29 Jan From the Farm: Harvesting and Distilling Peppermint
If you’re a fan of peppermint oil like we are, you should enjoy today’s post. We’re talking about harvesting and distilling peppermint, which is the process of getting our peppermint from the field to the bottle. It includes mowing the mint down, harvesting it into tubs, and then running steam through the mint to extract the oil.
Video: Planting Peppermint
If you’re interested in learning more about how we plant and take care of our peppermint, you can check out our From the Farm: Planting Peppermint video below:
Alright, let’s dive into the process of harvesting and distilling peppermint from the field to the bottle.
Mowing the Peppermint Plants
Our peppermint plants have had months to grow, and they did even better than we could’ve expected. Simultaneously, we’ve spent countless hours in the fields with hoes removing all of the weeds as not to let the oil be tainted. So, the fields are clean and fully grown, meaning it’s time to start the harvesting process.
The first step is to mow the plants down into rows. To do this, we use a tractor called a mower, which cuts the plants and piles them into rows that can be picked off the ground. Generally speaking, we try to mow when we have a rain-free forecast coming up. We do this because the mowed rows will need to stay in the field for a couple of days to dry. If it were to rain after we’d already mowed the peppermint, it would delay the drying process.
We do not go in and mow all of the peppermint down during this process. We have to plan by sections, with the understanding we only want to mow what we can harvest on time. This way, we don’t end up with too much mowed down mint that may get too dry or too wet.
Harvesting the Peppermint Plants
With the peppermint mowed, it’s time to get it from the field to the distillery. We use a tractor called a harvester to pick up the mowed rows. As the harvester grabs the rows, they’re chopped into smaller pieces. After the harvester chops the peppermint, it shoots the plants into tubs. The tubs transfer the chopped peppermint to the distillery.
This process works in an assembly line fashion, as one person is in the field driving the harvester while another is transferring the tubs. The tub driver will pick up the filled tubs from the harvester, drop them at the distillery, then bring an empty back to the harvester. By operating in this fashion, the harvester can continuously be filling tubs with fresh peppermint.
Distilling the Peppermint Plants
When the tub driver arrives at the distillery, they’ll drive the full tub through one of the lanes where it will be connected to the still.
The tub’s opening where the chopped peppermint plant is loaded gets covered once in place. The cover attached to the tub has a large pipe that will allow steam to travel from the tub. A hose is connected to the tub’s bottom that shoots steam inside. Built-in the tub floor are pipes that will distribute the steam throughout the tub evenly. As the steam rises through the chopped peppermint, it converts the oil on the plants into steam. The steam continues rising up and out of the tub through the pipe on the cover.
The steam, now a combination of water vapor and peppermint oil, follows its path through the pipes to the cooler. The cooler is a large container of cold water surrounding the steam lines. As the steam travels through the lines covered with cooler water, it turns back into a liquid exits into large containers. The oil is now liquified in the large containers, but it’s mixed with water from the initial steam. As the liquid oil and water sit in the container, they eventually separate because the oil is lighter than the water. The peppermint oil will rise and, in turn, float on top of the water, creating the separation of the two liquids.
You can tell a tub is finished “cooking” when only water is coming into the container. With the peppermint finished cooking, we extract the oil from the container placing it in a large barrel. Now you have 100% Pure Peppermint Oil in a storage container.
Dumping the Cooked Peppermint
With the oil extracted from the plants and the tub finished cooking, the tub driver pulls it out of the still. Once out of the still, the driver takes the tub to a designated location and dumps the cooked peppermint. Now they take the newly empty tub back to the harvester and grab another full one, starting the process all over again.
We hope you found this post on harvesting and distilling peppermint informative, and please feel free to let us know if you have any questions. Also, don’t forget to check out the products that have come from the process you just watched.
Grandpa’s Good Earth Peppermint Oil