Growing mint doesn’t have to be scary or hard. In fact, it’s a pretty hard plant to kill – even if you’re trying to. So now that you’re growing mint, how and when do you harvest it?
Harvest mint after the plant is at least 6 to 8 inches tall and before flowers blossom. Leave about an inch of the mint plant to regrow. Harvests can be a few leaves as often as needed or a larger cut several times within a season, depending on the overall size of the plant.
Keep reading to learn exactly how and when to harvest your mint – as well as some very awesome tips on how to preserve it naturally for later!
How to Harvest Mint Plants
Based on my experience and research, harvesting mint plants can be as simple or as complicated as you’d like to make it. In either case, the general principles are the same: pick or cut off the leaves you need – and as long as you leave at least an inch of the plant (with at least one layer of lower leaves left on the stem), the plant will continue to grow just fine. Then, you can keep harvesting all season long.
Oh – and while I would hope that this goes without saying, it’s still important to note another two basic principles of mint cultivation and harvesting.
First, harvest the best-looking leaves – and prune (and discard) the diseased, damaged, or ugly-looking ones. Getting rid of damaged or diseased leaves will help protect the rest of the plant from future harm. And it’ll also protect your family from accidentally eating something gross.
Second, consider washing off your produce before eating it. Some people swear by using a spray bottle (with water in it) to clean the mint the day before it’s picked. Other people prefer to rinse it off after it’s been picked. Personally, I’m in the wash-it-after-it’s-been-picked camp.
As far as picking off individual leaves versus cutting off whole stems, that’s going to be up to you – and your goals for your harvested mint.
- If you only need a few leaves for a garnish or to add to your lemonade? Just pinch or pull off a few of the greenest, best-looking leaves.
- Or if you’re harvesting more mint (like for a meal, to preserve for later, or to prevent flowering), cut a few sprigs off – down to the lowest level or two of leaves. That way, your mint plant will have some leaves left to gather nutrients and sunlight to keep growing.
Now, if you’d like to get the best-tasting mint leaves possible, you’re also going to want to know these more technical mint harvesting facts – about when to harvest your mint.
When Should You Harvest Mint?
The best time to harvest mint is when right you need it! That’s assuming that you’ve got mint actively growing and ready to harvest, anyway. So as long as you do have mint growing, here are some tips on when to harvest it for the best possible flavor.
- Young leaves have a better, more vibrant flavor than older leaves.
- Mint leaves will also taste better if the plant hasn’t flowered yet. Mint usually blossoms between June and September. If the mint plant does blossom, go ahead and trim those off to keep it growing and producing leaves instead of seeds.
- Mint oils and flavor will also be strongest if harvested during the time when the plant is getting 14 or so hours of daylight each day.
If you’re starting mint from seed, you can typically start harvesting leaves after about two months. Or if you bought a plant, this could be much sooner – maybe just a few weeks. Just be sure you give the mint plant some time to adjust after being planted. Trying to harvest freshly-planted mint can weaken the plant – even if it doesn’t completely kill it.
Got it? Great. Here are some more pro tips I’ve found – through research and experience.
- Frequent harvesting will help your mint plants stay healthier.
- Regularly prune off diseased, dead, or ugly-looking mint leaves. This will open things up and promote airflow so that the mint grows back healthier and stronger.
- Larger harvests can be done 2-4 times per year and will help your mint stay healthier and bushier.
- Harvest mint leaves before the plant can flower – this will help you keep it contained, and healthy, and grow more leaves for continued harvesting.
- Feel free to prune your mint plants heavily right before they go dormant. Not only will it give you a fantastic harvest to preserve, but it’ll also help your plant for the next year.
Of course, that’s assuming you only grow mint outside. If you’d prefer to grow your mint indoors, that’s definitely an option. It’s especially wonderful if you have indoor space and need mint during the off-growing seasons.
You can grow the plants indoors for fresh leaves throughout the winter. If you want to dry them, it’s best to cut the leaves right before flowering. Store the dried leaves in an airtight container.
If you find that you aren’t harvesting your mint as often as you originally planned, then you’re going to notice a few things.
- First, you’ll notice that the plant is getting leggy – with longer stems and fewer leaves. Go ahead and harvest or prune your mint back – by as much as half if needed. That way, the plants will refocus on growing foliage instead of woody stems. You can still preserve or use what you harvested, too.
- Next, you’ll also notice that mint grows like crazy. And that’s why it’s so important to keep mint within some sort of a container or a well-defined garden plot with edges – so that it doesn’t take over the garden!
