It would never have occurred to me that the mint we have all over our property is toxic! It’s not one of the top poisonous plants you hear about when you have horses. But apparently, this particular variety, Perilla Mint, is quite toxic and can be fatal to goats, sheep, cattle and horses. Luckily, we had an agricultural extension agent out from Virginia Tech to help us identify any potential toxic plants growing in our pastures – and she found it all over. She spotted some right up against our barn, and in the back pasture. Unfortunately, they exploded all over our property throughout the summer. They like growing near wooded areas or areas that get shade. I can’t tell you how many times I went out to pick the plant when I spotted a new bunch. All parts of the plant are toxic, but especially the flowers. And it is recommended that you pull and remove them from your property since it is still toxic even when dried out. (So, no tossing it into the compost pile or using it as mulch like I do with other weeds that I pull.) This one has to be bagged and hauled away.
It is quite easy to pull out of the ground since it doesn’t have a very strong root system, however, I found a lot of time is spent removing the excess topsoil from the roots. After everything we have done to try and enhance our soil this past year, the last thing I wanted to do was throw out a bunch of good soil. Plus, all the extra soil weight was making those bags heavy! A couple of tips – don’t pull them out when the ground is still moist from a rain. The soil clumps together and is much more difficult to shake free. And secondly, if you put your foot right up next to the stem and then pull it out, you can usually prevent pulling out a large chunk of soil to start with.
I must admit that it is so much more fun to do chores like this with good company! Once my neighbor came out to the fence line with her morning tea and we chatted while I pulled weeds. The time went by so quickly that way and it was a fun and fond memory, rather than a chore. Another time, I was able to convince two of my daughters to join me and what was supposed to be a “I promise we will just do 20 minutes of weeding” turned into an hour and no one realized it! Spending time as a family getting work done on the farm feels really good and I hope the kids will look back and value that time too!
When pulling weeds is a necessity for the safety of your animals, it’s not something you can ignore or put off. They should all be removed before or while they are flowering, so you can get them off your property before they go to seed. Check out this link from Virginia Tech to help you identify Perilla mint. This weed is so prolific, I am going to have to do a better job of staying ahead of them next year. To date, I’ve filled 5 large contractor bags full as well as 8 large brown paper yard waste bags, and we are still going. Perilla mint can have purple leaves or they can be green but if you look at the underside of the leaf it is purple-tinged like this one.
It is easy to identify because of its minty aroma, serrated leaves, and flower spikes!
Here are some additional references I found regarding the toxicity of this plant:
Interestingly, this same weed is also EDIBLE for humans! According to the Washington Post, people eat the leaves raw or use the oil for cooking. It has more of a basil taste to it than mint, but can be used in many ways. In many Asian countries, it is used for its culinary and medicinal properties and is quite popular, used in stir fry dishes or to wrap rice. You might see it called shiso in Asian supermarkets.
So, perhaps next summer I might consider picking and selling them at the farmer’s market instead of throwing them away!