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Harvesting and Drying Mint

19 Aug

Mint is wonderful in the kitchen, medicine cabinet, and as a pest repellent.

Mint is one of those herbs that has a ton of uses and grows prolifically in the garden. Sometimes that prolific growth can be a nuisance (it has, in fact, take up residence in one of my raised beds and it’s definitely a battle between me and it). But like anything else in life, what can be seen as a hassle can also be take as a gift with just a slight shift in perspective: Instead of cursing your prolific mint, harvest it shamelessly and exploit it for one of its many uses! SHAMELESSLY!

There are many kinds of mint (spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, apple mint, pineapple mint, and others. They are all perennial, meaning they’ll come back year after year; you’ll have a never-ending supply of this tasty plant after sticking just one in your garden. But beware: if you don’t want it to spread everywhere make sure you plant your mint in an area where you won’t mind it getting a bit out of hand. However, flavored mints such as chocolate and apple are not as prolific as the straight-up peppermint and spearmint.

Mint does best in full sun to part shade with a soil that is slightly acidic, rich, and fairly moist, so if you live in a more arid environment, your mint won’t explode as it would in more ideal growing conditions. And, of course, you can grow mint in a pot for year-round fresh use provided it gets a southern exposure when indoors.

Mint not only serves as a valuable food and flavoring in the kitchen, it also has medicinal uses such as calming the stomach, assisting with gingivitis, helping relieve colds, and cooling overly warm skin, among others. It can also be used to repel pests in the home and garden, and lend a wonderful scent to washing linens when included with vinegar in the final rinse water of a wash. I’ll cover these uses in more detail in a future ‘spin.

HARVESTING

If your mint is a new planting, wait a year or two for it to establish a strong root system before you start harvesting it. You can clip fresh mint sprigs during this time for sure, but for a full-on, no-holds-barred harvest, wait until the mint is well established. With my established mint, I literally hack it back in late spring, mid summer, and again in very early fall until there is only about 6 inches of stem left; it grows back readily. Just make sure you don’t harvest too late in the fall; you want to give the plant enough time to recover before winter hits. Like any other herb, the best time to harvest mint is in the morning while the volatile oils in the plant are at their strongest.

After washing my mint, I lay it on a towel in several loose layers to dry thoroughly in the sun.

Before drying mint, rinse it clean under a spray hose in the kitchen sink, or outdoors if you have a lot of mint you’re processing in one batch. After cleaning, the mint must be thoroughly dried. I do this by shaking off the mint thoroughly, then laying it out on a few loose layers on a towel in the sun.

AIR DRYING

After my mint is washed and dried, I bundle it up for hanging and drying. I make my bundles loose to allow for the much-needed air to circulate around the herb and draw the moisture away. Air circulation is key when it comes to drying herbs; the air removes the moisture from around your plants and helps prevent mold from developing.

When making my bundles, I use rubber bands to secure the ends. Rubber bands have two main advantages over string: first, the contract as the stems dry out and shrink, thereby maintaining a tight bundle throughout the drying process and second, they can be used over and over. I save all of the rubber bands I end up with from the grocery store or anywhere else, and use them for my herb drying. I attached an unfolded large paper clip to my bundle and use the paper clip to hang the herbs from my ceiling. You can hang herbs from wall racks, or anything else you can think of as long as the location is warm and gets plenty of air circulation (i.e., basements are poor choices).

Rubber bands are the best way to hold herb bundles for drying. Here, a rubber band is first slipped over one stem, then wrapped around the bundle several times.

After wrapping the rubber band around the bundle several times, secure the end by slipping it over a few branches. This provides plenty of give for shrinkage.

You may have read that herbs should be placed in brown paper bags to dry. I believe this is nonsense. I think the only exception is when you are drying an herb such as dill and want to save the seed, then you’ll need to place a paper bag around the seed head. Otherwise,  unless you live in the driest of environments there is no way you’re going to get enough air circulation to draw the moisture away from your plants if they are suffocating in a bag. I am also lazy. Packaging herbs up for drying is just not something I am interested in spending my time doing since I see no detectable benefit from doing so, unless I am saving the seed. But I’m sure many will disagree with me, and that’s ok!

This re-purposed screen serves as a wonderful drying rack for herbs when hung from a ceiling in a warm, airy locations such as my front sun room.

Instead, I hang my herbs upside down from a drying rack I have hanging from the ceiling in my front sun room. The rack used to be a screen with rice paper lining, but the rice paper was torn at one point, so I removed all of the paper and the hinges, and hung it from the ceiling to serve as a drying rack. It also just looks kinda cool.

