If you are growing mint in your garden, you probably have more of this fast-growing, aggressive herb than you can possibly use while it's fresh. It's easy to dry mint leaves by hanging sprigs upside-down in the sun or putting them in the oven. Dried mint lasts a long time and multitasks nicely around the house. You can use it in cooking or when making tea, potpourri or pest repellent. With 18 different species and hundreds of cultivars, you'll want to choose the variety that best suits your purposes. Here are some suggestions of what to do with dried mint leaves and what kinds of mint work best for each purpose.
Cooking With Dried Mint
Dried mint leaves add a distinctive flavor to foods and have been used for centuries in cooking. The possibilities are endless. Dried mint is a staple in many complex South Asian dishes, imparting a sweet flavor with a cool, refreshing aftertaste. It's used in chutney and pesto, too. Try adding dried mint leaves to curries, casseroles and stews or using them as a rub for racks of lamb. If you aren't an active or experienced cook, you can enjoy dried mint leaves sprinkled over soups, salads, cooked vegetables, fresh fruit or yogurt.
Some favorite cooking mints include three peppermint, spearmint and orange mint varieties. Peppermint (Mentha x piperita 'Mitcham') is full of flavor and highly mentholated, holding its own in cooked dishes. Spearmint (Mentha spicata), is mild and sweet, very like the mint used in Mediterranean cooking. Orange mint (Mentha aquatica) has an intense perfume and a citrus flavor, making dried orange mint leaves pair well with fruit dishes.
Making Teas From Dried Mint
When times get tough, nothing soothes like mint tea. Nothing could be easier: For two cups of tea, place 2 teaspoons of dried mint leaf into a metal tea ball and steep in 2 cups of boiling water for 10 minutes. Historically, peppermint and spearmint teas were believed to cure any of a number of ailments and used medicinally, but they also make for delightful, calming sipping.
While some find peppermint leaves too strong to make pleasant tea, dried spearmint leaves work well for mint tea, with their innate sweetness and bright flavor. Tea made from dried orange mint leaves has the same rich flavor of Earl Grey tea without the caffeine. For hot or cold tea with zest, use dried ginger mint (Mentha x gentilis 'Variegata').
Creating Aromatic Mint Scents
Mint's fragrance is strong and uplifting, and you can use the dried leaves to scent your home. A few varieties to try for this aromatic use of mint leaves, in addition to peppermint and spearmint, include: lively orange mint, warm apple mint (Mentha suaveolens), fragrant eau de cologne mint (Mentha x piperita Citrata) or invitingly rich chocolate mint (Mentha piperita). Add the dried mint leaves to potpourri or simply place them in open, decorative bowls or jars to fragrance a room. Or you can simmer dried mint leaves in water to infuse the room with their fragrance. Fill sachets with dried mint leaves for a subtle mint fragrance.
Using Dried Mint to Keep Pests at Bay
Centuries ago, people scattered mints around their homes to rid them of pests. And even today, many people claim that highly aromatic dried mint leaves helps keep insect pests out of the garden. The scent of peppermint, in particular, is said to repel flies, fleas, ants and even mice. Place small sachets or bags stuffed with dried mint leaves in the area you wish to protect or in the points of entry. Dried spearmint leaf sachets tucked in drawers are also said to keep moths away, or, for clothes on hangers, tie dried mint branches in closets.