Discover how to harvest mint without killing the plant, tips for keeping mint under control, and ways to preserve your mint harvest so you can enjoy your delicious homegrown mint all year long.
Ah, mint. It’s a classic and somewhat infamous garden herb that’s easy to grow and sometimes difficult to stop growing.
A perennial herb, mint will cheerfully return year after year to your garden. Its fresh flavor is wonderful in cold and hot teas, and chances are good you’ll get a bountiful crop from just a few plants.
If you’re growing (or planning to grow) this herb in your garden, here are some tips for keeping it under control, plus how to harvest mint and store it for later.
Keeping Mint Under Control
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There’s rarely a problem of not having enough mint to harvest since it grows vigorously in a wide range of soil types. You’re much more likely to be overrun by it.
With that in mind, here are a few tips for keeping your mint under control:
- Put up barriers – Mint can be contained by taking advantage of already present barriers. Raised beds with solid sides, sidewalks, walls, and sheds all work well. Just remember that mint spreads itself by runners (not by seed), so make sure barriers are tall or wide enough to prevent it from sneaking out.
- Try containers – Mint makes an excellent container plant, and this is one of the best ways to keep it from spreading. You can grow it in pots on your porch or sink containers into your landscape or herb garden.
- Choose the right variety – The type of mint you grow also factors into how quickly it will grow. For example, peppermint and certain variegated mints tend to be less aggressive than other varieties.
Benefits of Harvesting Mint
Besides the just mentioned strategies and regularly checking on your mint patch, harvesting frequently is one of the best ways to keep plants in check.
When you clip stems and leaves off plants, they put more energy into regrowing rather than into spreading. Regular harvesting encourages mint to bush out and keep producing flavorful leaves (the youngest leaves are usually the most aromatic).
When you’re picking mint, give it a check for runners and make sure to cut back any you find if you don’t want it to spread. These runners can grow underground, so scan the whole container or area. My hydroponic mint keeps sending out runners and attempting to take over the entire grow tower!
Picking mint also makes you smell good and will likely put you in a better mood! Research has shown that smelling mint can improve alertness and reduce stress.
When to Harvest Mint
You can start harvesting mint not long after it pops out of the ground in the spring. Give it a little time to leaf out and grow multiple stems, but you can start picking small sections early on.
Like with most herbs, the best time of day to harvest mint is in the morning. The essential oils that give it its flavor will be in full force, and the leaves are freshest before the sun gets too hot.
You can continue harvesting often throughout the rest of the growing season. If you want to store any mint for the winter, plan to make a last big harvest before your first hard frost.
How to harvest mint leaves without killing the plant
When it comes to how to harvest mint, this herb is incredibly easy to pick. All you need to do is clip off stems of any length and strip off the leaves in your kitchen.
It is difficult to kill mint by harvesting it. As long as you leave some growth on your plant, it will probably be okay! For mint, “enough” means at least one inch of plant is still above ground.
However, there are two ways to harvest depending on how much herb you want and what stage your plants are at.
How to pick mint leaves
From when plants start growing in spring to well into the summer, you can harvest stems of mint as needed.
Use a pair of clippers or sharp scissors to cut off stems any length you want. I typically use these very sharp garden snips. Make your cuts right above a leaf node- where new leaves are coming out at either side of the stem. Mint is typically difficult to pinch through with your fingernails so make sure to use snips.
Pro tip: Always clean your gardening snips to ensure you don’t accidentally transmit plant diseases.
- Fiskars Micro-Tip Pruning Snips feature precision blades that cut all the way to the tip for clean, healthy cuts in tight spaces
- Fully hardened, precision-ground, stainless steel blades stay sharp – even through heavy use
- Awarded the Arthritis Foundation’s Ease of Use Commendation for a design ideal for those with arthritis or limited hand strength
Rotate through your mint plants at each harvest if you have more than one, but don’t worry about your plants making a comeback! Constant pruning is great for mint.
You can use fresh mint leaves right away or put the stems in a glass of water for 3-5 days.
For longer storage (about a week) wrap them in a damp paper towel, put them in a plastic bag, and store in your refrigerator.
Don’t lose track of this important mint harvesting and preserving information – make sure to Pin it now!
How to harvest a lot of mint
It’s also good to know how to harvest mint midseason. This method will give you a large batch of mint for a recipe or for drying and storing. It will majorly keep your plants in check as well.
For this harvest, you’ll want to time it to happen right before the plants flower. Leaves are at their most aromatic at this time, and flowering will cause the leaves to start losing flavor.
This usually happens midsummer but will depend on your specific region. Look for flower buds to start forming, and harvest before they open.
Normally, you’d want to leave ½ – ⅔ of a plant when cutting it back, but mint can take a much more severe prune. Use a pair of garden clippers to cut down your entire mint plant(s) about 1-3” above the ground.
After this big harvest you’ll need to let them recover, but your plants will regrow and give you a second large harvest at the end of the season.
Once your mint has regrown several inches, you can go back to picking it regularly. If flower heads appear later in the season, snip them off (but let a few stay and bloom for the bees).
How to harvest mint for tea
If you want to dry mint tea for homemade mint tea all winter, harvest a substantial quantity by following the directions above for harvesting a lot of mint, then dry it using one of the drying suggestions below.
