How to Plant & Grow Mint Charlie (Clinopodium brownei)

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mint charlie clinopodium brownei micromeria brownie blooming
Mint Charlie has small lavender-purple blooms and fragrant, flavorful leaves. Photo by Mary Keim / CC BY-NC 2.0

Clinopodium brownei, commonly known as mint Charlie but often called Browne’s savory, is a fast growing aquatic plant native to the Eastern United States of North America. We will refer to it by both of its common names in this article. It can be found growing from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, as well as in the states of Tennessee and Illinois. In Florida, this plant is “critically imperilled” and it is therefore illegal to harvest it from the wild.

As the name suggests, mint Charlie has a pleasant scent similar to that of peppermint (Mentha piperita) when it is out of the water. Mint Charlie is not to be confused with creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea), also known as ground ivy.

C. brownei is light green in coloration, and produces lovely light purple flowers. Its shiny, rounded light green leaves are kidney shaped, and scalloped along the edges. ​Clinopodium brownei is among the over 7,000 species within the plant family Lamiaceae, the mint family of flowering plants. When the leaves of this species and many others (but not all) are crushed up, they produce the lovely, aromatic scent of fresh mint! The leaves can be plucked, rinsed, and used to make a hot tea or lightly crushed and placed in iced water for a refreshing summer drink.

Within its native range, Browne’s savory grows best in moist areas like woodland margins and hedgerows. It can be found growing commonly in freshwater wetlands, disturbed ditches, and damp forest peripheries. It’s considered an obligate wetland plant because it’s almost always found in wetland environments. While many gardeners dislike this plant due to its tendency to overgrow and difficulty to remove, many other people enjoy growing it in their gardens and ponds for its many daily uses, health benefits, and ornamental value.

Facts, Benefits & Uses of Mint Charlie

A Clinopodium brownei flower browne's savory mint charlie
The fragrant, petite, tubular flowers of C. brownei are perfect for smaller bees and butterflies. Photo by Jerry Oldenettel / CC BY-NC 2.0

Mint Charlie has an astounding number of benefits and cultural uses for mankind. At one point in time, it was an ingredient used in the production of beer because it added a nice bitter flavor, before hops were used in its place. Mint Charlie contains high levels of vitamin C, and many people enjoy using it as a healthy, tasty soup ingredient! It can also be steeped in hot water and enjoyed as a tea. 

Clinopodium brownei has been helpful in treating many, many ailments before modern medicine​! In the linked article, Browne’s savory is referenced under its former Latin name, Satureja brownei. It has been utilized to treat lead poisoning, and as an anti-inflammatory agent in the treatment of ulcers and asthma. Various cultures have used this amazing plant to regulate menstruation in women, flush out the kidneys, and even alleviate problems associated with arthritis and rheumatism. It is also believed to help topically treat sores and blisters on the skin, and improve your complexion! Mint Charlie is essentially a super-plant that has historically been used for a variety of ailments. 

Browne’s savory is known to attract incredibly important insects, like bees and small butterflies! These insects are integral to the environment and depend on flowering plants to survive. Not to mention, we depend on pollinators like these to survive as well!  

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Mint Charlie Fact Sheet:
Herbaceous Semi-Aquatic Evergreen
USDA 8 – 12
Full sun to partial shade
Light purple
April – July (Spring to Summer)
Height Up to 20 cm (8 in)
2’’ of damp soil or water
pH 7.0 (neutral)

Mint Charlie Growth, Hardiness & Climate

how to plant mint charlie in ponds
Mint Charlie can grow up to 8 inches tall, though shorter is more common. Photo by Mary Keim / CC BY-NC 2.0

Clinopodium brownei ​is known to have a very high growth rate! When it is growing in ideal environmental conditions, it can spread at a rate of up to 1.2 inches (3 cm) per week. It typically grows to heights around 6 to 8 inches tall. Mint Charlie typically flowers in the spring and summer months between April and July. It produces beautiful, small lavender-colored flowers that are funnel-shaped. These flowers give the plant ornamental as well as pollinator value. 

Mint Charlie grows best in warmer climates. The ideal temperature for the growth of C. brownie ​is anywhere in the range of 68-84° F (20-29° C). This plant requires lots of moisture as well, and grows best in sandy or loamy soils that are consistently moist or a couple of inches of standing water. Though it typically grows best in USDA hardiness zones 8-10, it can tolerate higher hardiness zones if ample moisture is available, but in lower hardiness zones will become an annual rather than evergreen plant.

How to Plant Mint Charlie In Ponds

how to plant mint charlie in ponds
Mint Charlie grows best as a terrestrial plant in damp soil or a couple inches of water, but can be submerged. Photo by Larry Allain, U.S. Geological Survey

Planting your ​C. brownei ​couldn’t be easier. You can simply lay the plant on your substrate where you would like it to root, and it will! You can also place the tips of the plant about ¼’’ (0.6 cm) underneath the soil. This plant adapts well to just about any soil type, but it grows optimally in fertile loamy soil that is rich with organic matter. Compost, leaf mould, and manure will all help your ​C. brownei thrive in its environment. Note that adding these things near a pond could contribute to nutrient overload, so either have adequate filtration and beneficial bacteria in place or simply don’t fertilize as this isn’t entirely necessary for the plant to thrive.

The genus namesake of Browne’s savory, Clinopodium, means “little foot.” In the case of mint Charlie, it is referring to the delicate, small leaves and flowers that the plant produces. If you plant your ​C. brownei ​at the margins of your pond, and allow it to reach surface level, it produces tiny, lovely lavender-colored flowers! It is a great plant to add to an outdoor pond, or even an indoor aquarium. It can grow as a floating top cover at the water’s surface, or rooted down in loose sand. The versatility of mint Charlie is one of the many great things about this plant. 

