When to harvest mint leaves? How to dry them correctly? Read on to find out!
Mint (Mentha) and its famous variety, peppermint (Mentha x piperita), is one of the best-known culinary herbs. With an intense, refreshing aroma, mint is often used in teas, drinks or as seasoning. Growing mint in the garden is very popular – and no wonder! It is a low maintenance, robust and highly productive herb. If you want to enjoy homegrown mint year-round, why not dry the leaves to preserve them through winter?
Why should you dry mint leaves?
Homegrown, fresh mint has the most intense aroma. Unfortunately, in the refrigerator, mint leaves wither within a few days. As such it can be difficult to enjoy mint over winter, once the harvest season is over. Drying the leaves can help; it preserves much of the mint’s aroma and consistency and allows you to store the leaves for several months.
Harvesting mint: when and how?
In theory, you can harvest mint leaves from spring to autumn. However, they are most aromatic in warm, sunny weather, when they release essential oils, just before flowering. So if you can, harvest your mint in early summer.
You can also harvest mint in autumn but do so before the first frost. Simply, cut off the individual shoots as close to the ground as possible. This way, the mint will sprout again quickly and plentifully. You can harvest individual mint leaves, of course, but this is not ideal if you want to preserve larger quantities.
Preparing mint leaves for drying
First, remove any rotten or withered leaves, before shaking the sprig lightly to remove dust and soil. Avoid using water to clean the mint leaves, because many of the essential oils are water-soluble; washing them will decrease the intensity of the aroma, especially if you intend to harvest peppermint leaves for tea.
If your leaves are especially dirty, you may need to wash them. To preserve the aroma as much as possible, rinse the leaves with cold water and dry them quickly and gently by dabbing them with a kitchen towel. The gentler the drying, the more intense the aroma.
What is the best way to dry mint?
Drying is considered the best method for preserving mint’s fresh aroma. Nowadays, there are a number of ways to dry mint leaves. Read on to find out more!
Air-drying mint leaves
Traditionally, mint is tied in bunches and air-dried. Even though this method is often viewed as outdated and time-consuming, it is worth a try, particularly for peppermint. Air-drying is the gentlest way of preserving mint’s intense aroma. Hang the bunches of mint upside down in a warm place out of direct sunlight – a temperature of 20°C is ideal. Depending on the thickness of the bunches, it can take anywhere from two to three weeks before the mint leaves dry completely. You will know when the mint is dry enough because the stalks will break off easily. Store them in air-tight jars or containers.
Dying mint in the oven
A quick and easy way to dry mint and peppermint leaves is in the oven. To do this, lay out the individual leaves on a baking tray lined with parchment. Preheat the oven to about 50°C, and place the leaves inside. Switch off the oven after five minutes, so that the leaves dry in the residual heat. After about 20 minutes, the leaves should begin to curl, indicating that they are done. Remove them from the oven immediately, so that the leaves do not become brittle or burnt. This method is much quicker than air-drying mint, however the aroma is often less intense, and the process consumes more energy.
Drying mint with a dehydrator
A dehydrator is ideal for drying mint and other herbs quickly and gently. It is quicker and takes up less space than air-drying leaves, and is gentler than using an oven – the temperature can remain low and the air can circulate. To use a dehydrator, spread out individual leaves so that they do not overlap. Then set the dehydrator to its lowest setting. Check on the mint leaves every five minutes. As with the oven, the leaves are ready when they start to curl.
Drying mint leaves in the microwave
The microwave is a great option for drying mint if you are short of time. To do this, place a handful of leaves on a microwave-proof plate (such that the leaves do not overlap, if possible) and dry them in ten-second intervals at the lowest setting. Keep checking on the leaves, as this technique takes just a few minutes. Unfortunately, what you make up for in time, you may lose in aroma, as the rapid temperature changes affect the mint’s essential oils.
Storing and preserving dried mint
When the mint leaves are completely dry, you can store them in containers. There are two signs that your leaves are dry enough: they are curling, and they break off from the stem with only a slight touch of the finger. If the leaves are still smooth or tear off from the branch, they are not dry enough, and will spoil.
When storing mint, it is essential that the herb is not exposed to any moisture. Even air humidity can cause mint to spoil, so it is best to use airtight containers to preserve mint for as long as possible. Glass jars with screw tops are ideal, but airtight Tupperware containers are also fine. If you want to preserve your mint for even longer, try vacuum-packing them in small portions. If done correctly, mint will keep up to a year, although the taste will deteriorate over time.
Drying or freezing mint?
Opinions differ on whether mint should be frozen or dried; there are pros and cons for each method. Freezing mint leaves is the better option if you are looking to preserve the herb’s aroma. To freshen up your summer drinks and cocktails, try chopping up your mint leaves and freezing them in ice cubes.
If instead you are looking for whole leaves to garnish your food, dried mint is the way to go. Frozen mint becomes soggy and unappealing when it thaws. Dried leaves are also better for homemade peppermint tea. As for shelf life, the two methods are much the same: if stored well, frozen and dried mint will both last a year.
Read this article for our top tips on growing mint in your own garden.