Herbs and flowers alike are starting to gain size here in the Mid-Atlantic. In fact, my mint has already outgrown its pot. Before I go about transplanting it to its new home here on our property, I thought this was a good opportunity to talk about drying your own herbs and flowers. In this case we’ll focus on mint for tea, though the same methods can easily be applied to other culinary herbs and flowers if you find you have too grand a harvest for fresh use.
There are three common ways to dehydrate garden harvests. The first and most traditional method is to bundle and hang them. The second is to use an oven that will drop below 180F, and the third is to use a dehydrator. Below I have outlined a basic guide for drying garden herbs. Additionally, you can find an extensive list of herbs and blossoms commonly grown in tea gardens here.
- Harvest. Many herbal and ornamental plants fill out better if they are pruned, and harvest time is a great chance to do just that. In the photos above, you’ll see that at the base of a stem on my mint plant there are two new pairs of leaves coming in on either side of that main stem. When the main stem is clipped, the plant redirects its energy to grow those two pairs of leaves as two full stems. The main shoot that you’ve clipped off can now be dried and made into delicious tea during the chilly winter months.
- Rinse. You can simply hold your new harvest stem by stem under running water, but I prefer to submerge mine in a pool of cold water. I find that submerging is more effective at flushing out insects. 5-10 minutes is plenty of time for any unwanted guests to emerge. I follow the water bath up with a toweling off to remove excess moisture.
- Quality control. At this point you should remove any damaged or discolored leaves. The little spots on the leaves shown below are evidence of a Fourlined plant bug. I removed these leaves and added them to my compost bin. Once you’ve isolated the healthy portions it’s time for drying.
- Bundle & hang or pluck & dehydrate. Yes, it’s that easy. Your rinsed harvest can be bundled as a bouquet and bound tightly with ribbon or twine on the clipped end. Next it should be hung in a dry location out of direct sunlight, with good air circulation. On the other hand, if you are using your oven or a dehydrator, I recommend plucking leaves off the stem before drying them. Once dry, they are more apt to crumble into a mess as you’re attempting to remove the stem and if you don’t need the stem for hanging then it’s not worth the hassle. The flip side of this coin is the scenario where you intend to crush your dried leaves anyway. In that case, there is no reason why you can’t dry your herbs with the stem intact. Leaves can be dehydrated at 120F for 4 hours in a dehydrator or, if your oven will not get down to 120F, select the lowest oven temperature below 180F.
- Storage. After your garden goodies are dry you can store them in an airtight container until tea time.
That’s it! No need to overthink it, it’s a very simple process and drying is a great way to extend the life of your harvests. Aggressive growers like mint tend to get unruly during peak months so it is easy to find yourself in a position where you have too much on hand. Don’t let it go to waste, you’ll be wishing you had some when your garden is covered in snow. Cheers, friends!