Eastern Washington Remains Nation's Top Mint ProducerPosted: Updated:
HARRAH, Wash - Here in Eastern Washington we are known for our fruit and wines, but did you know we are one of the world's top producers in an oil that you use everyday?
You brush with it. You even chew it. It's likely that the mint oil you taste from those things came from our own backyard. Parts of Eastern Washington, mainly the Yakima Valley produce 75% of the nation's peppermint and spearmint oil.
Ryan ferguson is a third generation grower. Ryan and his dad manage 900 acres of mint in Harrah and send out 60,000 pounds of oil a year.
"There's something to say about a family farm. I'm working with my father, who is one of my best friends at the same time," explains Ferguson, part owner of Ferguson Farms LLC.
Ferguson says our long sunny days and available water is perfect for the mint plants to take off.
You might think the oil comes off of the leaves while they're green. That's a common misconception. Once the mint plants are ready to be harvested they are cut and then left to dry for a few days in the fields. Then they are picked up and chopped into little pieces and brought back to the distillery. That is when steam is added to the mint to extract the oil. The steam is then condensed back into water. At this point the oil is siphoned off the top of the water and put into barrels for shipping.
Even though he works with mint all day long, Ferguson says he doesn't get tired of it. I asked him if he ever chew mint bubble gum.
"Ofcourse! My favorite is still Wrigleys Extra ...in spearmint," says Ferguson.