In the height of summer, your garden may be flush with basil – perhaps more than you can enjoy fresh! So, what do you do with it all? One of our favorite ways to preserve basil is to keep the freezer stocked with our infamous “besto pesto”. Yet while pesto is excellent with many meals, it admittedly isn’t the most versatile thing in the world, and does require a few other ingredients to prepare. That said, one of the most simple and easy ways to preserve fresh basil is to dehydrate it. Like most things, homegrown or homemade dry basil puts store-bought dried basil to absolute shame!
This article will show you how to dry basil two ways: either using a food dehydrator or in the oven. It is a very straightforward process, but I definitely have some tips to share on how to create the most fresh-tasting and long-lasting dry basil possible. In the end, you’ll be left with crispy, flavorful dried basil that can store in your pantry for well over a year. Come fall and winter, you’ll be stoked to dig into your stash of homemade dry basil to use in soups, stews, sauces, marinades, and more!
If you need any help in the basil growing department, be sure to take a peek at our guide: “How to Grow Bushy Basil to Harvest All Summer Long”. In it, I walk you through everything you need to know to grow, prune, harvest, and care for basil – be it from seed or nursery seedlings. Even if you aren’t growing your own, I highly suggest snagging a big beautiful bunch of basil at your local farmer’s market while it’s in season to dry it up!
Ready to get drying?
Is it best to dry basil in a dehydrator or the oven?
Either way will get the job done! However, depending on how low of a heat setting your oven offers, it is easier to accidentally burn the basil in the oven – so keep a close eye on it during the process. No matter the temperature, the leaves will inevitably turn slightly more brown in the oven than when drying basil in a dehydrator.
When we dry basil and other fresh herbs, we prefer to do it as “low and slow” as possible. When food is exposed to heat over 115°F, some of its beneficial enzymes, nutrients, and essential oils are destroyed. This is an especially important consideration when drying medicinal herbs and flowers. Some of the delicate flavor and aroma also dissipates. That said, the dehydrator method may take a few more hours (up to a full day) longer than the oven method.
HOW TO DRY BASIL
Now, let’s go through the easy process of drying basil, step-by-step!
1) Collect your basil
It is best to harvest basil right before you want to dry it, not giving it the chance to go limp on you. Also, basil will be more sweet and least bitter before it goes to flower in your garden – though we don’t let flowering basil go to waste, and totally still use it! If you are not able to process the basil immediately after harvesting, simply store the cut stems in a glass of water on the counter as you would a bouquet of cut flowers. Fresh basil can stay perky like this for many days!
If you need tips on when and how to harvest basil, check out our basil growing guide. It includes a couple of pruning and harvest demonstration videos too!
2) De-stem and rinse
You can do this in whatever order works easiest for you. Separate the basil leaves from the stems, keeping only the tender leafy part. It is easiest to simply pinch or pluck the leaves off. Toss the stems (and any flowers) in your compost. Rinse the basil leaves with cool water to remove any dirt or insects that came in from the garden.
3) Remove excess water
It is best to remove as much water from the leaves as possible before adding them to the dehydrator or oven, but you don’t need to go crazy here. A little leftover moisture won’t hurt. Either shake out the washed basil leaves in a strainer or lightly pat them dry with a clean lint-free towel. You could even toss them in a salad spinner if you have one!
4) Spread it out
If you plan to dry basil in the oven, preheat it to the lowest temperature setting now (usually 175 to 200°F for most ovens). Next, spread the basil leaves out in an even layer on your dehydrator trays or baking sheet, depending on which method you’re using. Do not overlap the leaves! We want them in a nice single layer to promote excellent air flow and drying.
5) Dry the Basil
Tuck the tray(s) of basil into the oven or dehydrator. We set our Excalibur dehydrator to the “herbs” setting, around 100 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The time it takes to dry basil depends on your individual machine or oven (and the amount of basil), so this next part is more of a sensory experience than a steadfast rule. On average, it will take a couple of hours in the oven, and a little longer in a dehydrator.
Allow the basil to dry until it is totally crispy and crumbles easily. This is key for good long term storage! It shouldn’t bend or have any obvious moisture left, and will sound nice and crunchy too – like dry leaves rustling. Fully dry basil will fade to a light olive green color and shrink significantly in size.
Processing & Storing Dry Basil
Here is one of my little “secrets” to maintaining maximum freshness and flavor in your home-dried basil. Whole dry basil leaves retain aromatic oils better than crushed leaves over time. More aromatic oils equals more flavor! That is one reason (of many) that store-bought spices tend to be so bland. Therefore, I suggest to process only a small portion of your dried basil at a time and store the rest as whole leaves – especially if you dried a large amount. If it is summer and you don’t intend to use it until winter, keep the leaves whole until then. On the other hand, if you dried only a small handful and plan to use it within a month or so, feel free to crumble it all now for storage.
