A tiny plant we might only think of when it comes to gum or mints has an importance we never even thought!
Providing an unmistakable scent and packed full of all kinds of health improving qualities, mint is something we do not shine a spotlight on enough. During the holiday season, candy canes and mints are more visible than ever but this commodity is important to Oregonians year-round. Oregon ranks second in terms of production in the nation. The mint industry contributes over 40 million dollars towards the Oregon economy, or a quarter of all money (145 million) from the production of mint in the United States! Even though there are still mint farms in the US, there has been a decline in the number of operations as many global brands like Wrigley, Mars Candy Company, and Colgate toothpaste which used to purchase large quantities of this crop have opted to use synthetic versions of the flavoring instead of pure mint oil.
It is people like Mike Seely of Seely Mint, who operates a mint farm in Clatskanie, helping keep mint production alive domestically. As a 4th generation farm, Mike and his family are members of an elite group that help contribute to the United States producing 70 percent of the global mint crop. While some brands have shifted away from using the oil for their products it still serves dozens of applications. Globally, mint serves many uses in all sorts of things from chutneys in India, cooked into savory meat dishes in England or Morocco, added to noodles in eastern Asia, or a simple warm cup of tea. Tea was an important cultural aspect when I lived in The Gambia and shots of highly caffeinated and sweetened tea was enjoyed daily. To add something special to that tea, known as Attaya, fresh mint can be used.
At home or in the Classroom
Looking to make something savory at home using fresh mint? Try making a colorful salad with the kids! All you need are some colorful bell peppers, radish, leafy green of your choice, a generous handful of mint, carrot, maybe some edible flowers if you have access, some raw beetroot and a few grape tomatoes. Chop or grate the veggies and put into a salad bowl (this is great practice to work on kitchen skills in a supervised and safe environment). Sprinkle with the mint and the edible flowers. Add the dressing of your choice, or maybe a mint dressing, and serve. If you are looking for something sweeter, Oregon AITC has you covered with our no cook peppermints!
- 1/3 cup light corn syrup
- 1/4 cup softened butter
- 1-2 drops pure peppermint oil (this I highly concentrated, aka an adult should manage this)
- 3-4 cups powdered sugar
- Green food coloring (other colors can be used)
- Using an electric mixer, or by hand, knead together the first three ingredients.
- Continue kneading while you add in 3 to 4 cups powder sugar in small amounts.
- Add in 5 drops of food coloring.
- Knead the mixture until it is firm and smooth.
- Roll dough into marble-sized balls.
- Press them flat on wax paper.
For more instructions check out the activity on our webpage.
With over 600 types of mint plants used in all sorts of things, I have barely scratched the surface on what is possible with this plant. Beyond culinary, mint oil is used to: treat all kinds of stomach pains, a little oil on the forehead can help with headaches, using it on your pets can help prevent ticks, it can help with acne in humans, or help your dry scalp… the list goes on and on– really. I had no idea I could become so overwhelmed learning about something I thought I knew plenty about. To be turned from a plant in the ground to oil things start to get steamy! Through a unique process that is worth watching (below) steam pushes the oils from that plant and it goes into a tank where the oil separate’s from the water and then can be pulled out, stored and later used.
To learn even more about this North West staple check out the commodity page on our website!
- Casey Blake, Washington County Programs Coordinator