As the demand for corn has skyrocketed, so has the amount of land taken over by corn farms. And that means less land is now available for crops like peppermint. And that means less peppermint oil and potentially higher prices for the supply that is produced.
But if researchers from Mississippi are correct, that state’s cropland may be a viable alternative to croplands that are being lost further north. And with only a few changes made to the way peppermint is harvested, the results may even be better. Mississippi’s milder, southern climate means 2 harvests per year instead of one.
This is good news for all of us who use peppermint oil heavily. In 2008 alone, production of peppermint essential oil—which is largely a U.S. crop—dropped more than 19% and was expected to continue to drop as demand for corn acreage increased. Currently, most of the world’s peppermint oil is produced in the Great Lakes area of the U.S., where it’s commonly classified as in invasive species due to its ability to spread vigorously.
Peppermint is actually a hybrid and produces no seeds. For decades, botanists believed that the best peppermint oil needed long periods of cool weather to maximize its menthol content. However, this 2-year study finds that small changes in the way peppermint is grown and harvested can result in an essential oil that is virtually identical to its northern-grown counterpart.
Zheljazkova. V., et al. (2010). Peppermint Productivity and Oil Composition as a Function of Nitrogen, Growth Stage, and Harvest Time. Agronomy Journal.