The ideal temperature to air dry herbs really varies; I’ve read anywhere between 70F and 120F. Frankly, whatever warm location you have available is the best location. So many guides provide supposed “rules” but ultimately the best environment is the one you have available to you. You just need to find a way to work with what you have. But with drying herbs, good air circulation is a must…without it your herbs will mold. If you don’t have good air circulation, consider placing a fan in the room in which your herbs are drying. And it’s best to keep your drying herbs out of direct sunlight; while my sun room is sunny, the herbs at ceiling level are protected from direct exposure.

How long does air drying take? It depends upon those unique conditions you are working with. In an 80F, moderately humid environment with moderate air circulation, bundles such as the ones shown above can take two to four weeks. Here in Colorado in my very warm sun room, it only took about 4 days to get crisp-dried mint.

OVEN DRYING

I encourage you to air-dry your herbs whenever possible; it just seems a lot easier to me if you have the space and if your environmental conditions are dry enough. However, if you live in a moist environment or don’t have the space to hang herbs, oven drying is a great option! Some people even prefer the flavor of oven-dried herbs to air-dried. Frankly, I can’t tell the difference.

To oven dry herbs, you also want to wash and either air dry or pat them dry before proceeding. Then you can either strip the leaves from the stems and place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet, or lay the stems on the cookie sheet themselves in a single layer. Place the herbs in a warm, 180F oven for 3 to 4 hours with the oven door cracked to allow moisture to escape. Then, crush the leaves and store.

COLLECTING AND STORING

Collect your dried mint by crushing the leaves off the stem.

The leaves are the edible portion of mint, so when it is thoroughly dry, you’ll need to remove them from the stems. I do this by taking one of my bunches, holding it over a large bowl or sheet, and simply pressing the stems. The leaves crush off cleanly from the stem, and any bit of stem that might break off and fall is easily removed after I have finished removing all of the leaves from my mint.

It is recommended that you store your mint in a cool location away from direct sunlight. I store a portion of my mint in a used tea tin and keep it in a cupboard by my tea kettle. The rest of my yearly supply is stored in a large air-tight mason jar in my pantry. Sometimes I just take the jar out and look at it…herbs that you harvested and dried yourself are not only fresher (and thereby tastier) than store bought, looking at them can also help us feel the summer sun on a cold winter day as we recall the harvest.

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44 responses to “Harvesting and Drying Mint

  1. Heidi @ lightlycrunchy

    August 19, 2012 at 9:28 am

    How do use the mint in your home remedies and washing linen? I’d love to see some examples. I have lots of mint and have used it fresh, but have no idea what to do with it dried.

     
    • Rural Spin

      August 19, 2012 at 9:44 am

      I have ground up dried mint very fine until it is a powder, and included a small amount in final rinse water along with the fabric softener, vinegar! I also have purchased mint essential oil as well for this purpose. Mint tea using dried leaves is a medicinal as is vaporized dried mint in steaming water (breath it in to sooth a cough and help clear nasal passages). I have also made my own tooth powder with turmeric, baking soda, and powdered mint. Dried mint is also a wonderful addition to stews and cooked meats like lamb and beef. I also love making yogurt sauces using dried mint when fresh is not available in the winter.

       
      • emmycooks

        August 19, 2012 at 2:20 pm

        Whoops! We are on the same page but I didn’t see this q before I posted my own! Dried mint in yogurt sauce sounds good…

         
      • Ann Watson

        January 14, 2014 at 6:26 pm

        Thanks for your wonderful thoughts about using mint! I am keen to try them!I have not heaqrd of yogurt sauce using dried mint. Fantastic!
        Thanks a million!
        Ann

         
      • Rural Spin

        January 14, 2014 at 6:29 pm

        You’re welcome! Thank you for reading!

         
      • wlday@comcast.net

        June 25, 2014 at 2:38 pm

        I suspect my dried mint has been corrupted by mold. If possible I would like to send you a photo of the dried leaves. the edges of the leave are a dark greyish color. Should this be discarded? Your final died leave look greener than mine. I may have been drying in too large bundles. What is your assessment?

         
      • Rural Spin

        June 25, 2014 at 5:45 pm

        If the leaves are moldy they should be composted; you could just pluck off the mold leaves and keep the rest, but I’m not sure how much mold we’re talking. I’m not sure if your bundles were too large, but smaller bundles are better than larger ones. Air circulation and heat are also key to prevent mold. But look at your bundles and see where the dark grayish color is. If it is uniformly distributed on the outside and inside of a bundle, it is likely not mold. If it is just internally where there is less air circulation, it is likely mold. Keep in mind that any mold will affect the taste of whatever you will be using your dried mint for. I will send you an email, and you can send me a photo as an attachment to a reply email. :-)

         
  2. lindasgarden

    August 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    what a brill post i been meening to try to dry some but was not quite sure which was best your post has answerd it clearly thank you

     
  3. emmycooks

    August 19, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    What do you do with all your dried mint? I grow tons but never dry it because I’m not sure what I’d do with it.

