Mint is among the many plant species that belong to the Lamiaceae family, among which include spearmint and peppermint.
It is a popular aromatic herb with plenty of uses, which is why you will often find it in many herb gardens. Even better, it is a useful herb that is easy to grow and harvest.
When to harvest mint? You can start harvesting fresh mint leaves as soon as your plant grows three to four inches tall. Others prefer waiting until before blooms appear, often around the middle of the plant’s growing season. Remember to harvest regularly to encourage more growth.
How Do You Know When Mint Is Ready To Harvest?
For those with little to no experience yet in growing herbs, mint is often among the first picks. Not only is it easy to grow but is also known to proliferate quickly, even with minimal care.
You can also plant it alongside marigold and oregano, creating an aromatic combination that will keep pests away from your vegetable garden.
That said, what signs should you watch out for to say for sure your mint plants are ready for picking?
As mentioned, you can start picking mint leaves here and there once the plant has grown to about three to four inches tall.
More importantly, you will want to do this as often as you can so as to encourage new growth and a bushier mint plant.
Expect mint plants to grow fast, especially in the summer, giving you an ample amount of fresh mint leaves to add to your iced tea.
The best time to pick mint leaves is right before the plant flowers when all its energy is focused on producing aromatic and flavorful leaves.
What Happens If You Don’t Harvest Mint?
The good thing about adding mint plants to your herb garden is that they don’t require much maintenance.
You will only need to add light mulch to keep the soil moist or water them regularly if you’re growing them indoors.
In fact, some see mint as a problem plant because it grows too quickly and can take over every available space.
This reason is why you must regularly prune your mint plant, especially during its active growing season.
It is also why you will often see it grown in containers as opposed to directly on the ground.
Moreover, you will find that the younger leaves will have a stronger flavor and aroma than the older ones.
Hence, many prefer using younger mint leaves in their recipes.
How To Harvest Mint
Exposed to ample sunlight and enough moisture, mint plants will grow vigorously.
However, it is important that you don’t allow them to grow too much, as they will produce flowers and go to seed.
When they do, the flavor and aroma of the leaves won’t be as potent as you’d like them to be.
Here’s how you can make sure that doesn’t happen:
Step 1: Harvest enough to use.
Picking mint leaves is no rocket science. You just snip off or pluck a few leaves to add to your drinks or salads. You can do this by hand, even with no gardening gloves.
It is also a good idea to do it in the morning when its aromatic oils are oozing from the leaves. This way, you can enjoy its most intense level of flavor.
Step 2: Cut one inch from the ground.
If your mint plants are growing faster than you need them to, you can cut the stem down to one inch from the ground.
Doing this will reset the growth. You can do this two to three times in a single growing season.
Step 3: Store the leaves for future use.
While mint leaves have many uses, you can’t possibly add them to all of your dishes.
You can give away some to neighbors and family, but it’s also important that you learn how to store them properly.
To keep them fresh for longer, you can place the stem in a water-filled jar or pluck the leaves and store them in a plastic bag.
Kept in the fridge, they will be good enough for eating for up to three to five days.
If you want them to last longer, you can also put them in the freezer or learn how to dry fresh mint leaves.
We will talk more about fresh mint storage tips later on.
Should You Wash Mint After Harvesting?
As with any fresh produce, you should wash fresh mint leaves under cold running water before using them.
Doing this ensures you get rid of any dirt or insect that could be on the leaves.
To do this properly, begin by removing a third of the leaves from the stem so that you can hold it securely.
Rinse everything off using clean tap water, and then place the stem on top of a paper towel or hang upside down to allow excess moisture to evaporate.
Once dry, you can go ahead and individually pluck the leaves from the stem. This step is also crucial when storing mint leaves for future use.
Can You Eat Mint Immediately After Harvesting?
As soon as the plant is three to four inches tall, its leaves will be mature enough to eat immediately after harvesting.
That said, it’s important that you wash them first to get rid of any dirt.
With how fast they grow, there’s a good chance you will end up with too many mint leaves to consume within a few days.
In that case, you will want to keep these storage tips in mind:
Storing Freshly Mint Leaves for Future Use
Like other herbs, there are several ways to store freshly harvested mint leaves to make them last longer.
After washing fresh mint using cold water and allowing it to dry, here’s what you can do:
Get a glass jar with about an inch or two of water and place the herbs upright like you would a bouquet of flowers.
Then, cover the mint loosely with a plastic bag before placing the jar in the fridge.
For a more compact way to store mint leaves, damp some paper towels and wrap them around the leaves before putting them in a Ziploc bag.
This trick will prevent the leaves from drying out and make them last longer in the refrigerator.
For even longer storage, you can freeze mint following the ice cube method.
To do this, start by plucking the leaves from the stems and washing them thoroughly under cold running water.
Next, grab an ice cube tray and place the leaves in each cube before pouring clean water and placing the tray in the freezer.
For this storage method, you’ll simply have to thaw or directly add the frozen mint cubes to the drink you’re making.
If you don’t want to submerge your mint leaves in water, you can freeze them directly by layering them out on a baking sheet and placing the sheet in the freezer.
Wait a couple of hours, and then transfer the frozen mint leaves to your preferred freezer container.
Stored this way, you will extend their shelf-life to roughly six months.
Another way to prepare mint leaves for long-term storage is by drying them. You can use an oven, a dehydrator, or manually air-dry the leaves.
To air dry, put the stems in a paper bag to protect them from dust and hang the bag upside down in a well-ventilated room.
Wait until the leaves are completely dry, and then toss them in your food processor before storing them in an airtight container.
Make sure you keep the container in a spot where it isn’t exposed to too much light or heat.
For oven drying, grab a baking tray and spread the leaves out evenly. Set the oven to 180 degrees Fahrenheit and allow to bake for 15 minutes at a time.
The goal is to end up with dried, crispy mint leaves, which can sometimes take two to four hours.
The easiest way to dry mint is to use a food dehydrator. However, the drying time and temperature settings will depend on the dehydrator you’re using.
You can refer to the machine’s user manual regarding how to dry tender or soft herbs like mint.
Other herbs that you can dry and store this way include basil, parsley, dill, cilantro, and even tarragon.
Mint comes in many varieties, but all of them are relatively easier to grow compared to other herbs.
Some even grow them indoors in pots, adding a touch of life and greenery to their kitchen.
In fact, growing them indoors might be a better idea because they will have protection from the cold weather.
What we like about growing mint plants is that they will keep growing as long as you provide them with their ideal growing conditions.
What’s more, you won’t run out of ideas when it comes to putting these aromatic herbs to good use.
From cocktails to salads and even dipped in chocolate, these leaves are a true culinary marvel!