Living as a hunter/gatherer is hard work. At least, that's what I've heard, I don't exactly live that way myself. I mean you have to hunt, pick, preserve, prepare, build, fix, and protect absolutely everything you need to survive. In the midst of a life like that, I think it's probably important to have a few simple things to keep yourself calm and relaxed but, again, you have to go and get it yourself so it has to be completely natural.
There are a bunch of different things you can get in nature that are tasty or interesting. A wide selection of fruits and berries, various different types of nuts, a lot of herbs that provide different flavors and maybe health benefits depending on who you ask. One of my favorite natural flavors, though, is natural mint.
Mint is an incredible plant. If you live in the Midwest like me, you've likely seen this plant growing just about everywhere. Seriously. Everywhere. It's a weed. But it's the most virtuous weed I've ever seen. Mint is used in a variety of applications including but not limited to, food seasoning, gum, toothpaste, and, of course, tea. It has been used for centuries in folk medicine to cure a wide variety of afflictions, and it is great for soothing an upset stomach. The fresh scent and flavor make it a welcome addition to any tea makers pantry and it is remarkably easy to harvest and use. In this little guide, I'm going to walk you through the simple steps to harvest and use fresh mint to make mint tea as well as how to dry it in order to preserve it for future use.
Step 1: Cautions
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, come on, it's mint, there can't possibly be a bunch of dangers involved, and you're right, there aren't many, but I have to put them here anyway. First, make sure what you are picking is mint. Mint is pretty easy to identify, especially by smell, but there's always a chance of misidentification, so double check to make sure that what you think is mint isn't actually something that wants to kill you. Second, for a portion of this guide, you will be using a hot oven, not super hot, but enough to cause you some discomfort if you touch the hot stuff inside with your bare skin. Please be careful using the hot oven.
Step 2: Things You'll Need
- Scissors and/or a sharp knife
- A bowl or something else to gather into
- Baking sheets (optional if you are drying your herbs)
- An oven (also optional)
- A tea kettle or pan to heat water in
- A tea infuser of some kind (optional but recommended unless you like bits of leaf floating around in your tea)
- A mug (obviously)
- Mint plants
- Sugar (optional)
Step 3: Identifying and Harvesting
Mint is pretty easy to find. It grows in bushes with a characteristic cluster of four leaves at the end of each stalk. If you're not sure that what you have is mint, all you really need to do is tear or crush one of the leaves or stalks and smell it. If it smells minty fresh then you have mint. If you don't know what mint smells like then I can't really help you.
Once you've identified some mint, you need to cut or pull some of it. If you are making fresh mint tea, then you need a small handful for each cup you plan on making, so a kettle would take five or six handfuls. If you're planning on drying your mint, you can pick as much as you want.
Take a sharp pair of scissors or a knife and cut back the leafy branches. Once you've gathered as much as you want, you'll need to process it. If you are using it right away, all you really need to do is cut smaller sprigs from the larger branches. If you are drying, however, you'll need to strip the leaves. To strip the leaves, I start at the top of the branch and peel downward using my fingers, peeling the leaves off as I go. You can also pluck off each individual leaf by hand, but it takes a while.
Step 4: Optional Step: Drying
If you're here for the drying portion of this Instructables, this is the place for you, if not, continue on to step five and I'll meet you there.
To dry your mint, you need to take the leaves that you stripped off the plant and spread them out over a large baking sheet. When I do this, I usually have three or four sheets going at once depending on how much I've picked. Spread the leaves out so they are only about one layer deep. Some overlap is ok, but if they're spread really thickly, they won't dry properly. Set your oven to its lowest setting, for me it's 150 degrees, and set your sheets inside. Close the door most of the way, but prop it open with a wooden spoon or something similar.
Let the herbs dry for about half an hour and then check them. If they crumble when you press them, they are dry and ready for processing. If they still hold together they need a little more time. In my experience, they don't usually all come ready at the same time, and you will likely have portions of sheets that are ready and others that are not simultaneously. Once the WHOLE SHEET is dry, you can move on to storage.
To store your newly dried mint, just stick it in a plastic bag, a jar, or another air tight container. You can also use paper bags since the paper will absorb moisture and protect the mint, but otherwise it is best to use something air tight. Again make sure the mint is absolutely dry.
Step 5: Brewing
Now it's time to brew the tea. Bring some water to a boil in a kettle, pot, or microwave safe mug. Once your water is boiling, add your mint. For fresh mint you can just toss a handful or so of the sprigs you cut into mug full of water and let it steep or you can use your infuser.
If you are using dried mint, you'll need to use a tea infuser of some kind, or teabags. Take the dried mint and put it in your choice of infuser. Place the infuser in your mug of choice and pour the water over it.
For both the fresh and the dried mint, allow the tea to steep for five or ten minutes, waiting for it to take on a nice light green color.
Step 6: Enjoy
Once the tea has cooled to a drinkable temperature, add a little sugar if it suits your taste and drink up! The tea has a very fresh flavor and it's great as an iced drink for hot summer days or as a hot one for cold winter nights. For added flavor, toss in a black or green tea bag with your brew and give it a try it mix the mint with a variety of other ingredients.
This is truly one of my favorites, and there's something really rewarding about making tea start to finish by yourself. The dried mint can make for many many cups to come, or a great gift for your loved ones. However you decide to use it, I hope you enjoy this amazing drink, and drink it in good health for many years to come.