Mint Charlie, while often grown as a terrestrial plant, does have an aquatic form. This makes it a popular plant to place in aquariums with fish, due to its ornamental value and hardiness. It grows best when placed in the middle or rear of the aquarium. You can also plant it in a hanging basket and allow it to cascade over the edge beautifully; just be sure to water it regularly so that soil doesn’t dry out. 

Mint Charlie can spread in two ways: via seed, or stolons (creeping root-like stems). If it is spreading too rapidly or growing too fast, cutting it back only takes a little bit of time and effort, and it won’t cause any harm to your beautiful plant.  

How to Care For Mint Charlie

mint charlie clinopodium brownei in bloom with a spider
Provide Browne’s savory with partial sunlight and plenty of water, and it will be happy! Photo by Mary Keim / CC BY-NC 2.0

Due to its high adaptability to various environmental conditions, ​C. brownei ​doesn’t require a whole lot of time and care on your part. It does tend to grow rapidly and can overtake other aquatic plants if you aren’t careful, so you may need to cut back on the stems every once in a while. Doing so will not hurt your mint Charlie plant, and if you want to grow it in another location, you can simply transplant the cuttings and they will take root in a few days via propagation.

Browne’s savory can grow well in full sun if it has constant access to water, or in partial shade if the soil is consistently moist. Do note that mint Charlie does not tolerate drought-like conditions, and will die quickly if the soil and roots are allowed to dry out.

The stems of ​C. brownei ​will grow in a creeping manner, and the plant will spread horizontally over the landscape in all directions. Mint Charlie will then develop roots at its various nodes, and the roots will set into the ground. If you don’t want your Browne’s savory to overtake its environment, you will have to periodically cut it back and dispose of the cuttings. Removing dead leaves if they become excessive will help to keep your pond or aquarium well oxygenated.

How to Winter Mint Charlie

Clinopodium brownei ​is an evergreen plant within its warm, native hardiness zones. Below zone 8, however, it dies back on its own in the wintertime when conditions are too harsh for growth. It will maintain itself underground and at the soil surface until conditions become tolerable once again in the spring, at which point your mint Charlie will come back by itself! There is nothing that you need to do in terms of overwintering this plant, as it is very hardy and can survive through winter conditions. If you have particularly long and harsh winters, you may consider bringing the plant indoors for winter, or harvesting its seeds and replanting the next season.

Is Mint Charlie Toxic, Poisonous or Invasive?

Mint Charlie is believed to be toxic to horses, pigs, as well as cattle, so if you live on a ranch this would not be an ideal plant to have around. When eaten in large quantities, it can lead to symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea and tremors in these animals. It can also be toxic to dogs if they eat a lot of ​C. brownei, potentially leading to heart, respiratory, and kidney problems. 

While many people enjoy growing ​C. brownei ​on their property or in their aquarium, many others see this plant as an aggressive and invasive weed in areas of North America. It can adapt to a variety of environmental conditions, and grow readily outside of its native range. Due to its impressive hardiness and growth rate, it can easily outcompete and overtake native plants in the environment. 

To remove unwanted populations of mint Charlie, there are a variety of methods you can use. You can prune the plant back until you can easily access the root ball, and then pull it from the soil by the roots. While this method is labor-intensive, it is environmentally friendly and can be effective if you get all of the roots up. Another method you can try is ‘smothering’ the Browne’s savory by placing a large tarp over it until the plant suffocates. After 1-3 weeks of being covered up, the Browne’s savory should be fully dead, and you can go about removing the decaying plant matter.

A third, but last-resort method involves the use of herbicide. This method is less environmentally friendly, but it does work if you need to use it. Herbicide is most effective when used in the fall season, when the plant is beginning to die back for the winter. Be sure to only utilize aquatics-approved herbicides, else there will be damage to any plants, fish, microorganisms, and wildlife that depend on the pond, stream, wetland, etc. for survival.

Is Mint Charlie Edible? Will Fish Eat it?

It is unknown if fish gain any nutritional benefit from eating ​C. brownei, ​but this plant does provide them with the important habitat element of cover from predators. Household pets can suffer health issues if they eat too much mint Charlie, so it is best to keep it out of reach from dogs or cats. Mint Charlie is typically planted marginally either in just a couple inches of water or beside the water in damp soil, so it’s unlikely that fish will even be able to reach the plant. If the leaves spread atop areas of the pond that can be reached by fish, just keep an eye out for whether they’re showing interest in the plant of not. They likely won’t, but if they do just trim the plant back.  

Humans, on the other hand, can benefit greatly by ingesting the leaves of Browne’s savory. It can be a great addition to soup, salad, or even stepped into a nice, minty tea. The high levels of vitamin C that this plant contains can boost the immune system, and provide many other health benefits for the human body!

Where to Buy Mint Charlie & Seeds? (UK & US)

Mint Charlie can be found readily for sale online, usually for less than 5 US dollars per plant (3.5 pounds).  It can also be found at many garden centers in the US and in the UK. ​C. brownei ​is typically sold in bunched cuttings that are tied together by a rubber band. When Browne’s savory is sold, it usually doesn’t have visible roots yet, but don’t let that fool you – it is all ready to be planted! If your mint Charlie is too tall, you can cut it to your desired height and even plant the cuttings if you would like to propagate them.  

If searching for mint Charlie online, be sure to type in its Latin name, Clinopodium brownei, else you’ll inevitably end up with results for creeping Charlie, an entirely different plant. Mint Charlie may also be listed under the name Micromeria brownei, its Latin name before better genetic testing became available. You will also likely have better luck searching for its common name Browne’s savory over mint Charlie, due to the confusing nature of common names.

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