Basil is one of the easiest herbs you can grow and will reward you with an abundant harvest throughout the summer. Its fresh, pungent flavor is a popular staple in everything from pizza to lemonade.
If you’ve ever grown this herb, you know there’s nothing quite like picking a fresh bunch and adding it to your recipes. But what about after summer’s over?
To keep enjoying the fantastic flavor of basil through fall and winter, you can easily dry large bunches of the leaves and store them in your pantry. If done correctly, your dried herbs will retain their flavor for months and tide you over to next summer.
There are four main ways to dry basil: air drying, oven drying, microwaving, and using a food dehydrator.
This guide will show you how to dry basil using each method and give you storage techniques to keep your dried herbs as flavorful as possible.
Why Dry Basil?
The obvious answer to why dry basil is to be able to use it through the months when you can’t grow it, but there are other reasons as well.
Drying your own basil leaves saves you money and will taste better than store-bought herbs.
First, drying your own herbs is much more cost effective than buying them in the store. You can easily grow a large amount in a container garden and fill several jars with the dried herb at the end of the season.
Dried basil also has a more intense flavor than fresh (much like other herbs), but the flavor will disappear relatively quickly. You may have noticed that store-bought basil tastes like nothing after a month or two.
Drying your own allows you to use the best methods for retaining flavor, and you’ll know it hasn’t been sitting on a shelf for months.
Your home-dried herbs will add a lot of flavor to soups, pasta, pizza, etc. and make a great gift as well.
Growing the Best Basil Plants
The first step to drying flavorful basil leaves is to grow healthy plants. The healthier your plants are, the better your dried herbs will taste, and they’ll also last longer in storage.
Healthy plants will give you the best possible leaves for drying. Give your plants large pots to grow in, make sure they have good drainage, and prune regularly for the best harvest.
Here are some tips for growing the best basil to dry:
- Choose large enough pots. Basil grows very well in containers, but it does need enough room to let its roots grow and get established. If you buy plants, transplant them out of the small containers they come in and into a decent sized pot.
- Give your plants lots of heat. Basil will survive in 50°F weather, but it thrives in upwards of 70°F. Don’t put your plants out until temperatures warm up, and be sure to harvest your last round before cold weather sets in.
- Use good quality soil. Your plants will not be happy in water-logged soil, but they also don’t like to dry out. Add a little bit of sand to heavy soils for better drainage, and be sure your pots have holes in the bottom for water to drain out of. Adding homemade compost will improve any soil type.
- Water during dry spells. Water plants consistently to keep them happy and the leaves healthy. You want to keep the soil from drying out completely without overwatering. An easy way to do this is by sticking a popsicle stick down into the soil. If you pull it out and the soil at the bottom of the stick is dry, you know it’s time to water.
- Feed your plants occasionally. Basil will do very well on its own in good quality soil, but you can fertilize occasionally for larger, healthier plants. Give your plants a few weeks to get established before fertilizing so that you don’t burn the roots. Use an organic store-bought fertilizer or make your own liquid plant food.
- Prune regularly. Pruning your basil plants is the secret to getting large, bushy plants. All you need to do is cut a section off right above a node where two leaves come out. The plant will branch out right where you cut it and continue to grow. You also want to cut off any flower heads when they appear or leaves will start to fade and get bitter.
Harvesting Basil to Dry
You can harvest your basil at any time during the season to dry, or you can wait until the end of the summer and dry any that’s left.
The easiest way to harvest is to cut off stems with a pair of garden clippers or sharp scissors. Plan to harvest in the morning before the weather gets too hot. The leaves will be in the best condition at this point and keep more of their flavorful oils intact.
If you want your plants to keep growing, cut off stems just above a growth node. You can find growth nodes by looking for places on each stem where two leaves grow out in opposite directions. Make your cut about ¼” above the node.
If you are harvesting at the end of the season, feel free to cut off all of the good remaining leaves without worrying about where you are clipping.
