Air-drying basil is a really simple and easy way to preserve this yummy herb. The main requirement is time - it takes about 4 weeks for basil to dry properly. If you're looking for a good way to preserve basil immediately check out my Basil and Olive Oil icecubes Instructable.
Uses - Dried basil is fantastic in pasta, omelettes, scrambled eggs, on roast meat and/or vegies, in salad dressings, on fish, and it makes a great home-made gift.
- Fresh basil from the garden
- String, wool or cotton thread
- A plastic container or ziplock bag
- (optional) 2 x eyehooks
Time taken - 1 hour
This is what the basil looks like when it's been air-dried. The result is similar to the dry flakes you get in containers from the supermarket but it has a much stronger flavor: this is because you lock in the flavor by not breaking it up into those little flakes until right before you use it.
Step 1: Pick and Wash Your Basil Leaves
First things first, go out into your garden and cut some stems off your basil plants. The best time to cut basil is apparently 10am in the morning as this is when the leaves contain the most oil which is what gives basil it's delicious smell and flavor.
For this Instructable I used the entire top half of 4 basil plants, but you can use as much or as little as you want.
Put all the leaves and stems in a clean sink and let them soak for a few minutes. I don't use any pesticides on my plants but there are still usually little bugs on the leaves, dirt, and the occasional spider web you don't particularly want in your dinner ;)
Swish 'em round with your hand a few times for good measure.
Step 2: Banish the Unworthy Leaves!
After a few minutes of soaking, pluck individual basil stems out of the sink and inspect the leaves for sunburned edges, big holes, or anything else you don't want to end up in your dinner.
"And lo the good basil leaves shalt be placed upon a cloth laid down for them, while the evil basil shall be banished to the sink of rinsing, and from thence to the bin where it shall be forever cast down." (The holy book of basil 6:14) ;)
Step 3: Sort the Basil Into Bunches
Next take your good basil and arrange it into bunches with the cut part of the stems at the top of the bunch (so you can tie string around them later).
Step 4: Ropin' Ropin' Ropin That Basil for the Win
Use some string, or plant twine, or wool, or whatever you have handy, to securely tie the stemmy end of your bunched-up basil. Don't be afraid to make your knots good and tight as when the basil dries it will shrink anyway and you don't want your bunches falling apart.
Tie off one knot near the stems, and another at the end of some extra string, then slide a paperclip through the loop.
Step 5: String 'em Up!
The next step is to hang your bunches of basil up for drying. You will need a dry spot out of the sun - I recommend a high spot in your kitchen. We made a drying spot for our basil by screwing two eye-hook into opposite beams and tying string between them.
CAUTION - Don't make my mistake and hang your basil above the toaster or the jug! We did this with one batch and ended up with one very brown, burnt bunch of basil (say that 10 times fast!) and another soggy bunch.
To hang the basil simply hook the paperclip over the string.
Step 6: The Drying of the Basil
Now for the patience part - you will need to give your basil a good 4 weeks before it will be properly dried. Pull it down before then and it will just be limp.
How do I know if my basil has dried properly? The test to see if you're basil is ready for storage / cooking is to break one of the leaves between your fingers - if it's nice and crunchy and breaks easily it's done. If not give it another week and try again.
Step 7: Done!
After 4 weeks (or thereabouts) your basil will have dried beautifully and be ready to be stored away, turned into beautiful home-made gifts, or scoffed with great gusto and much praise for gardening and Instructables.
If I'm feeling industrious I like to carefully remove the dried basil leaves from the stem and store the leaves in an air-tight container.
If I'm feeling lazy I just stick the leaves and stems in a ziplock bag for when I'm feeling industrious - see above, rinse repeat ;)
And that's it! With your own stock of dried basil on hand you'll never have to buy the (inferior) stuff from the shops again, and the leaves make a great little gift if you put them in a pretty glass jar (a cleaned coffee jar tied with ribbon is a good recyclable option).
I hope this Instructable has been helpful :) If you have any questions or suggestions please let me know in the comments.