Recently, I traveled to Michael Judd’s gardens for a tour as I posted in July. He is an edible landscaper in the Frederic MD area. His home yard was filled with gardens begun in a variety of ways. For example he had a wood pile at least 15’ long and about 4-5’ high. He piled straw on top, seeds and let it grow. In one year the mound was decomposing while plants grew. The end result will be beautiful soil. Around this area and others he grew spearmint. There may have been other mints but the big patch of spearmint caught my eye. He uses spearmint, St John’s wort, comfrey, and Siberian Tree shrub (legume, think nitrogen building) as ground covers. As a ground cover these plants grow easily, hold moisture which decrease water needs, provide habitat and companions for the garden. We saw him cut a bunch of spearmint and placed it down on the ground by a young tree. He leaves it there to decompose.
Mints have a rich history. The Greeks and Romans adorned their tables, feasts and crowned themselves with mint. I have read where peppermint oil was found in tombs 10,000 years ago. It is most known for the value of its essential oil. This essential oil is distilled from Piperita mentha, peppermint. The oil, commonly known as menthol, is ranked the # 1 oil produced and used in the world.
We grow peppermint in Michigan here in the US where thousands of acres are planted. In France a four year crop rotation is utilized with the second year crop giving the highest quality oil. After four years of growth and harvest, the soil is then used for a different crop. They do not plant peppermint in the field again for seven years. Here’s a photo of a mint operation in Michigan mid 1800’s.
What is an essential oil? “Essential oils or volatile oils are the most important group of chemical molecules of plants that make smells what they are. The origin of these names comes from the word “essence,” because the fragrances are the essence of many plants, and “volatile” because of their volatility. Volatile oils contain one or two hundred different carbon- and hydrogen-based compounds called terpenes or hydrocarbons. Each volatile oil is made up of a unique blend of up to one hundred different terpenes, which like an artist’s palette, gives the plant the ability to build unique essential oils each with their biological activity and mood- and emotion-affecting properties. Essential oils aren’t true oils like almond oil, olive oil, or flaxseed oil — those are called fixed oils. Fixed oils don’t vaporize the way essential oils do, and they are much heavier.”
This simply translates to fragrance, odor, and smell. Who doesn’t like the refreshing scent of mint in a wake-me-up shower gel or shampoo? Used extensively in the cosmetic industry, mints also add flavoring to a variety of foods, such as chewing gum, alcohol and soft beverages not to mention cakes, confections and ice cream. A sprig of mint in our tea or water is cooling on a hot summer’s day. Peppermint oil is also used to cover up an unpalatable taste in some drugs.
There is a difference in using the essential oil in food etc versus peppermint leaves in food. One source states it can take about 16 pounds of peppermint to produce an ounce of oil. It only takes one leaf to flavor our tea. One can easily see the essential oil is concentrated and goes a long way. Peppermint oil extract is less concentrated and is the product we use in recipes such as flavoring for frosting or to add to cookies.
Peppermint, cool and refreshing is a part of our day in many ways. To sum up: three advantages of growing peppermint in our gardens:
- Do not be afraid: To use as a ground cover, chop and add to compost or mulch. This is a stretch I know but I too planted spearmint outside my garden fence. It did not take much effort to keep it out and proved to be a great companion plant.
- Food flavoring and peppermint is a favorite of many chefs. Today we see these chefs on popular cooking shows extol the virtues of culinary herbs including mints. They provide us with a plethora of recipe options
- Personal care. One or two drops of pure essential oil in a favorite oil such as almond oil, jojoba oil can create refreshing massage oil. A sprig of tea can be added to flower sun tea as summer heat and humidity continues.
Do you have a favorite recipe? I would enjoy hearing from you.
Enjoy your day. Judith