     
  4. Katie

    August 31, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    I love this! I’m starting an herb garden and I know I’ll end up with tons! I was wondering what I would do with it all. Great post. :)

     
    • June

      June 11, 2014 at 7:14 am

      Sell it:)

       
  5. Brandy E

    October 27, 2012 at 11:12 am

    We have found a great use for all the mint stems that are usually waste. We burn them in small bundles like a sage stick. Sometimes we throw in some sages or cinnamin basil stems as well, any aromatic dried herb stems should work well. They smell great and really help to clean the air by producing lots of negative ions – though they are pretty smokey! You could also use them to make a tea you can drink or use for cleaning.

     
    • Rural Spin

      October 27, 2012 at 11:22 am

      Love the burn-bundle idea!

       
  6. Bearlakenana

    November 1, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    I love my mint plants, but like you say they have a tendency to overpower the area. This year I dug up plants and put each variety into a large and separate pot to control this issue. This has worked well for me. I would also advise this method for anyone growing horehound.

     
  7. Mitzi

    June 17, 2013 at 8:41 am

    I sometimes place my herbs on a towel on the dash board of my car while it sits in the sun. A couple of days and it is ready. Also use a couple of cookie pans to hurry up the process

     
  8. Chandra

    July 3, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    After I dry my mint. I bundle the dry leaves in cheese cloth and put in a stock pot filled with water and heat. I make mint jelly with it. And now with all the different “flavors” of mint, it gives me a variety of jellies to give as gifts.

     
    • crypticomega

      April 7, 2014 at 10:30 pm

      Mint jelly? That’s fantastic! Which recipe do you use?

       
  9. BJEvS

    August 6, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    I soak my orange and spearmint in a small jar of tea, and use a bit of that solution to flavor the ice tea. So instead of dehydrating, what’s can go wrong with doing the same with the mint in distilled water, and making ice cubes for long storage?

     
    • Rural Spin

      August 7, 2013 at 10:01 am

      That is definitely an option for you if you are not fond of dehydration or want to use another method!

       
      • BJEvS

        August 16, 2013 at 5:20 pm

        Thank you for your feedback. I would try drying the mint; have tried unsuccessfully before with the microwave – not a good choice. Don’t know about the oven. I used to have a dehydrator for making beef jerky.

        What is the best way to dry, and time to pick the mint for best results? I live in Albuquerque, so no problem with humidity. But a small apartment, and little funds for another dehydrator. Then there is the self-life and best storage.

        I know mint dried can work and be near as strong in flavor as fresh picked. I’ve purchased it from a tea seller. Tried also to buy spearmint liquid, but the alcohol preservative make it lousy to use cold from the bottle for ice tea.

        Thank you for anymore help.

         
      • Rural Spin

        August 20, 2013 at 7:48 am

        You can harvest mint two or three times in a growing season! To harvest, wait until right before flowering and cut the stems about one inch from the ground. Then let it grow until your next harvest. I prefer air drying simply because it is easy and doesn’t use any energy. In New Mexico, this is a great option for you as well. Store in an airtight container and keep in your pantry. Mint is so tasty in tea, I always run out! But in an apartment, try keeping a mint plant on a south-facing windowsill and harvest fresh leaves whenever you like. :-)

         
      • BJEvS

        August 20, 2013 at 3:24 pm

        Thanks for your feedback on the harvesting. It may take a while before the flowering as it is in a pretty small pot (foot in diameter). I have seen it flower though when I owned a home and more space to grow.

         
  10. twila wahl

    September 23, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    Some of the mint I have picked to dry has flowered.Can I still leave the blooms on and dry as usual for tea??

     
    • Rural Spin

      September 23, 2013 at 9:14 pm

      Yes you can…the flowers just have a milder flavor than the leaves.

       
      • twila wahl

        September 23, 2013 at 9:37 pm

        Thank you for the info :-)

         
      • Rural Spin

        September 24, 2013 at 12:42 pm

        You’re welcome!

         
  11. Linda

    September 27, 2013 at 7:40 am

    I use mint in the water when steaming vegetables. Mint also tastes wonderful on fish. I also chew on a leaf after meals to satisfy my sweet tooth instead of sugary desserts. I love the mint tea also. I wanted to preserve some for the winter months. Drying seems a bit much for me. Especially the hanging part. I don’t really have a place for that. I will probably try the oven method. Thanks for all your tips on using this wonderful herb.

     
  12. Anne

    September 27, 2013 at 8:25 am

    I finally found English mint, beloved by all “Brits”. I have it growing in large container, to do just that. With our very low winter temperatures here in Alberta, should I plant the pot in ground, leave it outside in sheltered spot or take indoors? (barn, workshop – both with very low heat).
    Look forward to your input.

