On a recent foray to the backyard, I looked upon my mint and thought, “Behold! I could actually use this stuff for more than garnish!” And so I dried it. As previously promised, here is my report on drying mint.
I love the smell of fresh mint, and I have a small, contained patch of it next to the back steps. It gives up its scent as I brush past it, but it never occurred to me to do more than snip bits here and there to garnish fruit plates or flavor iced tea every now and then. All the discussion of food preservation, however, prompted me to look at that mint’s preservation potential. Hadn’t I paid $4 or more for not very much organic mint tea?
So I read up a little on drying mint, which means I read a lot of conflicting information. No matter, I figured. Usually, my mint simply went to seed, and I therefore had nothing to lose anyway, except a little time.
There does seem to be consensus that the best time to cut herbs for drying is in the morning and just before they’re about to flower. My mint wasn’t quite at the flowering stage, but close enough. Using small garden pruners, I cut the mint to about a foot high and accumulated two big piles.
Wash and spin
I washed the mint reasonably thoroughly, I thought, then ran batches through the salad spinner. I laid them on towels on the kitchen counter to dry for a couple of hours. Wow, did the house smell great!
I gathered small bunches of mint stems into bundles which I tied with string. I thought I was exceedingly clever in fashioning slip knots every foot or so along a running piece of cotton string and inserting a bundle into each loop.
I then carried my bundled and tied mint to the only warm, dark, well-ventilated place I could think of—the bedroom. It has room-darkening shades, although its ventilation is a little wanting. (The basement is pretty dark, but nothing gets dry there.)
Hang to dry
After a couple of false starts, I got the mint stringers suspended from picture hanger to hinge to picture hanger and directed the oscillating fan in their direction. I thought it best to keep air moving until all the water from washing had dried. (In retrospect, I think the fan was unnecessary, but all the instructions I read cautioned that herbs would mold if there wasn’t enough air. I should have known it wasn’t a big deal, though, considering one such instruction called 68 degrees F (20 degrees C) “warm.” That may be warm for winter, but it’s practically frigid in these parts in the summertime.)
(It’s dark in there when I close the shades, which I did. Please note the ironing board. It doesn’t get much use, but I do own one.)
I waited. The mint withered and eventually became dry.
Eight days after I cut the mint, I took down the mint lines and stripped the leaves from the stems onto a clean kitchen towel.
Tip: Hold the tip of the stalk in one hand, and run your other hand down the stalk. The leaves will fall right off. If you go the other direction, trying to strip from the bottom up, you mostly flatten leaves. Whichever way you go, you’ll still have to pull the top leaves off one or two at a time.
Packing it in
The published advice encourages storing the leaves whole for greater retention of the oils that give the mint its flavor. Hence, I filled two quart mason jars and another jar I had on hand (capacity about 3 cups) with leaves, having the best luck by using a large cooking spoon for the transfer. I attached lids, and stuck the jars in a dark cabinet to wait until 68 degrees sounds warm to me. At that time, I intend to delight in brewing my own, organic free mint tea. (If you’re using this post as directions, you might want to check your jars for steam or any similar sign of moisture after the jars are closed an hour or two. I didn’t, because those leaves were crisp.)
I have every reason to believe I’ll be able to cut and dry mint again before the season is over. I figure I’ve already dried enough to last me through the winter and then some. That gives me time to figure out whether any of my friends or family would be delighted with a gift of mint tea. You’ve been warned.