Summer in Yakima, Washington is the best. My family and I spend a lot of time in the great outdoors. We camp and hike the rugged Pine Mountain, go boating at Rim Rock Lake and spend weekends at our cabin, which is accessible by traveling two windy roads: Jackass Road and Nasty Creek (a little hillbilly humor!)
Summer wouldn’t be summer, however, without one of my favorite cocktails: the mojito. I love going out for a lazy afternoon on the lake, and having a refreshing drink in one hand makes it even better. But a mojito wouldn’t be a mojito without a main ingredient: mint.
My friend Taylor grows 700 acres of mint in lower Yakima Valley. He told me that the state’s dry, hot climate is why mint grows so well here, along with the wet, mild winters while the plant is dormant.
I visited Taylor’s mint farm this past spring (at the same time he was harvesting asparagus) after all the winter snow had melted and the mint had dried. I could detect a slight minty fragrance in the air. Taylor says he can only smell the mint when it’s swathed (cut).
With summer in full swing and the mint now mature, Taylor is in the midst of the first of two harvests this season. I was able to chat with him this week about his mint.
Taylor’s family grows the plant for mint oil, versus for fresh market.
Most people don’t know this, but Washington is actually the number one producer of mint for mint oil in the United States.
“The oil we produce is sold to buyers in Washington and Oregon, who clean the blend and refine it to certain specifications,” Taylor says. “The buyers then sell the oil to companies for use in toothpaste, medicinal purposes and candy.”
But how does Taylor get the oil from mint leaves?
He shared that following harvest, the mint is chopped and blown into tanks to be cooked. A boiler produces steam, which goes to the bottom of the tanks to cook the mint. The steam comes back out of the top and travels to a condenser, which cools it back to liquid. At this point, the oil and water separate, and Taylor draws the oil off into a drum. The oil is lighter than water so it floats to the top. It takes about two hours to cook the mint in a tank.
So what happens after harvest? I actually didn’t know if Taylor had to replant the herb.
“The mint is a perennial plant so we don’t have to replant it following harvest,” he says. “We will only replant when the mint is 7 to 8 years old.”
Since I love the smell of mint, and it seems relatively easy to grow, I asked Taylor if I can grow it for market – I do have two acres that my family will eventually farm. Taylor informs me that I’ll have to own the rights to grow the herb in the state – the same rule applies for Oregon and Idaho. Ok, that’s good to know.
Finally, I asked Taylor what his favorite use for mint is and if I can treat him to a mojito sometime soon to thank him for his time.
His responses? Gum, and “I don’t drink mojitos. I drink beer.”
Good thing Washington is also the nation’s largest producer of hops!
Author’s Note: I’m learning more about mint and have visited the Washington Mint Growers Association website for more information.