At some point in the mid 1980s, we’d acquired a vining succulent plant which we’d never seen before. The seller at the flea market told us the plant was called Peruvian Mint. We planted it in the yard and it spread and spread. I especially liked where I planted it along paths, and when I walked there, the crushed leaves would perfume the air with its mintiness.
We had so much of it that we began to pot and sell it when we went to farmers markets and flea markets. One day in the early 1990s, while selling potted Peruvian mint at the Pasadena City College flea market, we met a man who told us that he was the one who introduced this plant into the United States. (I don’t recall his name). We had no reason to doubt him, and he explained that he’d introduced the plant about 10 or so years earlier. That explained why we’d not seen the plant in earlier years.
It took us awhile to learn the Latin name for this plant. Though sometimes called Peruvian mint elsewhere, we also saw people calling it the Vick’s plant, as in the Vick’s cough drops, because of the plant’s strong aroma resembling cough medicine. The Latin name is Plectranthus cylindraceus, and also known as P. marrubioides. It turns out that the plant is originally from South Africa, not from Peru.
Over the years, we’ve made minty infusions from the leaves and drank it just for flavor. It’s good with or without sweeteners. It is strongly mint flavored, with a touch of eucalyptus flavor.
We have also taken the leaves, rubbed them between our hands to mush them up, and then applied the mush to minor cuts, wounds and skin conditions with generally favorable results.
Due to its strong aroma, we’ve found that the mushed-up leaves can also be used as a body deodorant.
It’s also somewhat effective as a “mouthwash” by just chewing a bunch of the leaves and then spitting them out.
In my book, ‘Til Death Do Us Part?, I described how my wife stipulated in her will that her body be left undisturbed for 3 days after death. When she died, several friends worked with me to fulfill this wish. But how to “preserve” a body that is left in the home for three days? We were not undertakers, and none of us had done anything like this before. Still, it was winter and cold.
After a long powwow, we all decided to wash the body. Then we covered the body in a green slurry that we made from equal parts of Peruvian mint, Chinese jade, and aloe leaves, all of which were growing in abundance on the nearby property. We blended all the leaves with some water in a blender, and strained out all the solid material. When we applied the slurry, the body seemed to soak it up. This did a remarkable job of preserving the body for those three days. (The details can be read in the book). While it doesn’t seem likely that most people will ever have to use these plants this way, it’s still a good thing to know.
The leaves are somewhat thick, succulent, with prominent veins, which grow in pairs along the long sprawling stems. The flowers can be white or blue. As a garden plant, Peruvian mint is superlative. It requires no care, is an evergreen, it flowers, and it exudes a pleasant fragrance into the air when you step on it. It can cover a hillside in a few years, and will cover a bare area without much work. It grows with sun or with some shade.
I strongly recommend it as a survival plant in the garden of those with little gardening skills, or with little time to work a garden.
Stems for growing are available from WTI, 5835 Burwood Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90042. They currently send three growing stems for $8, which includes the price of postage.
I’d love to hear from readers who know more about this plant.
Christopher Nyerges can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041 or www.ChristopherNyerges.com.