- Finally, you’ll notice that you can really cut back the mint down to the lowest layer or two of leaves. You can give away your harvest, preserve it, use it, or do whatever else you want to do. But this way, you’ll give yourself some more time before you need to worry about another harvest.
Okay – now that we’ve harvested the mint, let’s make sure we’re storing and preserving it. That way, we’ll always have mint whenever we need it.
How to Store Fresh Mint Leaves
Now that you’ve got your fresh mint picked, let’s get it ready for storing it fresh!
If you haven’t rinsed or cleaned off your mint leaves yet, let’s make sure we’re doing that first. Or at least considering doing it, anyway! That’s one of my favorite parts of organic gardening – my kids and I love eating things right off the bush, provided they look healthy and appealing. We don’t ever recommend eating things that look gross or dangerous.
If you’re going to use your mint right away, go ahead and do that. Or if you want to keep it super-fresh for the next few days, you’ve got a few options once you’ve shaken off any excess water.
- Wrap the sprigs (and/or leaves) in a damp paper towel. Put the paper towel inside of a plastic bag (or a Tupperware type of container) and loosely seal it. Stick it in the fridge.
- Trim the ends of the stem and put the mint into a glass of water (use a small cup). If you’re going to use the mint soon, you can leave it on the counter for a day or two. Or, for longer storage, stick that cup of mint in the fridge. You may want to cover it with a plastic bag so that there isn’t any smell/taste cross-contamination with other foods in your fridge.
When stored in either of these manners, mint sprigs and leaves will keep fresh in your fridge for up to 5-7 days. If you don’t plan to use your mint in the next few days, though, let’s prep it to store it a different way – so it doesn’t go bad.
How to Dry Fresh Mint
Drying herbs is a fantastic way to prep and process them for longer-term storage. And there are a couple of ways you can dry your mint if this is the route you want to take.
If you’re going to dry your mint the old-fashioned homesteading way, here’s how you do that.
- After you’ve rinsed your mint, go ahead and pat it dry – or run it through a salad spinner if that’s more your style.
- Then, separate your mint bunches into several small groups of no more than 10-15 stems of mint per group.
- Tie those stems together with some clean twine or string.
- Hang the stems upside down in a cool, dry, dark area – with plenty of airflow and circulation. Some people like to cover the mint in paper bags for extra protection.
- Give the mint between 1-2 weeks to dry. It should be pretty crumbly to the touch at this point.
- Strip the leaves from the stems.
- Store your dried mint in an airtight container (like a Tupperware or a sealed jar – bonus points if you add an oxygen absorber or vacuum seal it!). Keep the container in a cool, dark cupboard that’s away from huge changes in temperatures (like over your oven or microwave).
- Use your dried mint as needed – and enjoy it!
Pretty awesome, right? Sometimes it’s fun to do things the classical way.
Or, if you’re in a hurry and you’ve either got the best dehydrator in the world or an oven, you can dry your mint faster – in as little as about a day.
Here’s how to dry your mint using either the dehydrator or your oven.
|Oven-Specific Tips and Notes
|Rinse and clean your mint. You can dry it off (either by patting it or running it through the salad spinner) if you want to.
|Drying the mint will speed up the process.
|Drying the mint is really optional.
|Get out your tray.
|Use a regular cookie sheet – lined with either parchment paper (best option) or a silicone mat (next-best option).
|If you’re using an Excalibur dehydrator, pull the tray from your device.
|Lay the mint sprigs out separately. In fact, spread them out as much as you can.
|No need to tie those sprigs together!
|You may want to sandwich your herbs between two trays.
|Preheat your device.
|Use the “warming” setting if you have one. If not, set your oven to the lowest possible temperature.
|Select the “herb” temperature (usually between 95-125 degrees Fahrenheit).
|Check mint and herbs regularly.
|Mint leaves should be crumbly when done.
|Stems should snap easily, too.
|Store your dried mint!
|And enjoy it later.
|Really – because it’s quite delicious.
Now, a few important caveats about drying your mint with an oven. If you don’t have the “warming setting”, then set it at the lowest possible setting. For many ovens (especially older models), the lowest possible setting is at 200 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s technically 30 degrees higher than the hottest temperature recommended for dehydrating.
So while it’s possible to dehydrate foods (and herbs like mint) at that setting, it’s a lot harder – and you’ve got to watch it much more carefully or it may burn. That’s why, if you’re going to do a lot of dehydrating and drying, it’s important to get a dedicated dehydrator. Plus, that way you can dry herbs and still cook dinner later.
