How to Dry Sweet Basil


Dried and crushed basil
Photo by Tara Winstead

Fresh basil has a relatively short shelf life, and preserving its aromatic qualities can be challenging. That’s where drying comes in. By removing the moisture from the leaves, we can extend sweet basil’s usability and savor its flavors all year round. Whether you’re a seasoned cook or a novice in the homesteading kitchen, learning how to dry sweet basil at home will enable you to add a burst of herbal goodness to your dishes, even during the colder months when fresh basil won’t be growing in your garden.

Preparing Sweet Basil for Drying

Before we embark on the drying process, we need to prepare. This involves selecting the right basil variety, harvesting at the optimal time, and meticulously cleaning and inspecting the leaves.

Harvesting Sweet Basil at the Optimal Time

Woman harvesting basil that hasn't flowered.
Photo by Matteo Badini

The timing of the harvest plays a crucial role in the quality of the dried sweet basil. To ensure you capture the herb’s peak flavor and aroma, it’s essential to harvest it at the optimal time.

For most basil varieties, the best time to harvest is before the plant starts flowering. Flowering basil plants tend to produce leaves that are slightly bitter and have a lesser concentration of essential oils. By harvesting before flowering, you can capture the sweetest and most aromatic flavors of the basil.

When harvesting sweet basil, use a pair of clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears to cut the stems just above a leaf node. This method encourages the plant to branch out and continue producing fresh leaves.

Cleaning and Inspecting Basil Leaves for Quality

After harvesting sweet basil, clean the leaves thoroughly to remove any dirt, dust or insects that may be present. Rinse the leaves gently under cool running water, being careful not to bruise or damage them. Pat them dry with a clean kitchen towel or use a salad spinner to remove excess moisture.

While cleaning the leaves, take the opportunity to inspect them closely. Discard any leaves that are discolored, wilted or damaged.

Different Methods of Drying Sweet Basil

Now that we have prepared the sweet basil leaves, it’s time to explore various methods of drying them. Each method offers its unique advantages, allowing you to choose the one that suits your resources, time availability, and desired outcome. Let’s delve into the three main methods: air-drying, oven-drying and using a food dehydrator.

Air Drying Sweet Basil

Herbs hanging in bunches to dry
Photo by KoolShooters

Air drying is one of the oldest and simplest methods of drying herbs, including sweet basil. It involves hanging the basil stems upside down in a well-ventilated area to allow the natural airflow to remove moisture from the leaves gradually.

To air-dry sweet basil, gather a small bunch of basil stems. Make sure the leaves are not overcrowded. Tie the stems together with string or a rubber band, leaving enough length at the end for hanging. Find a location that is cool, dry and well-ventilated, such as a pantry, kitchen or drying rack. Hang the bunch upside down from a hook or secure it with a clothespin.

It’s important to choose a location away from direct sunlight, as exposure to sunlight can cause the basil leaves to lose their vibrant green color and aromatic oils. Additionally, ensure that the area is free from excessive humidity or moisture, since it can lead to mold growth.

The air-drying process typically takes about one to two weeks, depending on the conditions and the thickness of the leaves. You’ll know the sweet basil is fully dried when the leaves crumble easily between your fingers. Once dried, gently remove the leaves from the stems and store them in airtight containers in a cool, dark place to maintain their flavor and freshness.

Oven Drying Sweet Basil

Basil ready to be dried on parchment paper.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska

If you’re looking for a faster drying method or live in a humid climate where air-drying may not be as effective, oven-drying is a viable alternative. This method utilizes low heat to gently remove moisture from the basil leaves, resulting in a quicker drying time while still preserving their flavors and colors.

To oven-dry sweet basil, preheat your oven to the lowest temperature setting, usually around 150°F (65°C). While the oven is heating, prepare the basil leaves by removing them from the stems and spreading them out in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Place the baking sheet in the preheated oven, leaving the oven door slightly open to allow moisture to escape. The low heat will gradually dry the basil leaves, so it’s important to monitor the process closely. Stir or flip the leaves occasionally to ensure even drying.

The oven-drying process typically takes about 1 to 2 hours, depending on the thickness of the leaves and the efficiency of your oven. The basil leaves are considered fully dried when they crumble easily and are free from any moisture or pliability.

Once dried, remove the leaves from the oven and let them cool completely before storing them in airtight containers.

Using a Food Dehydrator to Dry Sweet Basil

For those who have a food dehydrator or prefer a more controlled drying environment, using this appliance can be an efficient and convenient method for drying sweet basil. Food dehydrators provide consistent low heat and airflow, allowing for optimal drying conditions.

