Peppermint, as with other mint-type plants, is a summer-growing perennial plant. It is a low-growing plant that readily sends out stolons (runners), which develop new roots and shoots at the nodes. Under good growing conditions, the square-shaped stems generally reach 1m in height at maturity.
Peppermint has a long tradition of medicinal use, with archaeological evidence placing its use at least as far back as ten thousand years. In modern times, the oil in the leaves of the peppermint plant is distilled and its components used in wide range of applications including toothpaste, mouthwash, chewing gum, confectionary and as a flavouring agent in food. The oil may also be used in cosmetics and aromatherapy.
The United States of America (US) is the main producer of peppermint oil in the world and accounts for half of the world trade. Peppermint oil in Australia, although relatively small, is a maturing industry and its interests are represented by The Essential Oils Producers Association of Australia.
Facts and figures
- Peppermint is a perennial, herbaceous plant and can produce up to two harvests in a season under good growing conditions
- A major cost in the establishment of a peppermint crop is the purchase of stolons for planting
- Rust is a major production risk for peppermint
- Significant capital outlay for dedicated, specialised distillation equipment may be required
- The oil is obtained from steam distillation of the leaves and the oil may be further processed into different components
- The oil is used in the confectionery, food flavouring, cosmetic and aromatherapy industries
- The United States of America is the largest producer of peppermint oil and dictates the trade for the oil
The United States of America is the world’s main producer of peppermint oil, accounting for half of the world trade. Production in the United States is generally around 3,000 tonnes of oil per year. India has become a significant peppermint oil producer in recent years with production levels rising to around 450 tonnes a year and oil from the better suppliers is rapidly improving.
Australian import and export prices for peppermint oil have generally been declining over the past 20 years. The main export markets for Australian peppermint oil were Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.