By Mason Heberling
When in candy cane form, it is easy to forget where the flavor came from. Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is actually a hybrid between two other mint species, water mint (Mentha aquatica) and spearmint (Mentha spicata). It is commonly grown for food as well as for use as a medicinal herb. It is also well known to escape garden settings and spread aggressively. Like other mints, this species is in the plant family Lamiaceae, which includes many strongly scented kitchen herbs. Members of the mint family are well recognized by their unique flowers and characteristically square stems.
This peppermint specimen was collected on August 29, 1965 by Norman R. Farnsworth in an open field at Ranalli’s Drive-In, eight miles north of Etna off Route 8, outside of Pittsburgh, PA.
Farnsworth (1930-2011) received his PhD from the University of Pittsburgh, where he researched medicinal plants. He was an influential professor and researcher in the field of pharmacognosy (study of medicinal drugs derived from plants). He was a founding member of the American Society of Pharmacognosy.
The Carnegie Museum herbarium includes 1,108 specimens collected by Farnsworth. Each specimen is recognizable, with an envelope attached to each sheet that includes a typed description of the results of chemical screenings he did on the specimen.
Check back for more! Botanists at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History share digital specimens from the herbarium on dates they were collected. They have embarked on a three-year project to digitize nearly 190,000 plant specimens collected in the region, making images and other data publicly available online. This effort is part of the Mid-Atlantic Megalopolis Project (mamdigitization.org), a network of thirteen herbaria spanning the densely populated urban corridor from Washington, D.C. to New York City to achieve a greater understanding of our urban areas, including the unique industrial and environmental history of the greater Pittsburgh region. This project is made possible by the National Science Foundation under grant no. 1801022.