Basil is one of the culinary world’s favorite herbs. Besides culinary uses, did you know basil is often used as a fragrant bug repellent in backyards? I typically prefer actual mints and lavender in bug repellant gardens though. The white flowers and large, oval-shaped leaves of a basil plant add a lovely flair and impressive height to pretty or decorative herb gardens. Basil is also in the Lamiaceae family, more commonly known as the mint family (you heard that right, basil is closely related to mint!), which is full of aromatic herbs and loved by pollinators. While there are several different kinds of basil- each with their distinct tastes and uses in cuisine- basil is easy to grow and even easier to dry. Let’s get started with some prep work before we get to drying basil.
Before drying basil:
You should first carefully cut stems from the plant. For best tasting basil, you should take leaves off the plant in the morning; as basil is an oily plant with lots of moisture, the morning is when they are at their peak moisture content for the day. As with most leafy herbs, look over each leaf on the stems for blight, wilting or dying sections, insects, webs, and eggs. Discard any basil leaves you find that have any sign of those conditions. Finally, place the fresh basil in a colander or food strainer and run those leaves under cool water for a few minutes. When they are all rinsed, shake off as much water as possible and set on a cloth (like a clean kitchen towel) or paper towel to evaporate the rest.
Method 1: Hang or Air Drying
This is one of the easiest ways as it takes so little equipment or even space to do. The only downside is how much longer it takes to dry the basil leaves as this method can take up to four weeks. There is also the complication if your space is humid- you run the risk of your basil leaves molding, and basil is very susceptible to molding.
The first of three steps to air drying basil is to tie the cut ends of the stems together into a bundle. Any string or cord will do, though I recommend something more natural made ( such as hemp cords used for gardening or thin cotton string). Shoot for about 3-6 stems a bundle.
Each bundle should be in a well-ventilated area to allow a good amount of air through.
Finally, hang each bundle facing downwards and out of direct sunlight.
The dried basil leaves are dry when they can easily crumble in your hand.
Method 2: Microwave
This isn’t my favorite method, but if you are in a time crunch or have limited space, this might be a good method for you. All together, this should take you about 5-10 minutes.
The first step is to pinch the fresh basil leaves from the stems. After the stems are removed, arrange the basil leaves in a single non-touching layer on a paper towel. Next, cover the fresh basil in another paper towel and (regardless of the strength of your microwave) microwave the leaves for thirty-second intervals, flipping between each session and testing if the leaves are dry. Keep checking the dried basil leaves until they can easily crumble in your hand but remove any that are done before the others.
Method 3: Oven
Drying basil in the oven is a very easy method, but be warned as it can really heat up your kitchen. This should take about 2-4 hours to dry them completely.
Start by taking an oven safe tray or baking sheet and laying down some paper towels or wax papers. Next, you should carefully pinch the leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Arrange a single layer of leaves over the tray, so they are not touching. Then you set your oven to the lowest setting (about 180 degrees Fahrenheit) and put the sheet into the oven. But don’t close the oven door completely- we want the moisture to escape and not be trapped in the oven. You should check if the leaves crumble easily in your hand at the two-hour mark. After two hours, check back as overcooking the dried basil leaves can harm how potent the taste is.
Method 4: Food Dehydrator
A food dehydrator is invaluable to anyone who grows and dries their herbs. Fleshy herbs are dried the best in dehydrators and have minimal risk of losing their potency.
The first step is to make sure your racks are clean and dry before placing the leaves in a single layer and not overlapping. Many food dehydrators have very different settings. I have two and one has only a timer while the other allows me to set the temperature and time. But fear not! For herbs, any dehydrator works. The lower settings (or if yours doesn’t have temperature settings) range from 95 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the perfect range for drying basil in a dehydrator. If your dehydrator does not get that high in temperature, you will have to dry the basil for a longer period of time. All you do is set your dehydrator up and check back each hour until the leaves can easily crumble in your hands.
What should you do with all that dried basil? Well, you’ll want to store your leaves in an air-tight container that is dry and clean. Storing whole leaves keeps their potency longer than crushed leaves. Be sure that the containers are kept out of direct sunlight- a preferable place being in a dark and cool cupboard or cabinet. If you can get your hands on dark colored (preferably glass) airtight containers, all the better! Inspect the containers every so often for signs of mold. Don’t be afraid to dump the whole container if it has even the slightest bit of mold. Basil can mold very quickly and easily if it comes into contact with moisture. The basil should be good for about a year, after that it will lose its potency. It is a good idea to mark the date of each batch so you can keep track of freshness.