We use basil almost every time we cook. It is an extremely versatile herb that can be used in a wide variety of dishes. The problem with basil is that it is a summer annual that we only have fresh for about five months of the year. We always have a lot more fresh basil than we could ever eat. This of course leads us to want to preserve the excess basil.
My first couple of years of gardening, I froze my excess basil. This is actually pretty simple, and just involves cleaning off the basil plants, and putting the leaves in the freezer in a single layer on cookie sheets. After the leaves freeze, you can put them in zip-lock bags, and make sure to get most of the air out of the bags. This is a decent way to preserve basil, but unless you are using the basil in a sauce, the fact that the basil will get pretty slimy as soon as it starts to thaw, makes it not practical for most dishes. I actually much prefer drying basil.
A couple of years ago I dried basil, using my Excalibur dehydrator. This process is fairly easy, but it is time consuming. Basically, you just need to clean the plants, and place the leaves on the dehydrator shelves in a single layer. It took three days in the dehydrator to dry. Then you crush the leaves into tiny pieces, and put the basil in a spice container.
Now, I dry my basil in the easiest least labor intensive way I could find. My greenhouse is really hot, and really dry in the summer. I don’t do anything with my greenhouse at this time, so I thought it would be a perfect place to dry herbs and vegetables. I was right, it is a great place for drying.
How to dry basil in your greenhouse
1. Cut your mature basil plants just as they are starting to flower. This is the best time to dry the basil, as the flavor is at its height, and the plant is very large.
2. Shake the plant to knock off bugs and dirt.
3. Wash off basil plant.
4. Shake plants again to dry. The plants don’t need to be really dry, just dry enough that the leaves aren’t sticking together.
5. Hang up the basil plants in your greenhouse. I used clothes line pins.
6. After 3 days or so, the leaves should be completely dry and crumbly. At this point, simply run your hand up and down the stem of the plant pulling the leaves off and dropping them into a bowl.
7. Crunch the basil leaves into smaller pieces.
8. Put the basil pieces into your spice container.
~ Phil Williams
Phil Williams is a permaculture consultant and designer and creator of the website foodproduction101.com. His website provides useful, timely information for the experienced or beginning gardener, landscaper, or permaculturalist. Phil's personal goals are to build soil, restore and regenerate degraded landscapes, grow and raise an abundance of healthy food of great variety, design and install resilient permaculture gardens in the most efficient manner possible, and teach others along the way.