All you culinary enthusiasts and gastrophiles out there must be extremely familiar with the edible herb, Basil. Basil is used in the preparation of a number of dishes and sauces, prominent among them being pesto which is a green, oil-and-herbs Italian sauce. Besides imparting various medicinal benefits, fresh or dried basil is often added at the last stage of cooking as exposing it to heat for a long time makes it lose much of its flavor and essence. If you have a herb garden of your own, then you must be keen on using your garden-grown herbs in your cooking. In such a case, if you are wondering how to dry your garden-grown basil to keep it preserved on your kitchen shelf, you have come to the right place.
Ways to Dry Basil Leaves Yourself
Okay, so you are the proud cultivator of basil and know all about caring for the basil plant, but are clueless about drying it. Well, there are three ways in which you can dry basil leaves―air drying, sun drying, or oven drying.
For air drying, you need to harvest the basil leaves before the flowers have set. This is because once basil starts flowering, the leaves lose some of their flavor and essence, though the other benefits remain intact. After you've harvested the leaves, snip the stalks and wash the leaves in cool, running water to get rid of dirt and insects. Dry off the moisture by wrapping the wet leaves in paper towels or tissues. Holding the stalks upside down, so that the tips of the leaves face downwards, tie the stalks together with a string, thread, or thin rubber band so as to make a basil bouquet.
Hang this bouquet, still upside down as you held it while tying them together, at a place devoid of moisture, which gets a lot of fresh air, so that the basil dries off. Such a dry place could be your kitchen, pantry, basement, or any dry storage area which has adequate air circulation.
The ideal temperature for air drying basil is 60° F. The most ideal area is near an outward-facing kitchen window, or near an air conditioning or heating vent. Let the basil hang like this till the leaves turn brown and crunchy. The entire process usually takes somewhere between two to three weeks, depending on the conditions. Once thoroughly dried, pick the leaves, crumple them with your fingertips, and gently tap the powdered basil into a spice bottle/jar.
Sun drying is faster than air drying, and you can get your dried, powdery basil within a week's time. Harvest, wash, and dry the basil as specified under air drying. Place the plucked basil leaves upon a clean sheet of cloth, preferably cotton or linen, spread them out in the sun on a flat surface such as a table. Weigh down all four edges of the cloth. Move the basil leaves around on the cloth about three to four times every day so that each leaf gets adequate sun exposure. Keep the leaves covered with a perforated or netted object so that they are not blown away by strong winds, but get sunlight at the same time. Your dried basil will be ready in a few days, depending on weather conditions.
You can dry basil in ovens or dehydrators to save time. The best way is to place the roasting pan containing basil (after harvesting, washing, and drying as mentioned under air drying) into the oven after you have taken out the cooked food and turned it off. The remaining heat quickly dries up the basil and you can get dried basil in just one day. Make sure to keep checking after every 30 minutes for leaves that stick to the pan, and keep stirring frequently to prevent them from sticking to the pan or each other.
You do not need to bake the leaves in order to dry them. Baking can, in fact, rob the herb of some of its essential aroma as well as benefits. It is better to let it dry naturally in the heat that remains inside the oven after it has been shut off post cooking.
Since you've been growing basil at home, and now that you know how to dry basil yourself, go ahead and stock up home-grown basil that you dried yourself and fondly add your personal signature to any dish by sprinkling some with a flair of culinary dexterity.