Peppermint Part II

by Dr. John R. Christopher

Cultivation, Collection, Preparation

Any humus, moist soil will support the growth of Peppermint admirably. When you plant it, you should be sure to contain it if you don't want it to overtake the rest of your garden. Be sure that you are planting Peppermint starts if that is what you want. Peppermint is a different plant from spearmint. It has a dark-green, smooth leaf, while spearmint is hairy. When you chew Peppermint, it gives a cool feeling to the mouth, while spearmint does not.

The usual method of Peppermint culture in America is to dig runners in the early spring and lay them in shallow trenches, 3 feet apart in well-prepared soil. The growing crop is kept well-cultivated and absolutely free from weeds and in the summer when the plant is in full bloom, the mint is cut by hand and distilled. A part of the exhausted herb is dried and used for cattle food, for which it possesses considerable value. The rest is cut and composted and eventually plowed into the ground as fertilizer.

Liberal manuring can make the difference between a mediocre crop and a good one. Peppermint is said to require, per acre, 84 lbs. of nitrogen, 37 lbs. of phosphoric acid, and 139 lbs. of potash. Ground bone and lime do not seem to be of much benefit. Good, well-rotted compost should supply most of the needed elements.

Peppermint requires frequent irrigation if the soil does not remain moist on its own. It is important to keep the soil constantly moist though well-drained. Absorption of water makes the shoots more tender, thus facilitating cutting, and causes a large quantity of green matter to be produced.

Few pests trouble Peppermint, although crickets, grasshoppers and caterpillars may do some damage.

The herb is cut just before flowering. Sometimes a second crop can be obtained, much like hay. It should be carried out on a dry, sunny day, in the late morning when all traces of dew have disappeared. In many places, the herb lies on the ground for a time in small bundles, raked into heaps.

For companion planting, Peppermint planted or strewn between cabbages protects them from the white cabbage butterfly. Peppermint growing with chamomile will be hindered in its oil production, while the chamomile itself benefits from this association and will have higher oil content. Peppermint, if planted with stinging nettle, will have nearly double the oil content.

In the home garden, pick the plant's tops just before the flowers burst open. Dry it quickly in a warm, airy place out of direct sun. When it is completely dry, crumble it and store it in a cool, dry, airtight place. Be sure to cap it well each time you remove some of the herb for use.

When you make the tea, never boil it. Add boiling water to the crushed herb, lid well, and allow it to steep for three to five minutes. The herbs medicine and flavor reside in its volatile oils, which will escape if the herb is boiled.