Growing mint (Mentha spp.) in your garden gives you an almost endless supply of the fragrant leaves, and the versatile plant lets you harvest mint throughout the growing season. Harvesting mint frequently helps the plant flourish, giving you an increased supply of mint leaves. However, mint is a hardy plant that often grows vigorously no matter how you harvest it, and it can sometimes overwhelm your garden if you don't keep it under control.
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When to Harvest Mint
The beauty of this plant is that you can harvest mint at any time once it comes up in the spring. You don't have to wait until the leaves reach a certain size or maturity. The more mint you harvest, the more it signals to the plant to grow additional leaves. However, you don't want to harvest too much of the plant when it's still young, or it could affect the growth.
Mint plants eventually start to flower. Harvest the mint leaves before the plant flowers for the best flavor. If you want to continue harvesting mint, cut off those stalks before the flowers bloom. Once the flowers bloom, the mint leaves have a lower oil content, and the flavor changes.
Which Part to Harvest
The leaves are the part of the plant that you use in recipes. You can harvest just a few leaves when you want to use them immediately in a small recipe or full sprigs when you need a larger amount of mint. Cutting large sprigs of mint regularly helps keep the plant growing vigorously. If you only harvest mint occasionally, you might notice shorter leaves and longer stems.
How to Harvest Mint
The ideal time to harvest mint is on a sunny day. Wait until the dew dries before harvesting. If you're harvesting sprigs instead of just a few leaves for immediate use, cut about one-third to one-half of the stem just above a set of leaves. You can pinch the stems with your fingers or cut them with sharp scissors or pruning snips. Using scissors helps you get a clean cut and prevents damage to the plant, but the stems are soft enough to pinch with your fingers easily.
If the mint starts to grow thinner in midsummer, cut back the entire plant by about half. This invigorates the plant and encourages it to send up new growth. The newer stalks will have larger leaves and robust growth on them.
Using and Storing Mint
Fresh mint leaves just picked from the plant offer the best flavor. Use them in your recipes or to flavor beverages, such as tea, lemonade or adult beverages.
Fresh sprigs can last several days, often up to a week, when you store them in water or in the refrigerator. Wrapping the mint in damp paper towels and placing them inside a plastic bag that's loosely sealed can help them last longer in the refrigerator. To store in water, place the cut ends of the mint sprigs in a glass of water and cover loosely with a plastic bag.
You can preserve mint leaves different ways. If you want to use them in beverages, freeze the mint leaves with water in ice cube trays. Drop the mint ice cubes in your drink. Another option is to dry the leaves and store them in an airtight container.
Shelley Frost combines her love of DIY and writing in her freelance career. She has first-hand experience with tiling, painting, refinishing hardwood floors, installing lighting, roofing and many other home improvement projects. She keeps her DIY skills fresh with regular projects around the house and extensive writing work on the topic.