Growing Peppermint From Seed

Do you believe in love at first sight? Well, spearmint and watermint certainly did! In an enchanting tale that didn’t win any awards but stole our hearts nonetheless, these two aromatic herbs found each other in the most unexpected of places – the lily pond. Their union gave birth to a remarkable offspring known as peppermint.

Hybridization is nature’s way of creating something exceptional. And in the case of peppermint, it occurs quite naturally. Wherever spearmint and watermint are found, peppermint is bound to follow. You can spot this delightful herb in ditches, low-lying fields, pastures, and even near drainage culverts. It seems that spearmint and watermint aren’t choosy about their locations when it comes to love. So, forget what you’ve heard about shady labs and government experiments; nature has perfected the art of creating peppermint through cross-pollination.

Peppermint’s Remarkable Origins

Although some sources claim that peppermint only surfaced in 18th century England when it was cultivated, ancient texts suggest that this hybrid has been around for over 1500 years. In fact, it’s possible that its origins are even more ancient and intertwined with the histories of spearmint and watermint. Older cultures might have referred to any one of these herbs as “spearmint,” “peppermint,” or simply “mint,” not realizing that they were different varieties of the same plant.

The evolution of peppermint as a recognized subspecies took time. It wasn’t until 1696 that peppermint finally earned its rightful place in the botanical classification. However, most historians agree that the mint frequently mentioned in historical texts is, in fact, peppermint.

Peppermint’s journey began in southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Pliny the Elder, a renowned naturalist from the 1st century, mentioned peppermint as a food flavoring. Evidence suggests that ancient Egyptians cultivated a plant similar to Mentha x Piperita, and it appeared as a medicinal herb in 13th century Icelandic documents. Surprisingly, Europeans didn’t fully embrace peppermint’s medicinal properties until the mid-18th century.

Here’s a fascinating fact: more than 35% of all peppermint cultivated in the United States comes from Oregon. This state has dominated the peppermint industry for several decades now. According to Oregon State University, over 1000 acres of peppermint were planted and harvested in Central Oregon in 2012 alone, grossing over $1.8 million. Most of this peppermint is used to create essential oil, flavoring, cosmetic products, and herbal medicines.

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The Medicinal Wonders of Peppermint

Alexander the Great apparently banned his armies from consuming peppermint because it made them overly amorous, diminishing their fighting spirit. In the Middle East, peppermint was considered their version of the “Little Blue Pill.” While its alleged effect on virility might still be debatable, one thing’s for sure, peppermint does wonders as a breath freshener. And in the days before dental hygienists were readily available, fresh breath was a valuable asset.

Peppermint has earned its place in traditional and contemporary herbal medicine. The versatile herb can be transformed into tea, encapsulated, or used topically. Here are just some of the ways peppermint has been used:

  • Preventing flatulence (yes, we need to up our herbal keyword game)
  • Soothing upset stomachs
  • Relieving tension headaches
  • Reducing cold symptoms, coughs, and congestion
  • Acting as an antimicrobial agent
  • Enhancing memory and reducing stress
  • Easing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
  • Alleviating muscle pain
  • Reducing symptoms of tuberculosis and asthma related to lung inflammation

Peppermint’s primary component, menthol, finds uses in various products. It is a common ingredient in vapor rubs, reduces the harshness of cigarette smoke when blended with tobacco, repels lice when used as a scalp treatment, and helps combat plaque-causing bacteria when used in toothpaste.

While there haven’t been many specific studies on peppermint itself, medical practitioners consider it safe when used in moderation. However, we always recommend seeking the advice of your physician, especially if you’re pregnant or nursing. Remember, pets and small children are more sensitive to herbal products as well.

Pest Control and Peppermint

Did you know that peppermint oil has become a secret weapon against rodents, moths, and spiders? One of our customers swears by it. She scatters cotton balls soaked in peppermint oil around her RV when storing it, effectively repelling these pests. The same technique works wonders in sweater drawers, storage areas, and even crawlspaces.

Gardeners have also discovered that peppermint infusions sprayed on plants can ward off pests. Some even plant peppermint among their vegetables in raised bed gardens, but be cautious as peppermint can be invasive. Infusions or solutions made with peppermint oil can be used indoors or outdoors to repel ants. Just keep in mind that strong odors can irritate dogs, cats, and birds.