To use a food dehydrator, start by removing the basil leaves from the stems and arranging them in a single layer on the dehydrator trays. Make sure the leaves are not overlapping to ensure proper airflow. Set the dehydrator to a low temperature, around 95°F to 115°F (35°C to 46°C), and let it run for several hours.

COLZER Food-Dehydrator
COLZER Food-Dehydrator

The drying time will vary depending on the dehydrator model, the thickness of the leaves, and personal preference. It can take anywhere from 2 to 6 hours to fully dry sweet basil using a food dehydrator. It’s important to periodically check the leaves for dryness and rotate the trays if needed to ensure even drying.

Once the sweet basil leaves are completely dried and brittle, remove them from the dehydrator and allow them to cool before storing them in airtight containers.

Storing and Preserving Dried Sweet Basil

To preserve the flavors and qualities of your dried sweet basil, it’s essential to store it properly. Here are some tips to ensure optimal storage:

  1. Choose the right containers: Select airtight containers made of glass, ceramic or metal to store your dried sweet basil. Avoid using plastic containers as they are porous and may soak in the smell of the basil.
  2. Keep it cool and dark: Store your dried sweet basil in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight. Exposure to light can cause the herb to lose its vibrant color and flavor.
  3. Label and date: To keep track of the freshness of your dried sweet basil, label the containers with the drying date. This will help you know when it’s time to refresh your supply.

By following these storage guidelines, your dried sweet basil can maintain its flavor and aroma for up to a year. However, for the best taste experience, it’s recommended to use it within six months.

Creative Ways to Use Dried Sweet Basil in Cooking

Now that you have a stash of dried sweet basil, let’s explore some creative ways to incorporate it into your culinary creations. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Add dried basil to soups, stews, and sauces: Sprinkle a pinch or two of dried sweet basil into your favorite soups, stews and sauces to infuse them with a rich and herbaceous flavor. It works particularly well in tomato-based dishes, lending a delightful sweetness and earthiness.
  2. Incorporate dried basil into marinades and rubs: Create flavorful marinades by combining dried sweet basil with other herbs, spices and liquids such as olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar. You can also make dry rubs by combining dried basil with other spices like garlic powder, paprika and black pepper for a flavorful coating.
  3. Infuse oils and vinegar with dried sweet basil: For a burst of basil flavor in your dressings, marinades or dipping oils, infuse them with dried sweet basil. Simply add a few tablespoons of dried basil to a bottle of olive oil or vinegar and let it steep for a week or two. Strain out the basil before using.


Why are my basil leaves turning brown or black during the drying process?

It could be due to excessive heat, exposure to direct sunlight or prolonged drying time. To prevent this, ensure that you are using the appropriate drying method and maintaining the recommended temperature and drying duration.

How do I prevent mold growth on dried basil leaves?

How do I deal with humidity or moisture during drying basil?

Mold growth can occur if the basil leaves are not fully dried or if they come into contact with moisture during storage. To prevent mold, ensure that the basil leaves are completely dry before storing them. Additionally, store them in airtight containers in a cool, dark place to minimize moisture exposure.

If you live in a humid climate, drying sweet basil can be challenging. To combat high humidity, consider using a dehumidifier in the drying area or increase air circulation with fans. You can also try using a food dehydrator or oven-drying, as these methods provide more controlled environments.

Can I dry basil in a microwave?

Yes, you can absolutely dry basil in a microwave, and it’s pretty simple too. Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Preparation: First, wash the basil leaves and remove them from the stems. Make sure to pat them dry with a towel to remove excess moisture.
  2. Layering: Place a towel on a microwave-safe plate, then arrange the basil leaves in a single layer on the towel. Cover them with another towel.
  3. Microwave: Use short, quick bursts to dry the basil. Start with 3 cycles of 30 seconds each.
  4. Check: After each 30-second burst, check the leaves. If they’re not fully dry, you can continue with additional 10-second bursts until they are.
  5. Cool Down: Once the leaves are dry, let them cool down to room temperature.
  6. Storage: Store the dried basil in an airtight container.

Note: This method is quick but may result in slightly less flavor compared to drying basil in an oven or air-drying it.

How long does dried sweet basil last?

When stored properly in airtight containers in a cool, dark place, dried sweet basil can maintain its quality for up to a year. However, for the best flavor experience, it is recommended to use it within six months.

What is the best way to grind dried sweet basil into a powder?

To grind dried sweet basil into a powder, use a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. Place the dried leaves in the grinder or mortar and pestle and crush them until you achieve a fine powder consistency. Store the powdered basil in an airtight container for future use.

Want to know how basil can keep pests out of your garden? Check out our guide to organic gardening.