The next important note is that drying temperature and time will depend largely upon where you live, as humidity has a huge impact on times and temperatures. So depending on where you live, then your Excalibur’s handbook should be able to give you some specific guidelines for adjusting temperatures – and overall drying times.
Because humidity and wetness impact drying times, you can also use that knowledge to your advantage – to speed things up. For faster drying, spread the mint out more. That will increase airflow and the ability of your dehydrator to get things dryer faster.
Or if you’ve got lots of mint leaves (and aren’t stressed about time), you can pack them in – just know that it will add some time to drying the herbs (on the scale of minutes to hours, not days).
Generally speaking, drying herbs is an overnight process. If it’s super humid (or you’ve really packed those herbs in there tight), then it may take as long as 18-24 hours. Still – it’s tons faster than the 1-2 week method.
Once the leaves are crumbly to your touch (and the steps snap easily), your mint is dried. Go ahead and store it in an airtight container (of your choice) with the rest of your herbs – away from too much light and crazy fluctuations in temperatures.
When you do get out your dried mint to use later, please remember that dried herbs can be more potent than fresh – so go slow with adding it as you flavor things to taste.
How to Freeze Fresh Mint
While freezing mint isn’t my thing, I know it’s a big deal for some of you – so I researched and experimented with some of the best ways to do it.
The easiest way to do this is, once your mint leaves are rinsed and dried, put your mint on a cookie tray and stick that in the freezer. It’ll take a few hours to freeze them, but then you’ll have frozen mint leaves. Stick that in an airtight container and it should keep well in your freezer for several months.
Freezing your mint may affect some of the flavor potency, too. So make sure you take that into account when you bring it out to use it.
Whole mint leaves, once frozen, can be great additives for smoothies, sauces, stews, teas, or whatever else you’d normally add fresh mint too. So this could be a great way to store mint through the off-season months – especially if you need mint in a not-dried/dehydrated format.
Or, if you’d like to get a little bit more creative, here’s another fantastic way to freeze mint for future use – or for a drink.
- Rinse and dry your mint – it’ll make the next steps easier if it’s drier.
- Pull the mint leaves off of the stems.
- Chop the leaves into as small of pieces as you’d like.
- Put the leaves into an ice cube tray – add up to about 2 teaspoons per cube compartment.
- If desired, add other foods or herbs to each compartment. Common additions include berries (for a fruity flavor) and tarragon (for a hint of licorice).
- If you want a taste of citrus, add some citrus juice or some zest to the individual ice tray compartments along with the other ingredients.
- Top off the ice tray with water.
- Stick it in the freezer and let it freeze.
- Once frozen, remove the ice cubes from the ice tray. Store the frozen mint cubes of awesomeness in an airtight container in your freezer.
In any case, just remember to store your frozen mint in that airtight container and to keep it in your freezer until you use it.
How to Freeze Dry Fresh Mint
Want to freeze-dry your fresh mint? It’s an amazing way to store mint!
To start, make sure you’ve got a freeze-dryer. I recommend the Harvest Right freeze dryer – we’ve had the medium-sized model for 3+ years and have absolutely loved it!
Anyway – back to freeze-drying mint. Go ahead and start the process by putting your rinsed-and-dried mint leaves onto a cookie tray or a freeze dryer tray – and stick that bad boy in the freezer. It’s not an absolutely-required step, but it does make the whole process faster – which can be a huge benefit if you’re trying to process a whole lot of other garden produce at the same time.
Once the mint leaves are frozen, you can then move them from the cookie tray to a freeze-dryer tray – or if they’re already on the freeze-dryer tray, then you’re set!
- Get your freeze dryer turned on and ready to go. Select your cycle.
- If the mint leaves are pre-frozen, start your cycle 30 minutes before you add them to the freeze dryer – that way you can add the herbs into a cold chamber instead of a warm one. It’ll save you a lot of time and headache – and from defrosting those already-frozen herbs!
- Load the trays into the freeze dryer. Put in the circular insulation pad. Close and lock the door. Make sure the drain valve is closed!
- Hit start.
- Always check in on your freeze dryer at regular intervals to make sure things are working.
- Let the freeze dryer do its thing.
- When the process is complete, open the drain valve to vent and check the mint leaves to see if they’re done. Properly freeze-dried mint leaves should be very brittle.
