Lamium purpureum is an annual plant that flowers from April to November. It carpets huge areas and grows to be quite lush in fertile soil. It is a short lived plant but it will grow and flower even in the winter with mild temperatures. It is placed in the family Lamiaceae, the mint family. It grows to 20-30 cm tall.
Being a member of the mint family we see that its stem is square or four sided instead of round or cylindrical and the stem and the leaves are covered in hairy down. The leaves are simple and opposite.
The leaves are green at the bottom and have a purplish shade at the top of the plant; they are 2-4 cm long and broad, with a 1-2 cm petiole (leaf stalk), and wavy to serrated margins.
Many species in the mint family are also aromatic. Basil, rosemary, lavender, marjoram, thyme, savory sage, together with mint, peppermint and spearmint are from the same family as L. purpureum. There are a handful of other plants with square stems and opposite leaves as the Mints but those plants are found in the Loosestrife, Verbena and Stinging Nettle families and none of them smell minty and spicy. The common name for L. purpureum is ‘red dead-nettle’ indicating it’s similar in look to nettle but that it does not sting.
The flowers are special. They have five sepals, parts of the flower that protect the bud and support the petals when the flower is in bloom. The sepals are fused together so that only the tips of them are separate. The five petals are also fused together but in an asymmetrical or irregular way. L. purpureum has a top hood like petal, two short ones on the sides and two lower lip petals. Typically, inside the flower there are four stamens, the reproductive organs, with one pair longer than the others.
The flowers are zygomorphic which means having floral parts unequal in size or form so that it is possible to divide the flower into essentially symmetrical halves by only one longitudinal plane passing through the axis.
The more I learned about this plant the more I knew how well it suited my mother. My beautiful mother did not have high ambitions other than to be with her family. She was a woman of simple tastes. She knew to waste not and want not. She loved nature and she always had cut flowers in her vases. She would have enjoyed this useful and unassuming plant with the small pink flowers in her home.
Any member of the Mint family can be safely eaten. With L. purpureum the entire plant is edible. The nature and botany author Thomas J. Elpel tells us that the plant tastes a little grassy but the flavor is rather mild. The plant is highly nutritious, abundant in iron, vitamins, and fiber. The oil in the seeds is high in antioxidants. And the bruised leaves can be applied to external cuts and wounds to stop bleeding and aid in healing. Elpel recommends that the best way to eat large quantities of this plant is to blend it into a smoothie.
My mother was blessed with an abundance of fruit and vegetables in her diet since her childhood. She ate a rich variety of natural foods that she cooked herself. She did not waste. I wish, together, we could have tried out L. purpureum smoothies.
The flowers are loaded with nectar. This allows bees to gather the nectar for food when few other nectar sources are available. It is also a prominent source of pollen for bees in the spring when bees need the pollen as protein to build up their nest. In turn, the flowers are pollinated by bees.
The plant has medicinal properties. The whole plant is said to be astringent, styptic, diaphoretic, diuretic and purgative which all sound like remedies that help to detoxify the body. One way of consuming the plant is to add one tea spoon full of chopped L. purpureum to a glass of water in a pot and bring it to a boil, steep it until it cools and strain. Drink it three times a day between meals. The drink can be sweetened with honey.
27 species of Lamium are found in Turkey. L. purpureum is a species which has spread all over the world. As with many plants, outside of its native range, it is a common weed of cultivated areas; it is listed as an invasive species in some parts of North America.
One of many quotes from Vincent Van Gogh goes, “If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere”. My mother was a tolerant, peace loving and graceful woman who was always appreciative of what life had presented her. I believe her true love of nature helped her see beauty everywhere.
A picture of my mother taken in 1974