Planning, planting, tending, and harvesting are all integral parts of gardening. Each aspect plays a vital role in creating a successful garden, whether it is a vast outdoor plot of earth or a single pot on a windowsill. From the novice to the master gardener, one easy-to-grow plant species is a staple in many gardens: mint. This pleasantly scented herb is used to not only add zest to food and drink, but also as a robust staple ingredient in teas and other flavorings.
Mint can be used as a beautiful garnish to complete a presentation with its beauty and fragrance, and that unmistakable strong scent is also commonly utilized in the garden itself as a deterrent to pests of all shapes and sizes. Including mint in a garden is not only a delicious option, but a useful one as well. But how is mint best grown and harvested?
What Kinds of Mint Are There?
When people hear the name mint, often the image of spearmint comes to mind. Actually, the species of mint is comprised of many different types of mints, each with their own best practices for growing and harvesting. Lets look at a few of the most common varieties.
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How Does Mint Grow Best?
With the many types of mint available to gardeners, understanding how to best grow and harvest mint depends on the variety. However, most kinds of mint will thrive with a simple regiment of care, and you will be ready to harvest and enjoy their minty flavor and scent before you know it.
Contain it. On the whole, mint is generally an invasive herb. This means that it will find a way to multiply and grow without much outside help. Some varieties send out runners above ground while others will simply stretch their roots out and pop up nearby the primary planting. If you don’t want more mint in your garden, contain it in a pot or smaller area to avoid uncontrolled growth of this sneaky scented herb.
Keep it dry. Regular watering is of course necessary, but other than the Watermint family, most mints like the soil to be on the drier side. Allowing the soil to dry out helps to avoid a root rot or mold to grow. Mint will grow strong with multiple fragrant leaves if it is not overwatered.
With its compact size and relatively small leaves, mint appears like a delicate herb. The good news is that this sweetly scented plant is very hardy and resilient. Harvesting it does take a gentle hand but learning the proper techniques is simple if you keep a few things in mind.
Mornings are the best time to capture the strongest scent from mint leaves. As the dew evaporates, the oils are at their most potent, so plan to harvest your mint leaves in the early morning to capitalize on the scent and flavor of your planted mint variety.
Harvest after new growth has occurred. Let new mint plants root and grow new leaves before pruning or harvesting from it. Once the newly planted herb has started to sprout new leaves, harvesting can occur.
Continue to harvest leaves from the mint plant all season but stop once it has gone to seed. This means that the plant is past its growing season and is marked by blooming flowers. When the mint starts to bloom, the flavor becomes more bitter, and the mint loses its namesake scent and strong flavor.
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How Do I Harvest Mint?
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How Do I Preserve Harvested Mint?
Now that you have picked or snipped off the mint leaves you need, let’s talk about what you need to do to best preserve the harvest for future use. Since mint leaves are used for a variety of foods, beverages, and medicinal purposes, you will want to make sure that your harvested leaves stay in tip top condition!
Contrary to what you might think, don’t wash the leaves off right away unless you are using them immediately. Washing dirt or residue from the leaves can remove some of those essential oils that provide the signature aroma and flavor of the mint.
However, mint leaves need moisture to stay fresh. There are two ways to keep your mint leaves fresh after a harvest. First, wrap leaves or stems in a damp paper towel, and place in a cool place like a refrigerator. The leaves will enjoy the humidity and the coolness will inhibit spoilage or wilting for about a week. An alternative would be to place whole stems upright into a glass of clean water. Covering the plants loosely with a small bag further contains the moisture but this step can be skipped if desired. Do change out the water daily, however, and you will be rewarded with fresh mint leaves for up to two weeks.
Freezing mint leaves in ice cubes helps preserve fresh mint flavor well past the growing season. If you don’t need the minty addition to your cooking right now, add a clean leaves to an ice cube tray or other container and then cover with water. Once frozen, you can pop them out and into a labeled bag to keep until you need them. The mint leaves should retain most of their scent and flavor this way, but make sure that if you are going to freeze them you do it right after harvest to ensure you have preserved their peak freshness.
Freezing mint leave individually on a tray is another great option for preserving your harvest. Clean, dry leaves can be spread out, not touching other leaves. They will freeze quite quickly, so carefully bagging them up will preserve them for later defrosting and use is convenient. This method works well when more than one variety of mint is harvested, since each type can be bagged, labeled, and saved for later use individually.
Dry the mint leaves after harvesting. While dried herbs are not quite as potent in flavor or scent as their fresh counterparts, dried herbs are a perennial kitchen favorite that is convenient year-round. In order to dry your harvest, make sure you rinse the leaves well with cool water to remove any impurities, taking care not to squeeze or press too hard on the leaves and prematurely remove the precious oils on them. Utilizing a dehydrator is the best option, as the mint will be carefully dried without being moved, avoiding any delicate leaf loss in the process.
However, you can also opt to hang the leaves out to dry as well. You will need to find an area that won’t be disturbed for up to 1-2 weeks as the mint stems hang to dry, covered very loosely with a brown paper bag. Once they are visibly dried, carefully separate the stems and toss them, preserving the fragile, crumbly leaves. An additional step of curing the leaves in a glass jar might also be considered, to prevent mold formation as all vestiges of moisture are removed from the harvested leaves. To do this, stir and reclose the jar carefully every day. A moisture-wicking pack can also be added for further protection during this step.
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How Can I Enjoy My Harvested Mint Right Now?
An extremely versatile herb, mint has many uses in the kitchen and for your home use. Since many of the mint flavor and scent profiles either are similar to other smells or work well with other flavors, the uses for mint are almost endless.
Once you have harvested fresh leaves or stems, using them right away in your food or beverages is an easy way to enjoy the strongest minty flavor and aroma. If you want to add a fresh flavor to your food, chopping them up to add at the end of the cooking process will give maximum minty flavor, as heating or cooking the leaves reduces their potency a bit. Try muddling the leaves to release the strong minty flavor when adding mint to drinks. To muddle, roughly tear the leaves into pieces, then use a rounded end of a kitchen implement or a muddler, made specifically for this task, to smush and grind the leaves into smaller bits. You will quickly notice the stronger fragrance created by this process, making it easy to see why muddling a popular technique for bartenders who include mint in their concoctions.
Mint leaves can be used for a hot or cold tea infusion. Dry or fresh leaves steeped for 10-15 minutes and then strained, creating a calming minty flavored beverage that is used the world round. The addition of whole or muddled mint leaves adds a freshness to many types of drinks as well and can be enjoyed year-round with a robust harvest.
Mint leaves are just as at home in a fresh salad as they are in a main dish with potatoes or pasta. Once relegated to a garnish, mint is now beloved for its unique but distinctive flavor and is sprinkled on top of fruits and can even be found in desserts. Different versions of mint are a staple with chocolatey sweet treats and mint varieties can be found combined with chocolate in everything from ice cream to minty mocha flavored coffees. Popular as an ingredient in Mediterranean dishes for many years, mint’s fresh flavor is easy to include in your own recipes.
Mint Harvesting Is Easy and Fun
Choosing the right mint variety can be fun by employing a simple trial and error strategy to determine which varieties have the best flavor, fragrance, and uses for you. The great news is that since mint is very easy to cultivate, whether from seed or propagation methods, choosing the mint with the most appealing use or characteristics you like will lead you to the perfect mint plant. You can’t go wrong with growing and harvesting this hardy, sweet smelling herb. Mint’s many uses and flavor profiles make it an ideal herb to include in your garden, making cultivating and harvesting mint a must for any backyard gardener to experience. This delightful and easy to nurture plant is both delicious and enjoyable from cultivation to harvest.