If you want to make fresh mint tea, you can pick just a couple of springs and make it whenever you wish.
How to make fresh mint tea:
- For one cup of tea, pick a hand full of fresh mint leaves. 12-15 should create a flavorful tea. For more tea, pick additional leaves.
- Rinse your leaves.
- Boil water. You can make a single cup or a teapot full – the choice is yours!
- Take a few mint leaves at a time and gently bruise them with your fingers or by placing them on one palm and clapping your hands together.
- Place your bruised mint in your cup or teapot.
- Pour boiling water over the leaves.
- Allow to steep for 3-5 minutes. The water should be tinged with green. For more intensely flavored tea, stir and then steep for 3-5 additional minutes.
- Strain tea, if desired. Add honey or sugar to taste and enjoy! Mint tea is also delicious chilled and/or with a splash of lemon. Using a teapot with an infuser makes straining tea easy.
How to preserve mint
It’s very easy to end up with more mint than you know what to do with, so you may want to store large batches for later.
How to dry mint
Mint is easy to dry and will keep its flavor quite well this way.
For all methods of drying mint, rinse the leaves well (but gently). Gently shake the stems out to remove excess moisture and let the stems dry on a towel for a few hours.
How to air dry mint
For air drying, you’ll want to harvest stems that are 6-8” long.
- Gather the stems into small bundles and tie them together at their cut ends. Large bundles are more prone to mildew.
- Hang up your bundles in a warm and dry place out of direct sunlight. Placing a paper bag with holes cut it in for air circulation over your mint can help protect them from sunlight, which degrades their taste, and keeps any fallen leaves in the bag.
- Mint typically take 2-3 weeks to dry fully.
When the leaves are crispy, take them off the stems but leave them whole. Store in airtight containers away from heat and light.
If you live somewhere humid (I do), I recommend using your oven or a dehydrator to dry your mint. Mint is a “tender leaf” herb with a high moisture content that is prone to mildewing before it dries in humid conditions.
How to dry mint in the oven
You can dry mint in the oven, but it may not taste as well as if you use a dehydrator. Mint’s volatile essential oils degrade in high heat, so if your oven’s lowest temperature is high you may end up with less flavorful dried mint.
If you live somewhere humid, oven drying is better than air drying, and chances are good you already have an oven. Here’s how to do it:
- Remove clean mint leaves from stems.
- Place the leaves flat on a paper towel, but don’t allow the leaves to touch.
- Cover with additional layers of leaves and paper towel. According to the National Center for Food Preservation, you can make up to five layers of towel and mint for drying.
- Dry in your oven on its lowest setting. This may take 1-4 hours, depending on the humidity. If you have a gas oven, you can leave the mint in your oven overnight with only the pilot light.
- Store in an airtight container in a dark, cool location. I use my Food Saver with the jar sealer attachment to seal up mason jars of mint for use later.
How to dry mint in the dehydrator
Drying mint in the dehydrator is my personal favorite method.
Dehydrators typically have settings that are lower than your lowest oven setting, which means the mint leaves are at less risk for scorching. High temperatures degrade mint essential oils and can lead to bland dried mint.
My family has used the older model of this Presto dehydrator for 20+ years and it’s still going strong!
Preheat your dehydrator to its lowest setting. Some have an “herb” setting, others have a thermostat. Low is usually 95ºF-115ºF.
Place clean mint leaves on a single layer on the dehydrator trays.
Dry until the leaves crumble easily.
Store in a dark, cool location. I personally pack my extra dry mint in mason jars and use my Food Saver with the far vacuum attachment to seal the jars. This ensures my mint is fresh and minty all winter long!
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Mint also keeps its flavor well in the freezer, and there are tons of ways to do it.
You can freeze individual or chopped leaves in plastic bags. You can freeze pre-measured portions of mint in ice cube trays or small containers. Or you can get creative and freeze it in with fruit (like raspberries), yogurt, or cookie dough for a tasty treat later.
What to do with mint
Dry mint is a favorite for making mint tea. Add a spoon-full to a tea strainer, drop it in your favorite mug, pour boiling water over the top, and steep for 3-5 minutes. You can also make fresh mint tea.
Add mint to a bowl with fresh watermelon chunks and feta cheese for a delicious summer salad.
Make mint jelly.
Add your mint to fresh fruit salads.
Make mint yogurt salad dressing
Make your own mint extract using dry or fresh mint. It’s perfect for making delicious minty baked goods! Learn how to make your own mint extract. The instructions show fresh mint, but you can also make it with dry mint.
Mint Varieties to Try
Now that you know how easy it is to grow and harvest mint, you may want to branch out and try some interesting mint varities!
It’s best to grow mint from new seed or from cuttings. Mint cross pollinates easily with other mint varieties so it’s easy to get off variety mints if you grow from saved seed. This off variety mint may or may not taste like what you expect.
Here are some fun mint varieties to try:
Despite its enthusiastic growth habit, there’s a lot to love about mint, so don’t leave this lovely herb out of your garden!
Natasha Garcia-Lopez is an avoid home-gardener and proud owner of 88 acres of land in rural West Virginia. She was a member of the Association for Living History Farms and Agricultural Museums for many years and is currently enrolled in the Oregon State University Master Gardner Short Course program so she can better assist you with your gardening questions.She holds a certificate in natural skincare from the School of Natural Skincare.