Basil is a kitchen basic. Almost any seasoning company you can name supplies dried basil. I have purchased commercially dried basil when I have been desperate. However, even the top brands cannot compete with the flavor of basil you dry from your garden.
You have control over all the aspects of drying basil leaves, including the varieties of basil you choose to dry. There is a broad spectrum of basil out there. But you would never know that by reading the labels on those little bottles lining the grocery shelves. Check out the steps below or listen to the video on YouTube: drying basil leaves.
Try different varieties of basil so you know which one(s) you prefer to cook with.
The day before you plan to cut the basil for drying wash it thoroughly with a fine spray of water. Most leafy greens collect dust and basil is no exception. The basil will have time to dry before you cut. This is important. Moisture on the leaves could lead to spoilage.
Oil is highest in the leaves in the morning so you want to cut in the morning for peak flavor. However, cut after all the dew has evaporated.
Drying Basil Leaves Steps
Cut the branches just above a set of little basil leaves. These leaves will grow quickly and your plant will be bushy again in a couple of weeks.
Basil leaves have the highest oil content, but the flower heads are quite flavorful too. If you mostly have flowers, dry them. The resulting flavor is still better than most supermarket versions.
Either hang the branches or lay them out in an airy place (good circulation) with as little light as possible. The more light you have, the more green you will lose in drying.
The basil leaves will be crispy dry before the stems and you are after the leaves. Strip the leaves from the stems so as to break up the leaves as little as possible. They WILL break some, but minimize the damage. A whole leaf will maintain oil and, therefore, flavor better than a crushed leaf.
Spread the leaves out on cookie sheets or shallow boxes for a couple of days. Stir a few times. This helps to ensure that your crop is truly dry.
Store in glass jar with tight fitting lids and label with the date and the basil variety you are drying.
When you are ready to use the basil in a recipe, crush the basil leaves between your hands. Enjoy that burst of fragrance as the basil drifts down into the dish you are preparing. It’s one of the perks of drying your own.
A note: Lemon basil imparts much more lemon essence when it is dried than when it is fresh. I don’t want to be without this one. It helps to make up for the lack of lemon grass in the winter.