Field Guides

Lamiaceae of Missouri

Lamiaceae— formerly known as labiatae and commonly known as the mint family— is the largest family in the lamiales order. It encompases a cosmopolitan distribution of about 7,000 known species in over 200 genera (Sciencedirect). Lamiaceae are flowering plants identifiable by their four-edged stems that resemble a square shape, and opposite or whorled leaves. Most species are herbaceous, but several are woody plants. Because lamiaceae generally have a high content of volatile compounds, they are widely used for their aroma, flavor, and varying medicinal value (R. Ramasubramania Raja , 2012). Lamiaceae such as lavender, rosemary, and mint are often found as ingredients in perfumes and cosmetics for their fragrance. Some commonly used culinary herbs in the lamiaceae family include oregano, thyme, perilla, basil, lavender, spearmint, and sage.

Current research related to lamiaceae primarily focuses on using lamiaceae species for medicinal purposes. For example, one 2018 study focused on isolating compounds found in lamiaceae to use as analgesic or antinociceptive drugs to modulate pain (Uritu, Cristina M et al., 2018). Another 2019 study inspected the anti-inflammatory qualities of lamiaceae for potential use as a natural antidote for allergic reactions (Lee Yen Sim, Nur Zahirah Abd Rani and Khairana Husain, 2019).

The following is not an all-inclusive list of all lamiaceae found in Missouri. Rather, several common or well-known species that can be found in the state.


Kingdom: Plantae (plants)

Subkingdom: Tracheobionta (vascular plants)

Superdivision: Spermatophyta (seed plants)

Division: Magnoliophyta (flowering plants)

Class: Magnoliopsida

Subclass: Asteridae

Order: Lamiales


Heather CC BY-ND 2.0

Perilla frutescens (Perilla)

Nicknames: Beefsteak Plant, Shiso, Zisu

Appearance: Perilla is a summer annual plant with a blooming season from August to October (Missouri Botanical Garden). It grows to be 1-3 ft tall, with opposite leaves that are about 5 in long and 3 in accross. Perilla leaves can be green or deep purple, or one color on either side depending on the growing conditions. They are ovate/somewhat cordate, and sharply serrated along the edges. The upper surfaces of the leaves are wrinkly due to their reticulated veins. Perilla flowers are white to light purple, tubular, and about ⅛ in long, growing on the terminal ends of the upper stems (Illinoiswildflowers).

Region: Perilla is a nonnative, invasive plant commonly found in the Eastern and Midwestern United States. It originates from Eastern Asia, mainly in the mountainous regions of India, China, Japan, and Korea. Commonly known in China as Zisu and Japan as Shiso, it is often used as a cooking ingredient, and has been widely used in traditional Chinese medicine (Dharmananda, Subhuti 2010). It was originally introduced to North America as a horticultural plant (Illinoiswildflowers).

Uses: Used to ease the symptoms of food poisoning and the flu, vomiting and abdominal distention during pregnancy, and emotional distress. Perilla is known to be antiasthmatic, antibacterial, antiseptic, antidote (counteracts poison), antipyretic (can prevent or reduce fever), antispasmodic (relieves muscle spasms), antitussive (prevents or relieves cough), carminative (relieves flatulence), diaphoretic (induces perspiration), emollient (skin softening), expectorant (treats cough by promoting sputum secretion), pectoral (relieves disorders of the chest and respiratory tract), stomachic (promoting appetite or stimulating digestion), and tonic (invigorating) (Plants For a Future).

  • Leaves: Perilla leaves are known to have calming properties, and are used to relieve cold symptoms and to calm the mind. The leaves are aromatic, and have been often brewed as tea in Chinese medicine.
  • Stem: Perilla stem is often brewed with the leaves as tea, and it used to cure vomiting and abdominal distention.
  • Seeds: Having a high content of fatty acids (about 50%), volatile oils (about 30%), and protein (17%), perilla seeds can be used to formulate a drying oil, and as a protein-rich component of mash for cattle feed. Perilla seed alleviates cough and is mild in nature, so is to treat cough symptoms and respiratory issues for the frail, elderly, and children.

Warnings: In normal doses, Perilla is non-toxic. People who work in the Perilla industry and subsequently have abnormally frequent contact with the herb have developed an allergy to the plant. Cattle and horses who consume several Kilograms of Perilla through grazing have suffered adverse pulmonary effects attributable to Perillaketone (‎C10H14O2).


