I love the flavor of mint. Hubby's not impressed by it, but I'd say just about everything tastes better with a minty touch. Thus, I grow mint. Spearmint, peppermint, and chocolate mint. I like all three. It grows fairly well here in Hawaii, but I notice that is goes through a rest period. The plant partially dies back, pauses in growth, and generally doesn't look good. And of course, zero harvest. So in order to get my mint fix during that rest period, I need to preserve the mint.
Drying mint leaves is easy. But in order to preserve the flavor, the dried leaves do best if stored in a sealed container in the freezer. I'll use dried mint for teas. We drink green tea on a daily basis. A bit of mint in it is really refreshing. As long as I don't go overboard with the mint, hubby likes it.
For other recipes, I find that an extract works easier. Being the self sufficient type, I wanted to learn how to make my own using my homegrown mints. Turns out that it's really easy to make mint extract. It won't be entirely home sourced because I don't make my own vodka, but I discovered that one bottle of vodka will last me a long time. That's right, I'm not a drinker. I've read that you can use rum instead of vodka. Hey, I've got plenty of sugar cane around here. I wonder how one makes rum.....?
Anyway, here's the steps for making mint extract:
1- Remove the leaves from the stems. I just use leaves and the tender stem tips. I choose the nicest looking, perfect leaves.
(Above, fresh picked sprigs of spearmint.)
2- Wash/rinse the leaves. Spread them out on a towel and let them dry. Or towel dry them to get most of the water off.
3- Bruise the leaves. I use to either crush the with my hands or use a rolling pin. But I soon discovered that if I rolled the washed, wet leaves in a dish towel then crushed away, the leaves got dried and bruised at the same time. The leaves could be chopped instead of bruised, but it just means that the small pieces may be harder to remove from the extract. For most applications, it doesn't matter if there are mint leaf pieces.
4- Pack a canning jar with leaves but don't overpack it. If overpacked, the leaves will expand over the top of the vodka and rot, ruining the batch.
5- Fill the jar with vodka, making sure to well cover the leaves.
6- Put the lid in the jar then store it in a dark area for about a month. Test the liquid. If its not minty enough, then store it for another month. Having said that, I have a new method that I've switched to. I store the leaves for one month then fish out the spent old leaves, discarding them. Then I add a new batch of fresh leaves. Then I'll store that jar for another month. At the end of the two months the extract is nicely minty. I suppose you could keep repeating that step but I usually don't.
As for the choice of vodka, it doesn't matter, I'm told, as long as its 80 proof or more. The alcohol acts as a solvent and preservative,
Some tips I've discovered--
...the mint leaves float initially. After a few days they sink. So in the beginning until the leaves sink, I will give the jar a little shake to keep the leaves well coated in vodka.
...the longer it is steeped, the stronger the mint flavor.
...replacing the old leaves with fresh makes for a mintier extract. But after doing that a couple times the vodka must get saturated with mint oil because it doesn't seem to get all that stronger. So replacing the leaves once or twice is it. After that it isn't worth the effort.....the effect of diminishing return.
I haven't tried it, but I bet I could make extracts using this same method for vanilla, coconut, orange, ginger, etc. But since I can get those fresh pretty much year around, I haven't experimented. But I have considered trying various citrus extracts. Perhaps someday......