Calamintha nepeta, commonly known as calamint or field balm, is a wild and aromatic plant that is widely distributed across all regions of Italy. It releases an unmistakable fragrance, which accompanies enthusiasts on walks through meadows and trails. In ancient times, it was used in herbal medicine for its medicinal properties, a practice that is now declining but is worth reconsidering. Furthermore, it has various beneficial properties for the body. The plant also boasts a strong culinary tradition and is used in some typical regional preparations, which is why it is also known by local names such as nepetella, nepeteja, nebidedda, nitipitedda, etc. Lastly, it holds great environmental importance as it is a bee-friendly plant.
Let’s uncover all the secrets of Calamintha nepeta.
Botanical Characteristics of Calamintha Nepeta
Calamintha nepeta, scientifically known as Calamintha nepeta, is a perennial aromatic plant of the botanical family Lamiaceae (or Labiateae). It emits a strong minty scent, which is why it is colloquially called common or wild calamint. Despite belonging to the same family as the more well-known peppermint, these two species differ. Calamintha nepeta is characterized by a penetrating rhizomatous root, from which numerous stoloniferous stems branch out, some of which creep along the ground. The plant can grow over 50 cm in height and, overall, forms a beautiful bush. The stems are square in section, slightly hairy on the surface, and branched at the top. The leaves, the most aromatic part, are opposite, ovate in shape, covered in fine hair, with a slightly toothed margin and a sub-acute apex.
Calamint Flowers and Their Significance for Bees
Calamintha nepeta is a melliferous plant. The flowers are small and lilac-colored, gathered on the peduncle at the terminal part or in the axils of the upper leaves. Together, they form a compound inflorescence. Its significance for bees lies in its flowering period, which extends from late summer to autumn. This is a period with few flowers, so the nectar and pollen of calamint represent an important source of food for bees. It is rarely possible to produce monofloral calamint honey since beekeepers use this plant to allow bees to accumulate reserves for winter.
Habitat of Common Calamintha
Calamintha nepeta is a very hardy and adaptable plant. It grows in fallow fields, along dry stone walls in the countryside, in meadows, at the edges of roads, and in challenging terrain with dry conditions. It can be found from low hills to mountains.
The best time to harvest calamint is during its long flowering period when its aroma is at its peak, with the most concentrated essential oils. In winter, the plant dries out at the top, but it’s ready to regrow even more vigorously in spring. It can even grow back stronger when cut at the base. For these reasons, field balm is not cultivated, as it is so common and easily reproduces naturally.
Properties of Calamintha
Common calamint is excellent as a medicinal plant. Both the leaves and flowers are used, so you only need to pick it during flowering and let it dry in a cool, dry place. It keeps well in paper bags and is then used for teas, infusions, and decoctions. It has a wide range of biological activities, including antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as anti-ulcer and insecticidal properties. Common uses include its use as a diaphoretic, expectorant, febrifuge, and stomachic. Home preparations with field balm are also recommended for gastrointestinal disorders and to alleviate menstrual pain. However, its use is not recommended for pregnant women.
Calamintha nepeta in the Kitchen
It is in tasty regional recipes that calamint is still widely used today. The regions where it is most sought after are undoubtedly Lazio and Tuscany, especially in the Tuscia and Maremma areas. In Sicily, it is used to season brined olives. In general, it is perfect for accompanying dishes based on mushrooms, artichokes, and eggplants. The world-famous Roman artichokes are a prime example, of which Calamintha nepeta is a fundamental ingredient. It is mainly used fresh in cooking, but dried calamint works well too, much like oregano. Below, we present two very simple recipes with field balm, accessible to everyone and perfect for enhancing the flavor of dishes and highlighting the aroma of this plant.
Braised Artichokes with Calamintha nepeta
Ingredients (for 6 people)
- 6 artichokes
- 1 clove of garlic
- A bunch of fresh calamint
- 100 g of flour
- 3 San Marzano tomatoes
- Salt, black pepper, extra virgin olive oil to taste
Start by cleaning the artichokes, removing their barbs, and cutting them into quarters. Once cleaned, coat them in flour and sauté them in a pan with oil, seasoning with salt and black pepper. On a separate board, finely chop the fresh calamint together with the garlic. Add this mixture to the artichokes in the pan as soon as they are lightly browned and continue cooking until the liquid from the vegetables has dried up. At this point, add the previously diced tomatoes and continue cooking until a thick sauce forms with the juice released from the tomatoes.
Mushroom and Calamintha Tagliatelle
Ingredients (for 4 people)
- 400 g of fresh mushrooms (porcini or milk caps)
- 400 g of homemade tagliatelle
- 2 sprigs of calamint
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 glass of dry white wine
- Salt, extra virgin olive oil, and black pepper to taste
Clean the mushrooms from dirt and sauté them in a pan with oil and garlic. Add the chopped calamint and deglaze with white wine. At the end of cooking, season with salt and pepper. Cook the tagliatelle, drain them when they are still al dente, and finish cooking them in the sauce.