How to Harvest and Preserve Mint
I love mint so much. It’s delicious in homemade ice cream, spring rolls, or in a cup of tea. This herb is so low maintenance, it’s almost impossible to kill. You can almost plant it and forget about it. It roots easily so you’ll never run out of cuttings to give to all your friends and family. All you have to do is brush up against it to get a whiff of that gloriously fresh scent. I love it so much that I may have six containers of that glorious greenery on my porch.
My favorite feature of mint is how often I get to harvest and dry it for use in recipes. Mint actually does better when harvested frequently, and you can get two or three harvests per growing season if you watch it carefully and catch it before it blooms.
Step One: Choose the Right Time to Harvest
You’ll want to catch your mint plants right before they begin to flower for the optimal overall taste of the leaves. Mint that’s ready to bloom will be over a foot tall, and will develop a bud that looks a little like the flower on a hops plant. If left unattended, the bud will develop into a light purple fuzzy flower, which will signal the plant that it’s time to stop growing and go to seed. Since I want my mint plants to keep producing right up to the first frost, I make sure to harvest before the flower starts to emerge. If I see my mint start to bud and don’t have enough time to harvest and dry it all at once, I’ll often pinch the young bud off to give me a few more days. If possible, harvest in the morning once the dew has dried off the plants. This time of day is when the herb’s oils are strongest.
Step Two: Harvest Selectively
With a pair of sharp scissors or a pruning knife, cut off all of mint’s stalk an inch to two inches above the ground. I leave a few leaves below my cut so the plant grows back faster and healthier with foundations leaves for photosynthesis. Your mint should grow back to its original height at least one to two more times depending on your location. The later crops may not as be bushy as the first, but that’s normal since the plant starts to ramp production down after its first growth.
Step Three: Preservation
Now that you have all this delicious mint, you’re going to want to save it so that you can use it until next year’s crop pops up. You have a couple different preservation options depending on how you plan to use your herbs.
The easiest method is to wrap a few sprigs in a damp paper towel or cloth, tuck the bundle in a plastic bag, and place it in the warmest spot in your refrigerator. The mint will stay fresh and tasty for several days, making it perfect for dishes like Thai spring rolls, salads, and drinks.
Your next option is to freeze freshly chopped leaves with a bit of water to lock in their fresh flavor a bit longer. Use a sharp knife to finely chop all the other leaves. Drop a few teaspoons of the mint into the bottom of a ice tray and add just enough water to cover the leaves. Once the ice is firm, you can pop out the cubes and store them in a plastic bag. The mint infused ice makes an excellent addition to drinks, or you can melt the ice in a fine mesh sieve and add the thawed leaves to your recipes.
Finally, my favorite option for preserving mint is to dry it (and then use is for mint tea!) To dry mint you can either hang the stalks for a slow, even drying time, or use an oven to dry it faster. If you choose to hang your mint, tie the stems in small bundles and hang the herbs in a warm dry place for two weeks or until the leaves are brittle to the touch.
To dry the mint in an oven, strip the leaves from the stalk and place them on a parchment paper covered baking sheet making sure that they don’t touch. Set your oven to 170 degrees Fahrenheit, and allow the leaves dry for half an hour. Stir the leaves at the fifteen minute mark, and then check the leaves every ten minutes until a test leaf crumbles easily in your fingers. Once the leaves have cooled, they are ready to store. I like to use a small canning jar for mine. Dried mint stored in an airtight container left in a dark place can keep its flavor for up to two years.
And that’s how to harvest and preserve mint! Go out there and save your mint for use all year.
Check out this post to learn how to brew a delicious cup of tea with your freshly dried leave.