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A Bit of Encourage-Mint

Few plants omit a smell as immediately identifiable as plants in the mint family. Without even knowing what mint looks like, whether it’s been walked through in the forest, collected from the garden, or harvested from the fields, it’s immediately clear what’s been stumbled upon.

According to a 2018 article from the University of Wisconsin-Madison News, “Mint oil – an essential flavoring for gum, toothpaste, mouthwash and tea – is grown by a dozen Wisconsin farmers on about 3,000 acres, usually on lowland, ‘muck’ soils in the south-central part of the state.” Mint prefers rich, moist, and slightly acidic soils, with full sun or partial shade, and several varieties of mint are native to Wisconsin. The most commonly cultivated varieties are peppermint and spearmint, with Wisconsin ranking as one of the top mint oil producing states.

Wisconsin Ag in the Classroom shares that “Mint is a perennial crop planted in late March and early April by taking the roots or underground runners from one field and establishing them in another.” About 60 inches of rainfall is needed each growing season for optimum growth. The plant reacts with the sunlight and produces the mint oil, stored in glands on the underside of the leaves. During harvest season in mid-July to September, the mature mint plants are cut close to the ground and left in the field to dry, similar to hay. The mint is then chopped and put into a mint tub, a specialized wagon, to bring it to the distiller to be processed into mint oil.

Mint grown on that scale in Wisconsin is typically turned entirely into oil. However, wild mint found across the state or grown at home is easy to use in teas, ice cream, baked goods, and more! The mint plant sends out runners that, once they take root, can establish new plants. This means your garden or yard could soon be overrun, so it’s important to plant mint into containers. Those containers can be sunk into the ground if desired, but it should still be raised a few inches to prevent the runners from touching the ground. Seeds, divisions from established plants, or stem cuttings can all be used to establish your own patch. For best growing results, the soil should be well draining and doesn’t need to be very deep, as the roots are shallow. Watering the plant every two to three days will help ensure the best flavor possible! Mint loves full sun but can tolerate more shade and can even grow inside on a windowsill for easy meal incorporation!

When you’re ready to use your mint, just clip off a few leaves or sprigs from the plant, ideally before the heat of the day sets in. If you have more mint than you can use, you can air dry the plant by hanging it upside down or by laying it across a screen until the stems and leaves are brittle. Then store them in an airtight container for use all year long!

Whether wild, grown in your yard, or grown on acres across the state, Wisconsin mint is a specialty crop that helps bring some flavor to our life!


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