- Get your mint ready to store – and follow the maintenance recommendations for your freeze dryer so it’s ready for the next batch.
Freeze-drying herbs is a fairly quick process (for freeze-drying, anyway!). It can be done in as little as 10-12 hours – and you can really load the trays up with tons of mint (or other herbs)!
Here are a few hints and tips for freeze-drying mint.
|Here is how to get whole, freeze-dried mint leaves.
|Stack layers of mint (or other herbs) between food-grade, plastic grids (like the plastic grid trays on a dehydrator).
|Make mint flakes.
|Pre-freeze the mint leaves (on a tray or in a Ziploc bag) and then crush them. Load the freeze-dryer with as many mint flakes as desired and run as usual.
|Make mint leaf powder.
|Run the mint leaves through a food processor to make a paste, then freeze-dry as usual.
|Leaving the stem or removing it?
|It’s a personal choice – either is fine and will work.
|Layers of mint or not?
|You can really load up a freeze dryer tray with lots of mint leaves (or other herbs) – even up to 3 layers of mint on one tray will still work just fine.
Ideally, you’ll want to time your freeze dryer to stop when you’re awake – and so you can take out the finished product on a warm cycle. That way, you aren’t worrying about or fighting potential condensation that could ruin your herbs and undo all of that freeze-drying you just did.
Once you’ve taken your mint out of the freeze dryer, test it to make sure it’s brittle and bone dry. If it is, congratulations! You’re done freeze-drying your mint. If it’s not, stick it back in to run for another cycle or two and re-test it.
When your mint leaves are properly dried, move them to a plastic bag (I like to use a gallon-sized bag) and seal it up good – leaving it in a plastic bag for a few days will help you really test the freeze-dried foods to make sure there isn’t’ any moisture that would spoil the food. If it’s still dry after a couple of days, move your final product into its long-term storage home.
For herbs, I’d suggest you store them in one of several ways. Or store it in multiple ways so that you’ve got it handy for both short-term availability and long-term storage.
- Store your herbs in either small mylar bags – or create small pouches of herbs within one mylar bag – you can use your impact sealer to do that! Don’t forget that each pouch section will need its own oxygen absorber.
- Store herbs in glass jars that have an oxygen absorber added – and then have been vacuum-sealed for long-term storage.
- Store some of the freeze-dried herbs in a small jar for more immediate use in baking/cooking/whatever else.
Now that you’ve successfully freeze-dried mint, you’re going to be ready to do another batch – of whatever it is you’d like to freeze dry next.
Now, there are always a few other questions about mint – and how to harvest it and/or preserve it for the future. So let’s go through a few more commonly-asked mint questions. If you’ve got a mint question (and it’s not answered here), please let me know. I’d love to answer it – by either referencing my own experience or by researching it for you.
Just contact me and let me know what your question is – and I’ll get it added here, too, so that anyone else with the same question can see the answer.
Are There Other Ways to Preserve Mint?
Yes – mint can also be preserved in vinegar.
How Do You Pick Mint so it Keeps Growing?
While harvesting your mint, either pinch leaves off or cut off part of the stem. As long as you leave the lowest layers of leaves (usually 1-3 sets of leaves) on the plant, it will have sufficient ability to continue growing. Being cut back like this will actually stimulate plant growth without inhibiting the photosynthesis process required for optimal plant growth.
Cutting off the lowest layers of mint leaves will inhibit the photosynthesis process and isn’t recommended unless the plant is going into dormancy for seasonal changes anyway.
How Does Harvesting Mint Leaves Promote Growth?
Once a plant has been cut back (either harvested or eaten by an animal), its natural process is to stimulate growth to make up for the loss in foliage. And as long as there are still enough leaves to get nutrients via photosynthesis, the plant will be fine.
The general rule of thumb for plants is this: they can either focus on growing or they can focus on seeding. Cutting them back will help them focus on growing – and should delay them going to seed.
How Long Does Mint Take to Grow?
Mint grows quickly. Generally, it’s ready to start harvesting within about two months of being planted, if it was planted from seed. If your mint was planted as a seedling, you may be able to start harvesting small amounts within only a few weeks.
Will Mint Take over My Garden?
Mint grows well – and can propagate by both seeds and by rooting down. As such, it can expand very quickly if it has space.
In other words, unless you contain your mint it can take over as much space as it can get to – and that could mean it takes over your whole garden. If you don’t want a whole garden of mint, please keep it contained – either in some sort of a container or a raised bed where it can’t spread.