The most important herb for Spanish speaking nations:
Spanish speaking people rave about hierba Buena, not matter where they come from: from Spain Cuba, Peru even North America, hierba Buena seems to be the one medicinal herb everyone knows. The funny thing about it: in every country or even region hierba Buena referres to a different plant, sometimes it is not even the same species!
It’s mostly about mints:
In most cases the herb hierbabuena refers to mentha spicata (syn. M. arvensis) or the common Spearmint or mentha verde shown in the picture left.
The name hierba buena is used for two other mints: mentha citrata, pictured on the left in some parts of Central America and mentha nemorosa. Mentha citrata has a strong citrus flavour, hence its name. In Cuba yerba Buena (M. nemorosa) is mojto mint used for the famous Cuban cocktail. Other common names for m. nemorosa are: large apple mint, foxtail mint, hairy mint, woolly mint or simply, Cuban mint. To me m. nemorosa looks pretty much like spearmint.
The website Chileflora lists mentha aquatica or sandalo del aqua as hierba Buena. which looks like this:
Sometimes hierbabuena is not a mint:
There are at least four other plants which are called hierbabuena, none of them are true mints: Satureja viminea (left), Clinopodium douglasii, Eriodictyon californicum and Tagetes minuta.Of all four plants only Clinopodium douglasii belongs to the mint family.
Clinopodium douglasii, is a shade tolerant undemanding groundcover, good for trailing over walls or in hanging basket. It is a North American plant used as a panacea also known as Indian mint or Oregon-tea. I don’t grow this one, but it is a pretty plant I should try out!
Satureja viminea, a close relative of savoury, is the hierbabuena of Puerto Rico. It is a close relative of the traditional culinary savory.
In Peru the name hierbabuena is sometimes applied to a shrubby aromatic marigold, Tagetes minuta also known as huacatay or “black mint”; in this case, despite some similarities of flavour, the herb in question is in the Sunflower family and is quite unrelated to any of the mints or mint-relatives with which it shares a name. It lacks the showy flowers of our garden tagetes.
There are probably many more plants called hierba buena, the only common feature is that they are all medicinal and all are good herbs! If you happen to be of Spanish or South American origin you probably disagree with what’s written and add some other plant to the list…