To process whole dry basil leaves into a flaky ground seasoning, simply crush up the leaves into your desired consistency. You can add the whole leaves to a dry mixing bowl and crumble them up with clean hands. Some folks put them in a ziplock bag and then smash the heck out of it. A food processor or good old-fashioned mortar and pestle will also do the trick. No matter what tool you use, ensure it is 100% dry as to not accidentally re-introduce moisture to your dry basil!
Store dry basil in a glass container with an air-tight lid*. Keep it in your pantry or another relatively cool, dry, and dark location. Add a date and label if needed! Homemade dry basil should stay crunchy and delicious for well over a year, though the intensity of flavor and aroma will degrade with time. We always keep one small spice jar of crushed dry basil ready on hand, and stash the leftover whole leaves away for later.
*Note: Using an air tight lid is essential for good long-term storage, particularly if you live in humid place. Folks who live in really humid climates could also add food-grade silica desiccant packs to the jars to absorb moisture. I find that using a lid with a silicone gasket does the job, along with not opening the jar often.
Ways to Use Dry Basil
You probably don’t need much advice here, right? Add dry basil to all your favorite soups, sauces, stews, marinades, salad dressing recipes, quiche, casserole, roasted veggies, and more. We like to sprinkle dried basil into the dough of our homemade sourdough bread, sourdough crackers, or sourdough pizza crust. They are especially divine with some homegrown onion powder or garlic powder!
Every summer, we also make and preserve a very simple and delicious roasted tomato sauce – and intentionally omit herbs from the base sauce to keep it as versatile as possible. Adding dry basil and other herbs later is a simple way to elevate that sauce to a marinara.
Basil has numerous health-promoting properties. It is a powerful antioxidant, fights inflammation, promotes good digestion, and can help manage blood sugar levels – to name just a few! Therefore, dry basil is a welcome addition to homemade loose-leaf tea, tinctures, or other medicinal plant concoctions.
How to substitute dry basil for fresh basil
How much dry basil should I use instead of fresh basil (or vice versa)? To substitute dry basil for fresh basil in a recipe, use only one-third dry of the called-for amount fresh. For example, if the recipe says to use one tablespoon of fresh basil, use only one teaspoon of dry. On the flip side, use three times the amount of fresh basil instead of dry basil.
This is a general rule of thumb when swapping out any type of dry herbs for fresh herbs. When herbs are dehydrated and the moisture content is removed, it makes them much more concentrated. Dry herbs are condensed in volume as well as flavor, essential oils and aromatics.
And that is how you create, store and use dry basil!
I hope you enjoyed this easy tutorial, and hopefully learned something new. Please feel free to ask questions or simply say hi in the comments below, and spread the love by sharing this article. Thank you for reading, and happy dehydrating!
Don’t miss these related articles:
- The “Besto Pesto”: Lemon Walnut & Parmesan Basil Pesto Recipe (freezer-friendly)
- How to Make Homemade Herb Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- Companion Planting 101, with Companion Planting Chart
- Crispy Seasoned Kale Chips Recipe
- Simple & Delicious Roasted Tomato Sauce Recipe (freeze or can)
- Growing Herbs 101: How to Start a Kitchen Herb Garden
How to Dry (Dehydrate) Basil in a Dehydrator or Oven
- Food Dehydrator, or Oven
- Glass air-tight container for storage
- Fresh basil leaves
- Remove basil leaves from the stem portion, and discard (compost) the stems. Wash the leaves in cool water.
- Remove excess moisture. Either shake the leaves around in a strainer, lightly pat them dry with a clean lint-free towel, or toss them in a salad spinner.
- If you’re going to dry basil in the oven, preheat the oven to the lowest temperature setting now (usually 175-200F for most ovens).
- Next, spread the basil leaves out in an even single layer on your dehydrator trays or baking sheets, depending on which method you’re using. Do not overlap the leaves!
- Dry the baking sheets of basil in the oven for about 2 hours, checking more frequently towards the end to ensure they do not burn. Or, place the trays of basil in your dehydrator. We set our dehydrator to the “herbs” setting, about 100 to 105 degrees F.
- The time it takes to dry basil depends on your individual machine or oven (and the amount of basil), so this is more of a sensory experience than a steadfast rule. On average, it will take a couple of hours in the oven, and up to a day in a dehydrator. Allow the basil to dry until it is totally crispy and crumbles easily. This is key for good long term storage! It shouldn’t bend or have any obvious moisture left, will turn olive green, and sound nice and crunchy too.
- Whole dry basil leaves retain aromatic oils and flavor better than crushed leaves over time. Therefore, I suggest to crush only a small portion of your dried basil at a time and store the rest as whole leaves – especially if you dried a large amount.
- Crush dry basil leaves using clean dry hands, a ziplock bag, food processor, or mortar and pestle.
- Store dried basil in a glass container with an air-tight lid in a dark, cool, dry location. It should remain very flavorful and crisp for over a year stored in the pantry. Enjoy!