Harvesting peppermint you've grown yourself is a very rewarding experience! Growing and picking your own peppermint lets you enjoy the freshest, most delicious, fragrant hot, warm, or iced peppermint tea - as well as the multitude of health and wellness benefits this amazing herb provides - any time you'd like.
Peppermint is such a simple herb to grow (learn how to grow peppermint here, if you're interested), and harvesting peppermint is very easy, as well.
Here are some tips on harvesting peppermint stalks and leaves, as well as some suggestions for drying your harvest so you don't waste any of that delightful, healthful peppermint.
Leaves from the peppermint plant can be harvested at any time, but young peppermint leaves and stems tend to have a better (less bitter) flavor than the older leaves and stalks.
Keep in mind, as well, that essential oils (which provide so many health benefits) are strongest and more concentrated in the leaves earlier in the day, so pick peppermint leaves in the morning, if you can (just after any dew has dried), to take best advantage of their beneficial oils.
If you are harvesting peppermint stalks, cut or snip them about 3 inches (7 - 8 cm) from the base of the plant. Also, if you're planning to dry your peppermint, the best time to harvest it is before it flowers, when the leaves are chock-full of healthful essential oils. (Herbs tend to dry better without flowers on the stems, as well.)
And don't worry about picking peppermint leaves and stalks often - harvesting peppermint frequently encourages lush new growth. This prolific herb will grow back very quickly, and pruning or pinching back the plant will help to keep it healthy and producing well, and looking prettier and less 'woody,' too.
Because peppermint grows abundantly and spreads quickly, you may find yourself with more fresh peppermint than you can use right away! If so, why not dry the extra leaves to store and use for peppermint tea or a peppermint tea steam later?
Peppermint can be dried naturally, or the process can be speeded up by drying the herb in the oven - just remember, drying the leaves in the open air, rather than in an oven, will help to retain more of their beneficial essential oils and more flavor and color, as well.
To dry peppermint stalks in the open air, first cut or snip the peppermint stems to within about 3 inches (7 - 8 cm) from the root (this encourages robust new growth).
Fill your kitchen sink with a few inches of cool, fresh, clean water, and give the peppermint stalks a quick rinse by briefly swishing them through the water.
Remove any damaged, yellowing, or old leaves, and then air dry the peppermint completely on a soft towel.
Tie a few stems together with string or twine (no more than 5 or 6 stalks, to ensure proper ventilation during the drying process). Hang the small bundles upside down in a warm, dry, well-ventilated spot, away from direct sunlight. (Hanging the bundles upside down encourages the beneficial oils to flow into the leaves.)
After a week or two, when the peppermint leaves are completely dry and brittle to the touch, carefully strip the leaves from the stems.
Peppermint stalks (or just the picked leaves) can also be dried on a fluffy towel, a mesh or wire rack, or a shallow baking tray lined with cheesecloth. Leave the peppermint in an airy, dry, warm place (away from direct sunlight) until the leaves are quite brittle and dry (this may take a week or more).
If you don't have space to dry your peppermint on racks or a spot to hang bunches of peppermint stalks, drying peppermint in your oven is a quick, convenient alternative to open-air drying.
First, pick the peppermint. Add a few inches of cool, fresh water to your kitchen sink, and quickly rinse the peppermint to remove any dust or other dirt. Discard any old, yellowed, or damaged leaves, and then air dry the herb thoroughly on a soft towel.
Preheat the oven to its lowest temperature (140 to 180 F, if possible) (a lower temperature will ensure the herb retains as much flavor, color, and beneficial oils as possible).
Spread the peppermint leaves in a single layer on a shallow, non-metal baking sheet (if you must use a metal pan, line with parchment paper first).
Pop the baking tray onto the center rack in the oven, and turn off the oven. Keep the oven door closed, allowing the peppermint to dry completely. Depending on your oven, this may take 45 minutes or up to 2 hours or more. Check the peppermint every so often, and remove it from the oven when it is thoroughly dry and brittle.
Be sure to cool the peppermint completely before transferring it to storage containers.
Once the peppermint leaves are completely dried, it's best not to crush or crumble them (this was cause flavor to be lost). Instead, place them whole in an air-tight, non-porous container (such as a large lidded glass jar or ceramic container). Store the container in a cool, dark, dry spot.
Storing leaves in this way will help to retain the dried herb's delightful flavor, intoxicating aroma, and beneficial oils, and it will also prevent the peppermint from 'sharing' its potent fragrance with other herbs or foods nearby!
Stored properly, dried peppermint can retain its flavor and beneficial goodness for many months, even a year or longer.
By drying peppermint, you will have plenty of delicious, healthful peppermint on hand whenever you're in the mood to steep a cup or pot of soothing, fragrant peppermint tea or to take advantage of some of peppermint's topical or aromatherapeutic benefits.
No matter how you use this delightful herb after harvesting peppermint - in a steamy hot tea, a refreshing iced tea, a therapeutic peppermint tea steam, for topical relief - you'll be enjoying the many health and wellness benefits of peppermint.
Before you serve peppermint tea or use this refreshing herb topically for yourself or anyone in your family, please be sure to ask your herbal practitioner or healthcare professional whether peppermint tea is a safe, healthy choice for you and your family.