Purple FlowersThe Question: It’s nettleish even deadnettleish…hairy stems, bush like, so far about four feet, has round spiky balls and out of each spike a tiny—(three or four would fit on a dime) pinkish purple blossom grows out of each spike, and the blossoms look like tiny orchids or irises in shape. Leaves are toothy but rounded teeth, with opposing vein pattern and it seems to grow with this stuff that looks like mallow. What is it and is it edible?

Submitted by: Dakota, Hudson River Valley, New York, USA

The Short Answer: Unfortunately, there isn’t Purple Flowersenough detail in the photos to blow them up large enough to make a real identification. I’m not a wildflower expert, but just in looking through my field guide, I narrowed it down to something in the mint family (Lamiaceae), the madder family (Rubiaceae), or the genus Navarretia (Family – Polemoniaceae)? I then sent the photos off to the experts at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX and asked for their help. I got this response from Nan Hampton, “Both our expert, Joe Marcus, and I agree that this plant is a member of the Family Lamiaceae, but because the photos are so tiny we can’t do any better than that. With better photos we might at least come up with a genus.”

Lamiaceae, the mint family, includes many of our most common spices, including mint, of course, as well as basil, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, and thyme. So there’s a fair chance that your plant is, in fact, edible. But I do not recommend eating it until you know for sure. Either take samples of the plant to a local wildflower expert, or take some more close-up photos and I’ll try again to get an ID.

Thanks to: My thanks to Nan Hampton, Joe Marcus, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center for their generous assistance.

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