Monday, July 21, 2014

How to Dry Fresh Garden Basil

Anyone who cooks a lot knows how expensive dried herbs can be, but gardeners know that herbs can be some of the easiest plants to grow in your backyard, especially if you have limited space or use container gardening. A great starter herb is basil. This spring I bought a pack of basil seed for a dollar, and it has taken off! So how do you transform your green leafy plant into the dried herb that you mix into spaghetti sauce?

First, you have to harvest the basil. You can cut back your plant multiple times throughout the season. In fact, each time you cut the plant back, the fuller it will grow back. Cut back the shoots of the plant two thirds of the way down before it begins to bloom. If there are any blooms beginning to form, be sure to pinch them off before you dry the leaves.

Make sure all of the leaves are dry and clean, and then hang the branches upside down in bundles. The stems will shrink as they dry, so if you hang them by wrapping a string or twist tie around the stems then the branches may fall out with time no matter how tight it starts out. What I do is use a zip tie and hang the branches on it at a strong split between the stem and a branch of leaves. This way, no matter how much the stem shrinks, none of my basil ends up on the floor. 

Hang the branches in a dark dry place, (I keep mine in the laundry room), and wait a few weeks. Once the leaves and dry and brittle, they are ready to be chopped up!

Remove each leaf from the branch making sure that the stems are broken off of each one. This takes some time, but no one wants to eat a stem, so its worth it. 

Put all of the leaves in the food processor, and chop away!

Store the herbs in an empty spice container (reused or bought from the store). Label it and you are ready to cook with the best tasting homegrown basil ever!

From my dollar packet of seed I have already harvested 10oz of dried basil so far and my plants are only halfway through the season. And that doesn't count all of the fresh basil that I have used to make pesto this summer. I plan to never buy basil from the grocery store again. 

What do you do with your summer basil?