The sweet smell of wild mint

Karen Wils photo Wild mint makes the woodlands smell wonderful at this time of year.

ESCANABA — Take a whiff!!

The mellow fragrance of wild mint with the tangy taste of bergamot flowers perfumes the August air.

Mother Nature’s medicine cabinet is full of wonderful things!

Essential oils are everywhere in plant form in the wilds of Upper Michigan. At summer’s peak, the woodlands and fields are chalked full of native plants that our great-grandparents cherished.

Native Americans as well as early pioneers foraged for these leaves, stems and seeds. The wild mint leaves made a tea that could settle upset stomachs. The aspen (poplar) bark could ease pain and the oil of balsam can fight infections. So, before the days of cars and Walgreens, wild plants were a very important commodity.

Today, many people are trying to live a more “natural” lifestyle and the use of essential oils is a very “in” thing right now.

It is always kind of interesting how old things are often reinvented and become fashionable again.

The very nice thing about many of the plants that essential oils come from is that they are growing wild in the U.P. right under our noses.

Wild mint is one of my favorite herbs that are in bloom right now. Wild mint thrives in moist woodlands. This plant does not require a lot of sunlight, so in the cool shade along the brook is a perfect place to find it.

The mint grows about a foot high. It is a lush green plant with tear-shaped leaves. Puff balls of purple flowers from clusters around the plants stem.

This magnificent native herb grows around swampy land. Many times I remember intentionally walking my stinky, wet beagles through the mint plants on their way out of the woods just to freshen them up a bit.

Many times I’ve gathered mint in August and tied it in small bundles to hang in my parents’ attic to dry. Once the leaves were good and dry, I’d put it into storage bags to be used for tea.

Michigan is famous for growing cultivated mints too. There are dozens of kinds of domestic mints like peppermint and spearmint. Often people come across these other types as they escape from herb gardens, but a good amount of true “wild” mint dots the woodlands. But always remember not to touch or taste any plant that you are not 100 percent sure of.

Bergamot is another beautiful, full-fragrance flower in the mint family that is blooming all across Michigan’s fields and meadows right now too.

Bergamot is taller than mint and loves lots of sunshine. It has a darkish square stem and wears a shaggy lavender wig. The plant is also called bee balm and is a great pollinator. Nothing is as pretty as watching a purple field of wild bergamot swaying beneath the blue-gray thunderstorm threatening sky.

On a hot August day when it is too humid to do anything else, take a slow hike into the wild places and just take a whiff.

Enjoy the warm aroma of fir and pine and the gentle scent of sweet ferns and wild mints. I think you will have an essentially good day.

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Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.

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