     
    • Rural Spin

      September 27, 2013 at 8:57 pm

      English mint (Mentha spicata) is hardy to zones 4 through 9. Alberta has a hardiness zone of 4 at the warmest. If you live in one of these warmer parts of Alberta, you can bury the pot in the soil and cover it well with something like straw, or a very thick covering of mulch. If you live in a cooler part of Alberta, it would be safer to take the pot indoors to overwinter (don’t let it get bone dry, though).

       
  13. Kathryn

    October 13, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    I just purchased a mint plant from Walmart, that I’ve been dying to get for a long time. I’ve planted it and placed it in a windowsill. I’m new to this, and I’ve read a lot of different ways to care for it, which has me rather confused. The main question I have is how do I know when it’s a good time to harvest the leaves?

     
    • Rural Spin

      October 13, 2013 at 8:31 pm

      Since it’s meant to be a windowsill plant, you will ideally harvest the leaves on an as-needed basis. You harvest a few for a cup of tea, for instance, or a recipe, here and there. Just pinch from the tip and the plant will be sure not to go in flower, which can make the leaves a bit bitter. However, there is not great secret to this, and the taste will not be noticeably different from a fresh plant. Just harvest as needed, and make sure you don’t over harvest to the point where there are too few leaves or stems for the plant to support itself.

       
  14. juls

    October 16, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    I’m just harvesting my mint today. I’ll be making mint extract for gift giving at Christmas. Once your mint is dry take 1/4 cup of mint leaves, 1/2 cup of vodka and 1/2 cup of filtered water (I quadruple this) and put into a mason jar/jars. Let this sit for at least 3-4 weeks. Strain out the mint and put into 4 oz or 8 oz jars for gift giving. A cute tie of raffia, a lable and a candy cane attached make this an adorable gift for the holidays.

     
    • Rural Spin

      October 16, 2013 at 3:50 pm

      Nice idea! You can also do this with fresh mint.

       
  15. Amy

    November 7, 2013 at 11:42 pm

    I’ve got mint coming out my ears! Tried growing from seed with no luck for months so broke down and bought a plant. The next day mint sprouts started coming up from the dirt (I dumped the failed mint’s dirt into a bigger pot for other plants). I have split the plant several times already and intend to give away these extras as gifts. Throughout the summer I’ve put leaves in my iced tea and even in my koolaid type drinks. As they got bigger and bigger I snipped some branches and just hooked them between the cords of my plant hangers and they’ve dried very quickly. I’m glad to see the info about it helping colds… I didn’t know that, and since I’ve got a doozy of one now I’m about to head to my patio to collect some.

     
  16. Jane Doe

    April 9, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    I have tons and tons of mint growing so I use it in everything. I make canned dog food for one of our dogs who has no teeth, and add mint to her food to help the smell. I also dry a lot to mix in with the shavings I fill the dog pillows with. Every time a dog gets on the pillow, you get a slight whiff of mint… at least until they’ve stomped all the mint to death, ha.

     
  17. Sabrina Jewel

    April 27, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    I live in Southern Texas—so I’m in a super humid area; drying it outside is how I had hoped to do it, will I need to add the fan? I’m concerned with 80% and up humidity it might mold. Any suggestions?

     
    • Rural Spin

      April 28, 2014 at 1:45 pm

      In high humidity it would be better to dry it in the oven indoors. But if you really are committed to drying outdoors, make sure that your bunches are not too large (smaller bunches allow better air penetration to the inside of the bunch) and make sure you have southern exposure to increase the heat. In the evening, you will definitely need to bring the mint indoors–if left outside the evening moist air and morning dew will greatly inhibit drying.

       
  18. Denise Petty

    June 11, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Love the post but have 2 questions – first, when they are hanging to dry, do you get the wonderful mint scent in the air? Second, This is the first year on transplanted mint, and don’t have nearly enough. Have you ever frozen green leaves for later use? Thank you!

     
    • Rural Spin

      June 18, 2014 at 4:06 pm

      You would get the mint scent if the leaves were bruised or broken, which you’d like to avoid. You can indeed freeze leaves for later use!

       
  19. gigi davis

    June 22, 2014 at 11:28 am

    Planted mint this spring in pots it has started turning yellow what can I do

     
    • Rural Spin

      June 23, 2014 at 9:23 am

      It may be that you are overwatering your mint, or perhaps it is in too much shade. But overwatering is a frequent cause of yellowing in plants, so try cutting back on your watering, making sure you only water when the top inch or two of soil is dry.

       
  20. Tiffany

    July 7, 2014 at 10:45 am

    I dried some mint early this spring. Just tied a bunch together and h6ng it underma ceiling fan (which we leave running almost nonstop). No mold or circulation issues here! MIL has a ton that the previous home owners had planted and let spread, nearly half the length of the house and at least a foot maybe two out. (O.o)

     

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