Peppermint is an aromatic plant grown for essential oil production, which is a major aromatic agent. Peppermint is also grown for production of dry leaves, which are used in herbal teas. The essential oil is used in a number of consumer products such as chewing gum, toothpaste, mouthwashes, in pharmaceuticals, confectionary, and aromatherapy (Mint Industry Research Council, 2009). The major oil-producing countries include Bulgaria, England, France, Hungary, Italy, Moldova, Romania, Russia, and Yugoslavia in Europe, China, and India in Asia, and the United States. Peppermint has been grown in the northwestern United States for over 100 years. Peppermint oil production in the United States for 2006 was estimated at 3289 t per year from a harvested area of ≈32,076 ha (USDA, NASS, Crop Report, 2007). The U.S. peppermint oil is considered of high quality and U.S. essential oil broker companies have dominated the peppermint essential oil market.
The essential oil content and composition of peppermint are important economically for producers, processors, manufacturers of peppermint-containing products, and for consumers. Prior research has shown that environmental factors such as harvest date and photoperiod (Clark and Menary, 1979a, 1979b), latitude and growing conditions (Topalov, 1962), soil contamination (Zheljazkov et al., 2006; Zheljazkov and Nielsen, 1996), soil amendments (Zheljazkov, 2005; Zheljazkov and Warman, 2004), and agronomic practices such as harvest stage (Clark and Menary, 2006), irrigation (Nedkov and Georgiev, 1991; Ram et al., 1995; Topalov, 1962), pesticide application (Zheljazkov and Margina, 1996), or fertilization (Mitchell and Farris, 1996; Scavroni et al., 2005; Topalov, 1962) influence peppermint essential oil content and composition. The climate in the northwestern United States is considered suitable for the production of high-quality peppermint essential oil. As a result of the decline of peppermint growing areas in the northwestern United States recently (because of expanding corn acreage for ethanol production and other factors), there is a need and an interest toward the establishment of peppermint as a high-value essential oil crop in the southeastern United States. However, there are no reports on peppermint productivity, essential oil content, and composition in Mississippi or in the southeastern United States. The hypothesis was that peppermint can be grown in the Mississippi climate and its productivity and oil composition would be similar to mint grown in other regions or countries. The goal of this project was to investigate the possibility for production of peppermint in Mississippi. The objective was to evaluate the effect of nitrogen (N), location, and harvesting stage on peppermint productivity, oil content, and composition. This is the first study on peppermint as an essential oil crop for Mississippi and the southeastern United States.
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