By Fritz Flohr Reynolds CC BY-SA 2.0

Scutellaria lateriflora (Northern American Skullcap)

Nicknames: Skullcap, Mad dog weed, Helmet Flower

Appearance: Skullcap is perennial, grows up to 3 ft, and flowers from July-September. It has blue flowers that are dual-lobed, resembling helmets worn by European soldiers, giving the plant the nickname “Skullcap.” Its leaves are opposite, ovate to lanceolate with slightly cordate bases, have serrated edges, and grow to be about 3 in long and 2 in across (Illinoiswildflowers).

Region: Skullcap is native to Eastern United States, but can be found all across North America, mostly in moist, woodland areas (Engels, 2009).


  • Native American: Skullcap was used by the Cherokee, as well as several other native tribes of North America, to promote menstruation and resolve menstrual irregularities. It was also used as a part of a ceremonial transition for girls into womanhood (Engels, 2009). Additionally, Native Americans used it to treat nervousness, and digestive and kidney issues, generally brewing it as a tea or steeping it as a tonic. (Bethesda, 2012).
  • Historical Western Medicine: In the 1700s, Westerners believed that Skullcap could be used as an effective treatment for rabies, possibly because its calming faculties provided symptom relief. However, this theory has been debunked. It was also used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a sedative, treatment for nervousness, and treatments for several kinds of muscle spasms including chorea, tremors, and fever-induced spasms (Engels, 2009).
  • Modern Western Medicine: Skullcap is still used currently as a component of sedatives and sleeping pills, usually in combination with other herbs such as Valerian. It is believed that Skullcaps’ abundant flavonoids are the active components of Skullcap accounting for its sedative and antispasmodic properties. It can be consumed as a tea, taken in a capsule, or taken as a liquid (Bethesda 2012).

Warnings: Other species of Skullcap such as Chinese Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis), have been linked to liver damage. North American Skullcap has also been associated with liver damage, although no extensive research has been done, and in instances of liver damage, the effect was mild to moderate, and was reversible after cessation of consumption (Bethesda 2012).


By Wendell Smith CC BY 2.0

Melissa Officinalis (Lemon Balm)

Nicknames: Lemon Balm. The name Melissa Officianalis is derived from the Greek word “melissóphyllon” meaning bee leaf, as a reference to lemon balm’s ability to attract bees.

Appearance/Physical Qualities: Lemon Balm is a perennial, bushy, herbaceous lamiaceae that grows to be 1-3 ft tall. It’s stem can be smooth or finely hairy, and is light green. It has opposite, ovate leaves with crenate of crenate-serrate edges. The underside of the leaf is light green, and the top of the leaf is a medium green. Leaves can be up to 9cm in length and 5cm across, and the leaf size diminishes further up the stem. It has white flowers that grow in clusters of 2-10, and a blooming season from late spring through late summer (John Hilty, 2019).

Lemon balm is named for its distinctively lemony aroma, which is due “largely to citral and citronellal, although other phytochemicals, including geraniol (which is rose-scented) and linalool (which is lavender-scented) also contribute to lemon balm’s scent (84)” (The Herb Society of America).

Region: Lemon Balm is native to Southern Europe (Missouri Botanical Garden), the Middle Eastern Medditeranean area (Engels and Brinckmann 2017), and Northern Africa (Mahr 2007), but is easily germinated and has naturalized all over North America and in almost every warm or temperate region across the globe (Mahr 2007). Lemon balm is grown commercially in Europe, Northern Africa, and North and South America, and wild lemon balm is collected for commercial use in parts of Europe and Eastern Asia. (Engels and Brinckmann 2017).


