We have learned how to harvest mint and lemon balm to dry for herbal tea and other things and want to share with you an efficient method that will make the most of your time in the garden…
Using Mint and Lemon Balm in Herbal Tea Blends
We drink a lot of herbal tea around here and a 50/50 blend of dried mint and lemon balm has become my favorite go-to base for those herbal tea blends. These two herbs are delightful on their own, but they also play very nicely with others. For a few ideas on what herbs to blend them with, check out this post: Medicinal Tea Garden – 14 medicinal plants for herbal tea to get you started.
With the amount of herb we need to keep us in tea for the year, I typically harvest quite a bit.
And then there’s this cake…
This is a Nettle Cake made by The Wordsmith. I haven’t tried making it yet, but tell me this wouldn’t be amazing substituting the nettle for fresh lemon balm or mint?! Oh my goodness… #yum.
How to Harvest Mint and Lemon Balm in Bulk for Herbal Tea and Other Things
Because I use such a large amount of these herbs, harvesting a stem here and a stem there just will not do. So, I grow these two herbs in large, uninterrupted patches. I will also spend a bit of effort to keep these patches free of weeds (like buttercup) that are always trying to creep their way in. This way, I can quickly harvest and bundle several handfuls without worrying about unwanted plant material being mixed in. This makes for much easier harvesting.
Grab big handfuls of mint or lemon balm and cut them off about 4 inches above the base.
I shoot for bundles that are about one inch worth of gathered stems which is a good size that allows the plant material to dry thoroughly. Bigger bundles may mold if they can’t get enough airflow.
Do a little pre-garbling (or processing).
Pick out any stems or leaves that don’t pass muster. Maybe they are a little on the yellow side. Or remove anything that appears to have pest damage.
In our patch, we get little spittlebugs. They are harmless but annoying. The nymphs create a little pocket of frothy foam in which they hide and feed. And for some reason, they love the mint family! I try to avoid including stems where I see spittlebugs (throw those ones to the chickens.)
Using a rubber band, secure the bundles about one to two inches from the cut end.
I like to use rubber bands for bundling herbs for a couple of reasons. Number one, rubber bands are quick and easy whereas string would have to be cut into lengths and tied… what a pain! But mainly, I like rubber bands because they tighten as the stems shrink during the drying process. I also find that the rubber bands, because they are made of natural materials, break down in the compost pile… so no biggie there.
Hang your bundles in a cool, dry place with plenty of airflow.
You can hang a string in an unused room and drape the bundles over the string. Or, for many years I have been using a laundry drying rack which works nicely. It is easy to set up and move if needed.
Test for dryness.
I will typically allow the herbs to hang for a week or two, and then test them for dryness.
The stems should be brittle and give a little ‘snap’ when you try to bend them. They should seem dry. If they just bend but don’t snap, allow the herbs to hang just a little longer. If they snap, then the bundles are ready to garble.
Garble your dried mint and lemon balm.
Garble… haha, its a funny word. Garbling herbs is the process of processing. This is where you strip the dried leaves from the stems and separate any material that looks like something you wouldn’t want to consume. Maybe there are some leaves that are overly yellow or brown, or material that was affected by pests that you didn’t see when you harvested them. Separate the ugly stuff from the nice stuff. Add what you don’t want to keep to the compost pile.
Hold the bundles by the rubber band end and then run your fingers along each stem to strip the whole leaves into a bowl large enough to catch all the bits.
Store your mint and lemon balm in airtight containers until ready to use.
My preferred storage containers are wide mouth quart-sized canning jars. Make sure they are clean and dry and then stuff your jar with the whole dried leaves. Pack them in tightly with as little air in the jar as possible. Really stuff them in there. You can fit a lot of herb material in one jar.
Storing your herbs in larger bits (whole leaves) and exposed to as little air as possible will maintain freshness the longest.
Cap the jars and store them in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. You can even put each jar inside a paper lunch bag to further minimize exposure to light. Stored this way, your dried mint and lemon balm will easily maintain peak freshness for at least a year until the next harvest season.
If you want to go a step further, pick up a FoodSaver Wide-Mouth Jar Sealer to vacuum seal your jars.
When you are ready to use your mint and lemon balm for herbal tea or other things,
…simply pop the top on your jars and take out however much you need for your recipe.