Basil, Basil, Basil.

In this post I am referencing our out of control basil plants, not our out of control dog. Ha! In all seriousness though, we once again grew a lot of basil, and I already have enough pesto, so I need to come up with a different use that will let us extend the time that we can use this delicious herb. I decided to have a go at dehydrating it for use in recipes throughout the winter. Here is the fun process.

The basil plants themselves are becoming small bushes, reaching the same height as the pepper plants but 5x as bushy. I have to scoot them out of the way to make sure I am not missing tomatoes that are growing behind them. They are starting to flower, which is fine as it attracts lots of big, fat, bumble bees. They seem happiest in that area, and I am sure while they are grabbing pollen from the basil, they are visiting the tomato and pepper plants as well.

I decided that my path was far to narrow, and a few wolf spiders were taking up residence in some leaves as well as on the pepper plants, so it was time to make myself a wider path again. I started by trimming the front most branches to widen out my pathway. From there, I thinned out a few of the thicker basil plants, hoping that I would be able to enjoy my path for a few weeks at least.

Once inside, I gave all the branches a good rinse and soak to ensure that no spiders or other bugs were still lingering. I also needed to wash the dirt off some of the lower leaves. Once they were washed, I needed to dry them out. Having never done this, I started by doing the most time consuming thing imaginable, which was to start pulling off each leaf and laying it flat on a tea towel with a fan lightly blowing over it. It worked great, and the leaves dried from their rinse quite quickly.

I had 2 tea towels covered with the leaves, stripping even the smallest of leaves off the stem. Then I realized that I hadn’t event pulled the leaves from half the branches that I harvested. I started loading up the trays in my dehydrator, packing the leaves quite tightly on the trays since I know they are going to shrink down during the drying process. I didn’t get half the dried leaves into the dehydrator, and didn’t want every surface of my kitchen covered in tea towels with leaves for the next few days.

So I decided to hang dry them with the kitchen fan going to try to dry out the remaining leaves before going into the dehydrator. I used the knobs of cupboards I don’t need to go into frequently, and let them hang there for the day. Between the fan and the hanging, they dried out great. In future, this will be my go-to way of drying them out before going into the dehydrator.

For the next few days, I would run the dehydrator on a low setting (105F or 40C) while I was home. Usually a tray would finish, and I could remove it, shuffle the other trays and add a fresh tray of leaves to the top of the tower. After a few days, I had finished drying all the basil I had picked, and ended up with a medium size freezer bag full.

Since this is the first time dehydrating basil, these are the things that I learned from reading quite a few sites:

  • Make sure the basil is well washed, but fully dry before going into the dehydrator. From what I read, any moisture on the leaf can leave brown marks. My leaves were very dry, and ended up a beautiful, rich green colour.
  • Dry them at a very low temperature. Most of the sites recommended between 40 – 45 C (105 – 115 F). My dehydrator is fairly basic, which I like, but apparently on the higher end ones, these temperatures are labeled for herbs. Although I was tempted to increase the temperature a few times, these leaves are so delicate, that I convinced myself to just give it time. I’m glad I did. Each leaf had a consistent “crispiness” to them, and I didn’t worry about burning them or having the dehydrator going too long.
  • No bend like Autumn leaves. That was the best description I saw. You want them dry so that they resemble autumn leaves that skitter along the ground.
  • Store the leaves whole until ready to use, then crush them down. They will apparently last longer this way. I figured I would give it a go.

Overall, I am very happy with this. I have a decent amount of sage, which I think I will also dehydrate for breaking down to a powder. I also think I have enough tarragon to do a few trays for winter storage. My oregano is not much, and I anticipate I likely won’t have enough to dry after I use what is there in some fall cooking. I would also like to do a few tomatoes again this year, but without any seasoning. Just the tomatoes so that I can hopefully pound it down to a powder.

I definitely like the dehydrator for processing some of the garden goodies. I had procrastinated about buying one for so long that my sister eventually got me one for Christmas.

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