  • Historical Uses: Use of Lemon Balm has been traced back to the High Middle Ages (1001-1300). It has historically been distilled into Eau de Carmélite, or “Carmelite Water”, also known as “Spirit of Melissa”. Around 1200, Christian Hermits living in caves on Mount Carmel after Crusaders took Haifa first distilled Lemon Balm after discovering its calming properties, hence the name “Carmelite Water”. Distillation of Carmelite Water continued in Paris in the 1600s, and was used as a treatment for toothache, fainting, and anxiety. It is currently still cultivated in Austria at Carinthian monasteries (Engels and Brinckmann, 2017).
    • During the French Revolution, the only two nuns in Paris who knew the specific recipe for Carmelite Water fled to Germany, taking the recipe with them:
    • The method of preparing Melissengeist was known by only the two nuns, who took an oath to pass it on to an initiated successor only when one of them died. In 2003, the sisters of the Holy Sepulcher of Baden-Baden came to an agreement with the sisters of Monastère du Carmel Notre Dame de l’Unité in Develier, Switzerland, to transfer the rights to manufacture the formula. The transfer took two years and required formal consent of the Archbishop of Freiburg (the legal owner of the formula) and authorization from the Swiss Alcohol Board for the manufacture of alcoholic beverages (Engels and Brinckmann, 2017).
  • Current Uses: Current research indicates that lemon balm has anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, pain-relieving, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, antiproliferative (inhibits cell growth), anti-oxidant, sedative, thyroid-inhibiting, anti-genotoxic, anti-mutagenic, immunostimulating, and anti-convulsive properties. Bees have a strong attraction to lemon balm, so it has often been used in beekeeping. It also has calming properties and is used to treat minor digestive issues, and as a sleep aid (Engels and Brinckmann, 2017). Its essential oils have also been used to relieve headache symptoms (Mahr 2017).
    • Lemon balm is commercially cultivated for culinary use, medicinal products, herbal dietary supplements, and beverages (Engels and Brinckmann 2017), as well as in cosmetic and fragrance products (The Herb Society of America 2007).


By Dan Mullen CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Monarda Fistulosa (Wild Bergamot, or Bee Balm)

Nicknames: Wild Bergamot, Bee Balm, Horsemint

Appearance/physical qualities: Wild bergamot is an herbaceous perennial, growing to be about 2-4 ft tall, and 2-3 ft wide (USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center). Its leaves are lanceolate to ovate with serrate edges, and range from light to dark green with yellow or red tints depending on the environmental conditions. Its stem is light green, shoots out of a rhizome, and branches frequently towards the top of the plant. Major stems terminate in pinkish/purplish flowers. Flowers are about one inch long, with the corolla dividing into a tubular lip and two stamens taller than the lip (, and slender lower lips. Wild bergamot has a blooming season from June to September. The flowers attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies (USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center), and gives off an oregano scent (

Region: Wild bergamot is native to North America (Missouri Botanical Garden), growing in most parts of the United States and Canada (USDA NRCS). It thrives in moist to slightly dry conditions, and once cultivated will generally spread easily (


  • Native American: Various Native American tribes including the Ojibwe, Winnebago, and Cherokee used wild bergamot to relieve headaches and colds. Other tribes such as Tewa and Ojibwe used it culinarily to season meat or make beverages, and still others used it to treat acne, abdominal pains, mucus, and sore eyes (USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center).
  • Modern: Wild bergamot can relieve flatulence (attributable to thymol oil), induce perspiration, promotes diuresis, and can act as a stimulant. In congruence with Native American usage, wild bergamot can be used to treat colds, sore eyes, and acne. Bergamot oil, when inhaled, can sooth bronchial issues (Plants For a Future).


By Fred Clay CC BY-ND 2.0

By NakaoSodanshitsu CC BY 2.0

Mentha Spicata (Spearmint)

Nicknames: Spearmint, Garden Mint, Common Mint, Lamb Mint, Mackerel Mint, Bush Mint.

The word “mentha” comes from the Greek myth of Proserpine (or Persephone) and Menthna, a nymph. According to the myth, Prosperine killed Mentha after she had a love affair with Prosperine’s husband, Pluto (or Hades). Pluto then resurrected Mentha in the form of spearmint. The modern name spearmint came about because of the leaves’ spearhead-like shape (American Botanical Council).

Appearance/physical qualities: Spearmint is an herbaceous, rhizomatous, upright perennial, and grows to be 1-2 ft in height and width. It’s flowers range in color from lilac to pink to white, and have a blooming season from July to August (Missouri Botanical Garden). The flowers terminate the upper lateral and central stems. It has sessile (lacking a petiole), ovate to lanceolate opposite leaves that are 5-9 cm long, and 1.5-3 cm across with serrated edges, that appear wrinkled due to the indentations on their veins (Cao, L., L. Berent, and R. Sturtevant, 2019) (

Region: Spearmint is native to Europe, Asia, and the Medditerranean but has been naturalized in North America and Africa (Encyclopædia Britannica), after escaping cultivation in North America when it was introduced from Europe as an herb for culinary and medicinal use (


  • Culinary: Spearmint is widely used for its flavor and aroma, and is an important good produced commercially (mainly by the US, India and China) for a wide variety of uses. It is popularly used as a tea, and as flavoring in sweets, drinks, and a wide range of cuisines. Its use has been traced back to classical antiquity in which Greeks used mint in baths and as perfume (American Botanical Council)
  • Other: Mint is often used for its aroma to add fragrance to beauty products and toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner, lotion, lip balm. It is also used as a flavor and breath freshener for products such as gum, toothpaste, floss, and mouthwash.
  • Medicinal: Spearmint has antiemetic (treats nausea), antispasmodic, carminative (relieves flatulence), diuretic (induces increased passing of urine), restorative, stimulant and stomachic (assists digestion) properties (Plants For a Future).