Remember that your herbs are going to shrink a lot as they dry, so harvest 2-3 times the amount you want to end up with.
If you are going to air dry your basil, cut off stems that are at least 6” long. You only need the leaves for the other three methods, so the length of the stems won’t matter.
How to Air Dry Basil
Air drying basil is the easiest method, but it also takes the longest because you aren’t speeding up the process by adding heat. All you need is string or twine and paper bags (optional).
After harvesting, cut each stem to make them approximately even to one another. You can do any length, but 6-8” is best.
Fill up your sink or a large bowl with cool water and gently swish the stems and leaves around to clean them. The leaves will bruise easily, so handle them with care.
Basil leaves bruise easily, so take care when you wash them. You can rinse them off in a sink filled with water or a large bowl.
Once you’ve cleaned them, lay out your herbs on a clean towel and pat them dry with a towel. Remove any leaves that look damaged or sunburned, and put them in your compost.
Then, let the leaves lay there until all noticeable moisture is gone.
It sounds funny to dry your basil once before drying it again, but it’s very important to let surface moisture evaporate before hanging it in bunches to dry fully. Otherwise, you risk it getting moldy instead of nice and crispy.
Normally, it will take about an hour for the leaves to dry out on the towel. Give it longer if there’s high humidity or you notice there’s still a lot of moisture when you check the leaves.
Bunch and Hang
The next step is to arrange your herbs in bunches with all the stems facing one direction. Put about 4-5 stems into each bunch. If the bunches get too big, they won’t get enough air circulation and won’t properly dry out.
Use your string or garden twine to tie each bunch together. Then, tie a longer piece of string through each bunch so that you can hang them up. Wrap the string around tightly since the basil will shrink as it dries.
After you let the basil air dry, gather it together into bunches. You can then tie the bunches with string and hang them up in a dark, warm spot out of the damp.
You can hang up the bunches as is or put each once into a paper bag that has holes or slits cut into it. The paper bag gives your herbs some protection and will catch any leaves that fall off but is not absolutely necessary.
Tie up your bundles somewhere that’s warm, dry, and out of direct sunlight. Ideally, you want to put them somewhere that gets good air circulation to speed up the drying process.
Basil will take about 3-4 weeks to air dry depending on humidity, air circulation, etc.
Knowing When It’s Ready
You’ll know your basil has completely dried when it’s crispy and easily crumbles into pieces. If it’s still limp and bendable, it needs to keep hanging up.
Once they are properly dry, take down the bundles and store the leaves (more on that later).
How to Dry Basil in the Oven
Drying basil in the oven is a much faster method than air drying, but it does take closer attention. You want to remove moisture from leaves without burning them, so low heat is critical.
For this method, you’ll need an oven, flat baking sheets, and parchment paper.
Harvest and wash your basil just like you would for air drying. You can cut the stems any length you like because you’ll be taking the leaves off later.
Soak or swish the leaves and stems in cool water to get off dirt, bugs, etc. Pat them dry on a towel and leave flat for about an hour to let the surface moisture evaporate.
In the meantime, you can preheat your oven to the lowest possible temperature. Don’t go over 200°F.
Line your baking sheets with parchment paper so that the leaves won’t stick and burn.
Once your herbs have air dried, start pulling individual leaves off and place them on the baking sheets. Discard any that have brown spots or large holes.
Oven drying basil is a faster method but requires more supervision to make sure leaves don’t burn.
Lay out leaves in a single layer, making sure that none are overlapping. Place the trays in your oven that’s heated up to its lowest temperature setting.
There are two ways to oven dry basil. You can heat it in the oven for 1-2 hours until it’s completely dried. With this method, be sure you set a timer and check the leaves often once you’re over an hour of baking.
The other way is to heat the leaves for a shorter period of time- about 20 minutes- then turn the oven off and leave the trays in overnight. You’re less likely to burn your herbs this way, but it will take an additional 12 hours to finish drying.
