Mint, the name of plants of the genus mentlia (from Mintha, a nymph changed into this plant), of the order labiatce, which is distinguished from related genera by an almost regular corolla and four fertile stamens; there are about 30 species, but few of which have any other than a botanical interest. Generally, when mint is spoken of, that which is also known as spearmint (M. viridis) is understood, while the common names of the other species have a descriptive prefix. Spearmint, common mint, garden mint, or usually simply mint, is a native of Europe, though found about moist ground and waste places in the' United States, having strayed from gardens and fields where it has been cultivated. It is handsome, cleanly, of a deep green color, with an erect stem 1 to 2 ft. high, furnished with oblong-lanceolate, nearly sessile, acutely serrate leaves, and ending in slender, tapering spikes of pale purple flowers. The fresh leaves, chopped fine and mixed with sugar and vinegar, form the mint sauce much eaten with lamb, and bruised they are used for compounding various beverages, especially mint julep.
An oil, upon which the properties of the plant depend, is separated by distillation in the same manner as described for peppermint; from this is prepared an essence, by dissolving it in alcohol, and a water, by mixture with that liquid, both of which are used to cover the taste of other medicines. - Peppermint (If. piperita) is more sparingly naturalized than the preceding, from which it differs in its more interrupted spikes and petioled leaves; it has a more pungent and camphorous taste and similar stimulating properties. The plant is largely cultivated for the production of the oil of peppermint, a culture that was at one time exclusively confined, in this country, to Massachusetts, the western part of New York, and some counties in Ohio, but was later taken up by the farmers in southwestern Michigan, where some years ago the breadth of land devoted to this crop was between 2,000 and 3,000 acres. At one time St. Joseph's county, Mich., was the headquarters for oil of peppermint, but recently the makers in Wayne county, N. Y., have by attention to the quality of the product established a reputation which has led to increased production, and this county now produces more in value if not in quantity than any other district.
Those engaged in the business have met with variable success, as the oil has been the subject of the operations of speculators; at one time the whole production of the country was controlled by a single firm, which in order to diminish the supply contracted with many large growers to discontinue the cultivation for five years. Peppermint requires a warm, rich soil; the land is laid off in furrows 15 to 24 in. apart, and sets, or parts of old plants, are planted thickly in the rows; the plants are kept free from weeds until they cover the soil; the harvest begins early in August and continues until October; the first crop of the field is the best, the second and third being much less; the fourth year the field is ploughed, and the crop springs up from the broken roots; the yield of the fifth year is about equal to that of the second, and after this the land is diverted to other uses. The first year's crop is best, not only because the plants are young and vigorous, but the mint is then free from a weed which is apt to spring up later, and also yields a volatile oil, which is bitter and pungent, and deteriorates the product; this weed, called mare's-tail, fire-weed, and by several other names, is erechthites hieracifolius, a composite somewhat resembling lettuce in appearance.
The mint is cut with a cradle having two fingers, and raked into cocks, where it remains 12 hours to wilt before it is distilled. The still is a wooden vat of heavy staves hooped with iron. 44 ft. deep and 6 ft. in diameter; the wilted mint is packed into this vat by treading it close with the feet until the vat is full, when the lid is fastened down steam-tight; a pipe enters the lower part of the vat to convey steam from a boiler, and another from the top of the vat connects with a worm, as in an ordinary still. The steam being let on, the oil from the mint is volatilized, and its vapor, mixed with steam, is condensed in the worm; the mixed oil and water are collected in a receiver, when they separate by their difference in specific gravity. The oil is packed in tin cans holding 20 lbs. each, and a large share of the product is exported. The chief consumption of the oil is for flavoring confectionery, and it also enters into the preparation of essences, cordials, and the like. Essence of peppermint, a popular carminative, is a solution of the oil in alcohol, of a strength proportioned to the price.
Peppermint water is prepared like other similar waters by first rubbing up the oil with carbonate of magnesia, slowly adding water, and filtering, a fluid dram of the oil to a pint of water; the use of the magnesia is to finely divide the oil and expose a large surface to the water, in which it is slightly soluble; any other inert powder will answer as well. - Corn mint (M. arrensis), which has the odor of decaying cheese, the round-leaved mint (M. rotvndifo-lia) the water mint (M. aquatica), and the whorled mint (M. satita), are other European species naturalized in some localities, but mostly rare. - Our only native species, the wild mint(M. Canadensis), is a common plant in damp places from Kentucky northward; it has hairy stems and leaves, and flowers in axillary whorls; its taste and odor are like those of pennyroyal. A smooth form of this, which has been called M. borealis, lias a pleasanter odor.
Spearmint (Mentha viridis).