Preserving Basil: How to Dry Basil in a Dehydrator or Oven
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!
Hello Deannacat, i was wondering if basil and thyme and sage can be stored fresh. i put them in an airtight glass jar and how long will they last?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Clarence, they can all be stored fresh in the way you describe but the basil typically won’t last as long as sage or thyme. Sage or thyme will likely stay good for 1-2 weeks while basil may last a week. We have better success storing basil by harvesting it while keeping some of their stems in tact, sticking the stems in a glass of water and leaving it on the counter at room temperature as one would a vase of flowers. Hope that helps and good luck!
Hi. Can you recommend any other dehydrators beside the Nesco or Excalibur. I tried an inexpensive Salton round dehydrator but was not happy with it (low wattage, trays too shallow, and took forever). I unfortunately had to dump my basil after not dring for 24 hours.
The Exalibur is pricey but I do like the square type and read it is better in many ways. Any thoughts abot Cosori or Magic Hill Dehydrator? I started to grow Calendula for the first time and would like to get a new dehydrator by then.
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Judy, we can’t offer any insight on those other dehydrators as we have no first hand experience with them. Back in the day we used a cheaper Nesco food dehydrator which worked for what we were doing, however, after upgrading to an Excalibur, we are very happy with our purchase and run it almost non stop. Good luck on finding the dehydrator that works best for you.
Thanks! I just harvested more basil from my garden than I can use in a month. My husband just ordered an Excalibur and I was looking to see what the difference in using the oven vs the dehydrator. Cannot wait to get my basil prepped. Will a ziploc bag do? Or does it really need to be glass?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Alicia, I think you will like having a dehydrator as it can be used for so many things. You can store the dried basil in a ziploc bag but it won’t keep as well nor as long compared to using an airtight jar. If you are going to be dehydrating more, better get yourself some different sized mason jars to store your dried goodies.
What a very informative article. As a matter of fact I was just talking about preserving basil with a friend this morning. I have four favorite herbs and basil is one of them. I planted a very small basil plant from the grocery store in my front yard and it is as big as a bush now. When I water it with the garden hose the aroma is so pleasant. I love the infusing with olive oil and pesto recipe. Thanks for the article.
Excellent article !!!
I grow a lot of herbs, and dehydrate most of them.
Another awesome way to retain fresh flavor is to put fresh herbs such as Basil, Rosemary, Cilantro, etc, (Whatever herbs you enjoy) into a high speed blender with Olive Oil.
Once you have them infused to your liking, pour them into ice cube trays and freeze. After they are frozen, pop them out and put into zip lock bags, label, and store in the freezer.
Toss ’em into a skillet before sauteeing, drop ’em into homemade pasta sauce or soup-the list of uses is endless !!
You can make the cubes as strong flavored as you like.
This is my favorite way to store herbs. 😀
Another idea for using basil.
Previously when I could still eat gluten and eggs (& etc, etc) my favorite sandwich was two slices of potato bread slathered with mayo (Duke’s), one side topped with a faux American cheese slice (which they sadly stopped making), then piled high wth spinach leaves, then squish the second slice on top. (Optional, add a slice of bacon or a few pepperonis.)
Then I got some basil to grow and on a whim I replaced some of the spinach with basil, omg! YUM!!! 😀
Excellent article – thank you! Thus is my first year growing herbs and your article was so helpful!
I loved your info on drying basil and I’m drying some right now.
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Good luck and enjoy! It’s great to have throughout the year, especially come winter for soups and sauces.
I’m perusing the Internet for advice on solar dehydrating of spinach leaves. We live in an area that’s bone dry, no bugs and right now can get upwards of 100+ degrees.
Yesterday was my first batch, and novice as I was, I had a couple trays under cheesecloth, in the sun for…about 5 hours. Result? I have a pretty nice batch of leaves, nice and crispy but many went to the brown side. I’m concerned they are scorched and thereby have lost all their nutritional value. Shall I toss? Keep? I noticed your pic shows some brown-ish basil leaves after dehydration, so I’m encouraged that I didn’t let half my spinach batch simply fry in the sun.
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi JJ, congrats on your drying venture as it looks like it was a success! I wouldn’t be too worried about the browning of the leaves so I would definitely keep them. Thanks for reading and good luck!
Hi! I was wondering if I can use this process for other herbs as well like oregano, parsley and thyme? Do you do this with your other herbs?
I usually use stickers that wash off but I think I’ll invest in those wine pens. Sounds a lot less messy.
Thanks for sharing your pictures and ideas. Living in Canada, I enjoy seeing the different fruit and veggies you can grow that I never could.
Hello Christine, you can absolutely do the same with the herbs you listed as well as many others. We don’t usually don’t dry our thyme, oregano, rosemary, or sage because we can grow it throughout the year here. Though an Italian blend spice does sound like a good idea! Thank you.
I done your drying basil and it’s great. I love basil and eat it fresh even in my salads and for cooking. Have a lot and I dried some per your instructions for the first time. Thanks a Ton! 👍❤️