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I have mint growing in the garden, and I'd like to use it in cooking and in drinks (like hot chocolate). Are you supposed to dry the mint and then crumble/ground it up?

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For something like a drink, I generally bruise the mint and use the whole leaves fresh - rub it between your fingers a bit to release the oils and then just drop it in the drink. The main benefit of this method for me is that a bunch of dry, crumbled mint in a drink is going to make it look very muddled and hard to drink, as you're constantly getting a mouthful of dried leaves (you could get around this by steeping it with the dried herbs and then straining it, but that's too much work!). As a bonus, fresh picked herbs in a nice glass of lemonade, for example, just looks so fresh and tasty!

If I'm cooking with it and I have a supply of fresh on hand, I prefer to use that. Depending on the dish, it might be whole leaves, but more likely chopped - I actually use kitchen scissors for a lot of fresh herb preparation as it can be easier than a knife in many cases.

You certainly can dry it, especially at the end of season when you need to harvest, and use the dried leaves in place of fresh. The main benefit to drying is that it stores really well; dry also seems to be a bit more powerful, at least when first dried. Over time the flavor of dried herbs will degrade. You usually use a 3 to 1 ratio replacement - if a dish calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh mint, you'd use 1 teaspoon of dried, though as the dried herbs age you'll have to increase the amount used over time.

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With hot chocolate the easiest way is to use a satchel in the water as it heats or put a whole twig in your cup and then take it out at the end. The leaves get slimy and unappealing when heated.

We boil it to make an infusion, strain the leaves out, and make jelly out of the infusion. It is delicious with crackers or on meat.

You can dry it to during the winter. My favorite fresh applications are in light salads and cilantro-mint chutneys.

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Satchels are a great way to go especially with heated drinks like hot chocolate - great advice! If you don't have anything specific on hand to use as a satchel, a piece of cheesecloth with some cooking twine works great. –  stephennmcdonald Oct 1 '10 at 19:45
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