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If you’re looking for a compromise when it comes to repelling garden pests, try using mowed or cut peppermint as a mulch.

Peppermint in the Garden

  • USDA Hardiness Zones: Peppermint is a perennial in zones 5 to 11 but can be treated as an annual in colder regions down to Zone 3.
  • Foliage: Peppermint has spear-shaped, dark green leaves that are slightly glossy compared to other mints. Some peppermint plants even have reddish edges inherited from watermint.
  • Flowers: Peppermint blooms in late summer, producing lavender, purple, and sometimes burgundy flowers on long spikes.
  • Growing Habit: Peppermint grows upright, reaching a height of 1 to 2 feet. Its prolific runners and root system make it best suited for container gardening. However, it can also be used as a spreading ground cover if you’re prepared to control its growth by digging out the root system.

Peppermint prefers damp or wet soil to thrive. It’s perfect for drip-irrigated areas, pond edges, or boggy spots in your garden. Although short dry periods won’t kill peppermint, they may slow down its growth and reduce flower production. Peppermint prefers a slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.0. Adding peat moss to the soil can help retain moisture.

Partial shade is ideal for peppermint, but it can tolerate full sun as well. It also makes an excellent indoor plant when placed on a sunny windowsill.

When it comes to companion plantings, peppermint is believed to enhance the flavor of broccoli, kohlrabi, kale, and cabbage. However, it has a less friendly relationship with parsley and chamomile. Peppermint also acts as a natural repellent for ants, aphids, and pests that often attack leafy crops. Additionally, it attracts beneficial insects such as predatory wasps, hoverflies, and earthworms.

Tips for Growing Peppermint

  • When to Plant Peppermint Seeds: You can start peppermint seeds indoors anytime or wait until after the last spring frost to direct-sow them. Some gardeners prefer planting peppermint seeds a few weeks before the first fall frost to give them a head start for the following growing season.
  • Soil Preparation: Prior to seeding, amend the soil with aged, screened compost and ensure it is moistened.
  • Seed Depth and Spacing: Peppermint seeds, like most mints, require light to germinate. Simply press them lightly onto the surface of your soil or planting mix. When directly sowing or transplanting, space the peppermint plants 18 to 24 inches apart.
  • Germination: Peppermint seedlings emerge in 7 to 20 days. If you’re germinating them indoors, consider using a heat mat beneath your seedling trays.
  • Transplanting: Move your seedlings outside after all risks of spring frost have passed and they have developed two sets of true leaves. Alternatively, you can keep peppermint indoors and create your own herbal window garden.
  • Pests and Diseases: Peppermint is generally resistant to insect pests. However, it can be susceptible to Verticillium wilt, Verticillium dahliae, and powdery mildew.
  • Maintenance and Harvesting: Keep a close eye on peppermint and use a hand trowel to sever roots and create underground boundaries to control its growth. Trim surface runners as needed. Harvest peppermint leaves when they are most potent, before the plant directs its energy towards flower production. The more you trim it back (leaving about an inch above ground level), the more greenery you will get. Dry the stems and flowers by hanging them inverted in a warm, dry area, or freeze the leaves in ice cubes for future use.
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Peppermint Recipes

Peppermint doesn’t just offer amazing health benefits; it also adds a delightful touch to various culinary creations. Here are some peppermint recipes to tickle your taste buds:

  • Peppermint Extract: Most recipes that call for peppermint flavoring require peppermint extract rather than crushed leaves. You can find a fantastic recipe on My Frugal Home.
  • Peppermint and Vanilla Hard Candy: Take a unique approach to peppermint candy with this clear, glassy treat recipe from Taste of Home.
  • Peppermint Patties: No collection of peppermint recipes would be complete without a classic favorite. Find a delicious recipe on Allrecipes.
  • Fresh Peppermint Tea: Enjoy a refreshing cup of tea with this simple recipe from Yum Universe.

Send Samples to Seed Needs for Quality Control

At Seed Needs, we are dedicated to providing you with the freshest and highest-quality seeds. But just in case you’re feeling generous, why not send us a batch of peppermint candy? We’ll be happy to sample it for quality control purposes. Okay, fine, our product and customer care standards don’t depend on your candy, but if you have any questions about our non-GMO vegetable, ornamental, and herb seeds, feel free to contact us. We’re a family business committed to helping you and your garden thrive!

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