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Licorice mint is a leafy herb that has spear-shaped green leaves with either pointed or scalloped-toothed margins. The plant grows in an upright cluster and can reach up to 120 centimeters tall, producing lavender purple flowers stalks up to 20 centimeters long in the late summer. The purple flowers are edible when young. Licorice mint leaves range from 3 to 6 centimeters wide and 4 to 9 centimeters long and give off a strong minty-anise aroma. Plants with smaller leaves will have a silver sheen on the underside, a result of tiny microscopic hairs. This is absent on the larger leafed A. rugosa. Licorice mint leaves offer a naturally sweet, minty, anise flavor, without the spiciness often associated with licorice.
Licorice mint is available in the summer and through the early fall months.
Licorice mint refers to two different plants, neither of which is a true mint. The two related perennial plants, Agastache foeniculum and Agastache rugosa, are members of the mint family. A. foeniculum is considered native to North America and is also known as Blue Giant hyssop or Anise hyssop, and A. rugosa is referred to as an ‘exotic’ (non-native plant) and has larger leaves, it is also known as Korean Licorice mint or Superior Licorice mint. Both plants are commonly called Licorice mint, have similar medicinal and culinary uses, and are sometimes confused for one another.
The nutritional benefits of Licorice mint lie within the volatile oils that give the herb its sweet, anise and mint aroma. Researchers found over 46 different components in the volatile oils of Licorice mint. The major compound present in the native species is methyl chavicol, and other primary compounds include limonene and pinene. In the Korean species, the major compound is methyl eugenol. Limonene has been found to help aid in digestion and in relieving acid reflux.
Licorice mint is most often used fresh or dried, and both the leaves and flowers are used as garnishes. Steep fresh or dried leaves alone or with other herbs in boiling water for tea. The leaves can be chopped and added to green or mixed fruit salads. Fresh Licorice mint leaves can be used in baked goods like cookies or scones, or steeped in milk for making ice creams, custards, or panna cotta. They can be added to beverages or used as a flavoring agent for oils, vinegars, dressings or jams and jellies. The herb pairs well with chocolate, melon, squash, fennel, carrots, and bitter, leafy greens. Add fresh or dried leaves to lamb, pork, poultry, fish and vegetarian dishes. Store fresh Licorice mint leaves wrapped loosely in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Dried herbs can be stored in an airtight container for up to 6 months.
Licorice mint is recognized and has been used as a medicinal herb for centuries. It was burned by the Native peoples of the Plains and Canada to help alleviate depression and was used to make poultices and salves for burns or wounds. The herb was used to improve digestion, alleviate the symptoms of colds and cough, and to help strengthen the heart. The Woods Cree of Saskatchewan used the leaves for tea and as a flavoring for foods. Today, volatile oils are extracted from the plants leaves and flowers to obtain methyl clavicol and methyl eugenol for use in liquers, foods, root beer and perfumes.
Licorice mint, Agastache foeniculum, is native to the Midwest and Great Plains region of North America. It is found in southern Ontario, Canada and west to British Columbia, but is rarely found growing wild in the United States west of the Rocky Mountains. It was first identified in the 18th century by Frederick Pursh, and later written about by the botanist Otto Kuntze in 1891. Licorice mint grows best in more temperate, cool weather regions and is a perennial plant, dying back in the winter and reemerging in the spring months. Licorice mint is most often found growing in home gardens and may be spotted at farmer’s markets or specialty stores.