By Anna Gregory CC BY 2.0

Mentha Piperita (Peppermint)

Nicknames: Peppermint

Appearacne/physical qualities: Peppermint is a hybrid cross between spearmint (mentha spicata) and watermint (mentha aquatica), and rarely seeds so is not classified as its own species. There are both white and black varieties of peppermint, the black variety being grown the most in North America. It is a rhizomatous, upright herbaceous perennial with a height and spread of 1-2 ft (Missouri Botanical Garden). It has opposite, lanceolate to ovate leaves with scalloped edges, and produce a sharp, menthol aroma. Its flowers are generally pink and bloom from July to August.

Region: Peppermint is native to Europe and the Middle East, but has been naturalized in many other areas including most of North America (USDA).

Uses: Peppermint is a hugely popular herb used for its fragrance and flavor. It is a commonly used as a flavoring for toiletries such as toothpaste, floss, and mouthwash, as well as in cosmetic and skincare products. Peppermint essential oil is used in aromatherapy. Peppermint can produce a tingling and/or cooling sensation (Herro E, Jacob SE).

  • Medicinal: Peppermint has been used to treat skin inflammation and irritation (Herro E, Jacob SE). Peppermint leaves have traditionally and currently been steeped as a tea to treat headaches, fever, digestive disorders, flatulence, and colds. It has analgesic (pain relieving), antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative flatulence-relieving), cholagogue (promotes discharge of bile), diaphoretic, cooling, stomachic (aids digestion), invigorating, and vasodilator (dilates blood vessels, promoting blood flow) properties. Additionally, peppermint lotion can be used to relieve external pain. In large doses, it has an abortifacient property (Plants For a Future).


By Monikah Schuschu CC BY-NC 2.0

By KayLambPhotos CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Glechoma Hederacea (Ground Ivy)

Nicknames: Ground Ivy, Alehoffs (meaning “ale ivy” in German, referring to its former use in beer), Creeping Charlie, Creeping Jenny, gill over the ground, field balm, haymaids, cat’s foot

Appearance/physical qualities: Ground ivy is an herbaceous perennial that grows mainly horizontally, forming carpet-like mats on the surface on which it grows. However, stolon tips grow upwards during flowering (USDA NRCS). It has opposite leaves that are orbicular, medium to dark purplish green, crenate along the margins, have palmate venation, and are about 1 inch across. Shallow, fibrous rootlets form from leaf axils that have contact with the ground, and clusters of 1-3 tubular, bluish violet or reddish purple flowers also grow out of the leaf axils. The flowers have a trumpet-like shape, and a blooming season from mid spring to early summer (

Region: Ground ivy is native to Europe and Asia, and was brought to North America by early European settlers (USDA NRCS). It prefers disturbed areas, growing best in moist, fertile conditions with minimal ground cover, but can thrive in other areas as well. Ground ivy is quite resilient, and is resistant to mowing. (


  • Historical: Ground ivy was used for flavoring and as a clearing agent in beer in Europe through the 14th century. Additionally, in Greco-Roman mythology, ground ivy was referred to as a treatment for melancholy. Medicinally, Europeans used ground ivy as a treatment for bladder and kidney disorders, digestive issues, and skin disorders as well as gout, colds, ringing in the ears, and eye diseases in cattle. After European brought ground ivy to the North American settlements, it was later used to treat lung disease and asthma, headaches, jaundice, hypochondria, insanity, and “lead-colic” in painters (USDA NRCS), though the validity of these medicinal uses are not backed by scientific evidence.
  • Current: Ground ivy is currently used in herbal medicine for its astringent, diuretic and stimulant properties (USDA NRCS). Ground ivy is known to be generally quite a safe herb, and an effective treatment for mucus-membrane issues in adults and children. Such uses include clearing catarrh, treating glue ear, and treating sinusitis, as well as for kidney and digestive issues. The leaves and stems are anodyne, antiphlogistic (treat inflammation), appetizer (stimulates hunger), astringent, digestive, diuretic, febrifuge (fever-reducing), pectoral (relieves chest and respiratory disorders), gently stimulant, tonic (invigorating) and vermifuge (anti-parasitic). Leaves are most effective when harvested in May and dried for later use, and the expressed juice is effective in healing bruises (Plants For a Future).

