Learn how to dry fresh basil leaves at home!
Basil is an easy plant to grow if you’re new to gardening. Planted in early spring, basil will yield a bountiful harvest of fresh leaves by summer. It’s a popular herb to add in soups and stews, so having a thriving plant is a wonderful investment if you enjoy cooking with it.
But basil dies down once the weather gets cold. Not to worry, as you can nearly always substitute dried basil leaves to fresh leaves. Don’t know how to go about drying fresh basil? There are a couple of easy ways you can try. But before learning how to dry them, you need to know a few more things first.
Fresh basil vs. dried basil
Of course, there will be a difference in taste. Fresh basil has a brighter, mellower flavor, so a recipe can call for more. Dried basil leaves, on the other hand, have a deeper, more intense flavor. When used in recipes, a teaspoon or less should do.
Fresh basil leaves also have a tender, more appetizing bite. This is why fresh herbs are always preferred on dishes with raw ingredients, such as salads, cocktails, or sandwich spreads. Dried basil has a crunchy texture that might be unpalatable when chewed. Dried basil is usually acceptable in soups, sauces, stews, and seasonings for meats.
How to Dry Fresh Basil Leaves at Home
Air drying fresh basil leaves
Air drying is the simplest way to dry basil herbs, but it will take longer. Here’s how to do it:
1. Harvest your leaves
- Harvest during the early morning. Try to pick your leaves when the dew has just dried from the leaves. Your basil plant might get sickly if you cut too many stems and leaves when it’s too hot. Early morning is also the time when the oils in the leaves are the strongest.
- Pick the young shoots. These are the leaves found at the tops. Save the large leaves down the stems because they’re the leaves that absorb all the sunlight your plant needs. Cutting at the tops will also encourage your plant to grow sideways, as a bush, and not upwards like reeds.
- Cut close to the nodes. When cutting a shoot, cut about a fourth of an inch above a node. This will encourage your basil to branch out from the cut, leading to more leaves. Make sure to cut shoots with at least 6 inches of stem.
- Harvest about double than the amount of dried leaves you’ll need. Dried leaves shrinkl in size. A handful of fresh leaves won’t yield as much after drying.
2. Clean and sort your leaves
- Put all your cuttings in a tub of water and soak for a few minutes. This will get rid of any soil, dust, or bugs left on the leaves. You can also gently wash them under running tap water.
- Sort the best leaves for drying. Separate the good, whole ones from leaves with sunburned edges or holes.
- Place the washed cuttings on a clean kitchen towel and pat them dry.
3. Bunch and hang
- Sort your washed cuttings into small bunches. Don’t bunch too many cuttings in one pile because it will take them longer to air dry.
- Tie up the stems using wool, plant twine, or even butcher’s twine. You can use whatever’s handy as long as it’s strong enough.
- Hang your bunches upside down (stem side up) in a dry, dark place indoors. If you live in a humid area, you can hand your basil cuttings in a closet.
- You can also opt to cover your tied bunches with a paper bag first before hanging to air dry. The paper bag will catch any loose leaves that will fall off. Just make sure to cut a few holes in the paper bag so air can circulate inside.
Air drying can take anywhere from two weeks to a month or more. You’ll know if your dried herbs are ready for use and storage if the leaves are crunchy. They will also crumble easily when crushed in your hand.
Drying fresh basil leaves in the oven
An oven will dry your basil faster, but can be finicky for first-timers.
- Harvest, clean, and sort your leaves.
- Preheat your oven to the lowest setting. Using a higher temperature might cause your leaves to burn instead of dry.
- Take your baking tray and arrange your leaves. None should overlap. The leaves should be in just one layer.
- Bake and leave overnight. Bake your leaves for 20 minutes, then turn off the oven. Don’t open the oven door and leave your basil leaves overnight. They should be dry the next morning. If not, you can bake them again in 5-minute intervals, leaving the leaves inside the oven until it cools.
Drying fresh basil leaves in the food dehydrator
Using a dehydrator is the best way to ensure fast and even drying. However, you will need to buy a separate, possibly bulky and expensive piece of equipment.
- Harvest, clean, and sort your leaves.
- Prepare dehydrator according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Sort and line your leaves. Take the food dehydrator tray and arrange your leaves. None should overlap. The leaves should be in just one layer.
- Dehydrate for 24-48 hours. Leave the basil leaves inside the food dehydrator for 24-48 hours until they have become dry and crunchy.
After drying your leaves, you can store them in airtight containers such as canning jars, Ziploc bags, or sealed food containers. Only crumble the leaves right before using them to get the most intense flavor. Dried basil stored like this will keep to a year, though it will lose its flavor as time goes by.
READ ALSO: How to Preserve and Store Dried Basil
Drying fresh basil is an easy and economical way to make sure you have plenty of stock on hand. You can dry your herbs with or without any additional expense!