The Q&A Archives: Drying Herbs

Question: Last year we grew some wonderful Basil that produced some very fragrant leaves, we used them to cook with over the summer, but when the cold weather came, we had plenty left on the plants, and we didn't know what to do with them, so they just ended up dying when the frost came. How do you dry herbs at home? I've seen those drying machines on TV, but there must be some way to do it without buying one of those. Also, someone told me once that you shouldn't let Basil flower, and that if it starts to do so, you should pick the flowers off, or the plant will die soon after. Is that true?

Answer: Basil is a short lived plant and tends to deteriorate once it has bloomed. Basil can be cut several times for harvesting in one season and should be cut before it blooms. Alternatively, one can simply start a succession of plants from seed during the summer.

Basil can be dried easily enough indoors if you have air conditioning. Lay it out flat in one layer on a screen or rack, or hang it in small bundles upside down. (Use rubber bands to hold the stems tightly.) Another method is to dry it in an oven with the pilot light on or by hanging it from the eaves in a dark and airy attic or shed. You could also use a dehydrator and follow the instructions that come with it. You want to dry it without overheating it, but you want it to dry fast enough that it does not mold or mildew. After you have dried it, put some in a closed container for a day and double check that there is no moisture condensing before you pack it all in jars or other containers.

Some people think the flavor is better if the basil is frozen. It is also more foolproof. To do that, make it into pesto or simply chop it and freeze it with a little water in ice cube trays. Put the basil cubes in a resealable container and use as needed in sauces, soups and stews.

Enjoy that basil!

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