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How to Harvest and Dry Basil
How to Harvest and Dry Basil

How to Harvest and Dry Basil

Basil is one of our most used herbs, so I try to grow lots of it in the garden each year. The height of summer means lots of basil ready for harvesting, but we certainly can’t use it all at once. That’s where drying it comes in handy. Learning how to harvest and dry basil fresh from the garden means you can use this fragrant, delicious herb year-round.

 

When to Pick Basil

Basil is a fairly prolific plant when harvested correctly. You can begin picking it any time after the plant has at least 6 sets of leaves.

Like most herbs, it’s best to pick basil in the morning, for the most flavor. If it’s particularly dewy in the morning, you can wait until some of the dew has dried, but the oils in the plant that give basil it’s pungent aroma and flavor, peak before the heat of the day.

If you begin seeing flower buds on your basil, you’ll want to pinch them back as soon as they appear. Flowering basil turns bitter very quickly, so when you see them, simply pinch them back so that the energy goes toward foliage growth instead of flower growth.

 

How to Harvest Basil

You’ll want to begin your harvest from the top down. If you only need a few leaves, you can simply pull a few leaves off the top of the plant. If you need more, such as to dry for long term use or make a batch of pesto, you can trim whole stems.

If you’re trimming a stem, you can cut the entire plant back by 1/3rd. Cut the stems just above a set of leaves. If you do this, it’s best to wait 2-3 weeks before harvesting from the plant again, so it has time to grow back. By cutting back the stems, your plant will become bushier.

If you’ve not been regularly harvesting from your basil, you’ll want to make sure you do so every 6 weeks or so by at least pinching back the growth.

 

How to Dry Fresh Basil

Some people say that drying it reduces its flavor, but I’ve found that drying it in our excalibur dehydrator results in very fragrant, flavorful dried leaves. So, I haven’t personally had that problem.

If you choose to dry in an oven, you may lose some flavor, and it’s a lot easier to burn instead of dry your basil, so be careful if you choose an oven method.

 

STEP 1: Pick Your Basil

Using the tips above, you’ll want to harvest some of your basil. It’s best to harvest basil just before you plan to dry it. If you pick it and life happens, and don’t get the process of drying started – you can put your basil in a glass of water like you would a bouquet of flowers. This will buy you a few extra days of fresh basil.

Remove the basil from the stems once you’re ready to use it up, by simply pinching the leaves off of the stem.

 

STEP 2: Rinse the Leaves

Using cool water, give your leaves a good rinse to remove any dirt or other unwanted substances from the leaves.

 

STEP 3: Dry off the Leaves

After rinsing, your leaves will be pretty wet. You’ll want to squeeze out that excess water as best you can before getting the leaves placed in the dehydrator (or oven). You can do this by laying your leaves out on a towel and squeezing the water out with a towel laid on top. It doesn’t need to be bone dry, just get them as dry as you can, to speed up the actual drying process.

 

STEP 4: Arrange the Leaves

If using a dehydrator, lay the leaves out on the trays, leaving plenty of space between each leaf, so that none of them are touching.

If you’re using an oven, turn your oven on to the lowest setting (usually around 200°F) to preheat it and arrange the leaves on cookie sheets making sure the leaves do not touch.

Arrange the racks in your dehydrator, or place the cookie sheets in the preheated oven once everything is spread out in a single layer on the trays.

 

Dry the Basil

In our dehydrator, we use the “herbs” setting which is 100°F. In the oven, you’ll be drying it at the lowest temperature setting (typically 200°F).

The time the drying process takes is going to vary greatly and there really isn’t a hard, fast rule. Times are going to vary not only with each individual machine or oven, but also depending on how much basil you’re drying and how dry it was when it went in.

If you’re drying in the oven, you’ll want to check on your basil in an hour, and then every half hour thereafter, until it’s dry.

In a dehydrator, start with 3-4 hours and then check on it. It’s very difficult to burn herbs in a dehydrator, but not so much in an oven.

You’ll know your basil is completely dry when it easily crumbles in your fingers. It will remind you of crunchy leaves on the ground and will be a light green color. If it bends without crumbling, it’s not quite dry enough.

Make sure your basil is all completely dry, this is paramount to good, long term storage!

 

Storing Dry Basil

It’s actually best to store your dry basil as whole leaves until ready to use. This retains more of the oils in the leaves making for more flavorful dishes.

When you’re ready to use the basil, simply grind it to the desired consistency using a mortar and pestle (or, crumble it in your hands).

It’s best to store basil in a nice, airtight container. A jar with a lid that has a silicon gasket works wonders. We keep ours in mason jars whole, until we’re ready to grind some up for use. The ground basil that’s left over, gets put into a regular spice jar and placed in the cupboard for use until I need more ground up.

I try not to grind very much at one time so that it stays fresh, but I’ve had ground basil sitting in the cupboard for a few months.  It was still nice and aromatic, and tasted amazing.

Dried basil will keep, barring any excess humidity problems (you can use a food-grade, silica-based desiccant for this) for 2-3 years before they lose their potency.

 

How Much Dry Basil to Use in Place of Fresh Basil

Here in Indiana, basil only grows a short amount of time, so I often have to substitute dry basil for fresh in recipes.

Dried herbs are much more potent than fresh, since there’s typically several leaves packed into a teaspoon. The general rule of thumb is to use roughly 1/3rd dry in place of fresh.

So, if a recipe calls for a tablespoon of fresh basil, you’ll want to use a teaspoon. Easy peasy.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Drying Time: 3 hours

Total Time: 3 hours 10 minutes

Dry basil, using a dehydrator or an oven for basil that can be used year round and kept in long-term storage.

 

Ingredients

  • Basil Leaves

Instructions

  1. Begin by harvesting fresh basil. Remove leaves from stems and wash thoroughly with cool water.
  2. Remove excess rinsing water from leaves by spreading them out in a single layer on a towel and squeezing the water out with another towel placed on top.
  3. If using an oven, preheat to lowest temperature setting available. Place rinsed dried leaves in a single layer on dehydrator trays or cookie sheets, making sure the leaves do not touch.
  4. Load trays into dehydrator or place cookie sheets in preheated oven. If using a dehydrator – turn to lowest setting, roughly 100°F.
  5. If using an oven, check dryness levels at one hour and again in half our increments until leaves are dry and easily crumble in hands. If using dehydrator, check around the 3 hour mark. Make sure leaves easily crumble and don’t simply bend – this will ensure all of the moisture has been removed and they can be kept for long term storage.
  6. Grind basil leaves using a mortar and pestle to desired consistency when ready to use. Store whole leaves in an airtight container until ready to use to retain best flavor.
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