like its good, i’ve seen these quite a bit just never knew anything of them

  4. awhitenhs12 says:

    See these all the time, they look terrible in yards, but i did not know they were classified as mints.

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