Either way, crispy and crumbly leaves is a sign that they have dried out completely. You can then let them cool and store for later.
How to Dry Basil in the Microwave
Drying basil in the microwave is the fastest method but also the one you need to be most careful with. One drawback is that you can’t do large batches, but it can be very effective if you just need a small batch dried quickly.
All you need is a microwave and some paper towels.
Wash and dry your basil following the same steps as you would for air drying. Discard any bad sections and pick the leaves off the stems.
Lay out leaves in a single layer on a paper towel. Make sure none of them are overlapping, then place another paper towel over top of your layer of leaves.
You may need to experiment to find the right time and power setting for drying your basil because each microwave is different.
Start at medium power and microwave for 20 seconds. Check the leaves and keep microwaving at 10-15 second intervals until they are completely dry.
You can microwave on high, but lower temperatures for longer periods of time will give you a better result.
Microwaves often don’t heat evenly, so you may need to remove leaves that are done and keep heating the rest. To know for sure if your basil is done, remove it from the microwave and let it cool for about 30 seconds before testing it.
Brittle and crumbly leaves are done and can be cooled for another hour before you store them.
How to Dry Basil with a Food Dehydrator
If you own a food dehydrator, you can use it to simply and effectively dry your basil. Food dehydrators are designed to use low heat to remove moisture from food and are perfect for drying herbs.
Using a food dehydrator will take longer than using your oven or microwave, but the low heat is ideal for preserving flavor and getting consistent results. All you need is your food dehydrator and the dehydrating trays.
The preparation is identical to all the other methods. Harvest, wash, and air dry your basil before dehydrating it.
Then, pick off individual leaves and lay them out on your trays. Place them in a single layer with no overlapping.
Using the Dehydrator
The instructions that came with your food dehydrator should help you to pick the right temperature and setting for herbs.
Whichever method you use, you’ll soon have lots of dried basil to use in your favorite recipes.
Usually, you’ll want to use the lowest setting or about 95°F.
It normally takes about 12-24 hours to completely dry herbs in a dehydrator. If you have high humidity, it can take up to 48 hours
Using a food dehydrator doesn’t require much supervision, but you’ll still want to check the leaves every so often to make sure they aren’t overheating. Once the leaves are crispy and crumbly, remove the trays and let them cool down.
After they’ve cooled, you can store the leaves in jars and enjoy it in the coming months!
How to Store Dry Basil
After you’ve fully dried your herbs using your method of choice, you need to properly store them so that you don’t lose out on all your hard work. Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Choose the Right Container
Glass containers that seal tightly are ideal for storing dried herbs.
You can wash out and save the small herb jars you get from the grocery store or use something larger like a pint or quart jar with a tight-fitting lid. Avoid storing in plastic or metal, and make sure your containers are clean and completely free of moisture.
Step 2: Store the Whole Leaves
To keep your dried basil flavorful for as long as possible do not crumble up the leaves!
Use a glass jar like this one to store your herbs and keep the leaves whole to best preserve flavor.
Keeping the leaves whole until you’re ready to cook with them helps them retain the most flavor for the longest period of time.
If you air-dried your herbs, you can either remove the leaves from the stem and put them in a jar or put the whole stems with leaves attached into larger containers. Keep an eye on your containers for the first few days to make sure there isn’t any condensation forming.
Step 3: Properly Store Containers
One you have your containers full, store them in a dark place like a cupboard or pantry. Ideally, you want to keep the jars away from heat, damp, and light as much as possible.
When you’re ready to cook with basil, just take out a few leaves and crumble them up. Typically, you’ll want to use about ⅓-½ the amount you would if a recipe calls for the fresh herb.
By following any one of these methods for how to dry basil you’ll be able to store your harvest for up to 6 months, which should get you through to the next growing season!
And if you happen to use up all of your dried herbs over the winter, you can grow a basil plant indoors for some fresh leaves.