Warnings: In large quantities, ground ivy can be toxic to some domesticated livestock, especially horses.


By Jason CC BY-NC 2.0

Ocimum Basilicum (Sweet Basil)

Nicknames: Sweet Basil, Common Basil, Thai Basil, Tropical Basil

Appearance/physical qualities: Sweet basil is an annual, upright herb that has a height and spread of about 1.5-2 ft (Missouri Botanical Garden). It’s leaves are opposite, ovate to lanceolate with toothed or entire edges, and completely glabrous (free of hair). Leaves are about 5 cm in length when mature, and have petioles that are about 2 cm. Its flowers are white or light purple, and have a blooming season from July to first frost. (P. Pushpangadan, V. George 2012).

Region: Basil is native to India, Africa, and Asia (University of Vermont). Basil is cultivated in “climates with temperatures ranging from 45˚ to 80˚F”, so is mainly commercially grown in Western and Southern states in the US, though it can be found all over North America. The top basil producing states are California, Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, and North Carolina (UC Davis).

Uses: Sweet basil is the most commonly grown basil species, and most commonly used culinarily.

  • Medicinal: Basil has antispasmodic, aromatic, carminative (relieves flatulence), digestive, galactagogue (promotes increased milkflow), stomachic (aids digestion), and tonic (invigorating) properties (Plants for a Future).
  • Culinary: Basil is used as a component of cuisines worldwide. For example, it is used as a common ingredient in tomato sauce and vinegar, it is the key ingredient in pesto, it is often used in salads, among many other dishes (see: Yardana’s Pasta Salad recipe!).
  • Religious: Some Greek Orthodox churches place pots of basil below alters and use basil to prepare holy water, because basil was said to be growing around Jesus’ tomb after his resurrection (Missouri Botanical Garden). Basil is also considered holy in Hinduism, as it represents a form of the goddess Lakshi, and is often planted around shrines (Danielle Page, Nature’s Way).
  • Other: Basil has insect repellent properties. In ancient times, pots of basil were placed on windowsills to repel flies, and basil essential oil is still used as an insect repellent.


Other known lamiaceae species of Missouri include:

Agastache nepetoides (yellow giant hyssop)

Ajuga reptans (carpet bugle)

Blephilia ciliata (ohio horsemint)

Blephilia hirsuta (wood mint)

Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry, French mulberry)

Callicarpa dichotoma (Chinese beautyberry)

Clinopodium acinos (mother of thyme)

Clinopodium arkansanum (Arkansas calamint, satureja, low calamint)

Collinsonia canadensis (richweed, citronella horse balm)

Cunila origanoides (dittany)

Dracocephalum parviflorum (American dragonhead)

Galeopsis tetrahit (common hemp nettle)

Hedeoma hispida (mock pennyroyal)

Hedeoma pulegioides (pennyroyal, American false pennyroyal)

Lamium amplexicaule (henbit)

Lamium hybridum

Lamium purpureum (dead nettle)

Leonurus cardiaca (motherwort)

Leonurus japonicus (honeyweed)

Leonurus marrubiastrum (biennial motherwort, lion’s tale)

Lycopus americanus (American bugleweed)

Marrubium vulgare (common horehound)

Mentha aquatica (watermint)

Mentha canadensis (corn mint)

Monarda citriodora (lemon mint)

Monarda clinopodia (basil bee balm)

Monarda pectinata (spotted bee balm)

Nepeta cataria (catnip, catmint)

Origanum vulgare (oregano)

Physostegia angustifolia (false dragonhead)

Prunella vulgaris (self-heal, heal-all)

Pycnanthemum albescens (white mountain mint)

Pycnanthemum muticum (clustered mountain mint)

Salvia azurea (blue sage)

Salvia coccinea (red sage, Texas sage)

Salvia reflexa (lance-leaved sage, Rocky Mountain sage)

Scutellaria galericulata (marsh skullcap)

Stachus aspera (hyssop hedge nettle)

Stachys hispida (hairy hedge nettle)

Teucrium canadense (wood sage, American germander)

Vitex negundo (chaste tree, hemp tree, monk’s pepper tree)

Page written by Maxine Gill, 2019

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