I’ve had me some gardens in my time. Not big ones, mind you. And more often than not, the gardens were a series of pots perched on window sills, porches, front stoops or decks. My biggest and most successful garden was in Chicago where the entire backyard of the 4-flat I lived in was MINE. One neighbor mowed, and I took care of just about everything else and it was awesome. I had sweet pea vines, raspberry bushes, waist-high lemon balm bushes, tomatoes, cilantro, basil, peppers of all kinds, St. John’s Wort, poppies (they aren’t illegal in Illinois), black eyed-susans, rose bushes, thyme, oregano, parsley, cat nip (though the local feral cats always ate them down to the nubs), day lilies, tulips, strawberries, Echinacea and a bunch more I can’t even remember. That garden was my pride and joy.
When I moved to Nashville, I had neither time nor space for a garden and had nary a potted plant to my name until I met The Candyman and he helped me make our patch of backyard a decent place to venture out into. Now that we’re in North Carolina and renting, we have a whole host of issues to deal with. First, we’re renting. It’s not like I can go rototill the backyard if I get the wild hair to do so. However, we do have a small, garden sized patch right outside the backdoor that the owners planted in. I basically had to wait all summer to see what the hell was going to come up. They have a few perennials that are of interest. There are some hydrangea plants that NEVER bloomed. There were some weeds that I didn’t know were weeds until my mom asked me why I was growing weeds.
The thing is, I have no idea what grows around here in North Carolina. The soil is crazy. Loads of red clay under a thin layer of topsoil. What the hell am I supposed to plant in CLAY? So there was a little trial and error this summer. My potted tomatoes? Fail. I barely got any kind of crop. Next year they go in the ground. Herbs? After I took them out of their pots and planted them in the ground? Success. Flowering perennials? Fail. Flowering annuals? Fail. It’s too hot here for the ones I chose.
So now, as the weather is just starting to change, I noted that my basil wasn’t holding up under the new cooler temps and I decided to harvest. I haven’t done any herb-drying in a while, since I was single, now that I think about it.
I didn’t want to have plants hanging all over the place for the cat or The Candyman to mess up, so I decided to try oven-drying for the first time. I did a little research, read the pros and cons and then decided to oven-dry my regular basil and air dry my globe basil (it’s smaller and tastes spicy). Here’s what happened.
First, the garden:
The very last of the bounty: some cherry tomatoes and jalapeno peppers in the background.
Lemon Balm. I might have enough here to make some end of summer lemon sorbet. We’ll see how that goes.
The basil. You can see how the edges are going brown and it’s all getting kind of leggy. Should have cut them back a lot more often!
This is the globe basil that I totally let flower and go to seed. Oops. You’re supposed to keep that shit cut back. Oh well. There’s still enough to harvest though!
Step 1: Cut you some basil. There are MANY arguments on when you should do this to capture as many of the essential oils as possible. Most people say around 10am. I say whenever, just as long as it isn’t high noon when everything is all dry.
Step 2: Wash you some basil. It’s good to soak it all in room temperature water so that you drown all the buggies you can’t see. We had many caterpillar suicides off my parsley plants this year.
Step 3: Dry you some basil. Seriously, make sure it’s all dry, particularly if you plan to hang and air dry your herbs. If it’s still wet when you bundle them, they could mold. Ew. All of my counters were covered in basil!
Now, here’s where’s I split the basil up. For the air-drying this is what I did:
Drying Option #1: Bundle, tie and hang your herbs. Don’t bundle too many or it will take longer for them to dry properly. Tie your string tight because as the herbs dry, they will shrink and you don’t want them to fall and make a big mess. Find a cool, dry place to hang them.
*Note: If you have a laundry line in your house, that’s a good place to hang them. I’ve dried in hanging baskets before, on hooks in closets and from thumbtacks stuck in the ceiling. Just figure it out, yo. I improvised this time by tying the string to a paperclip. Then I hung the paperclip on the wire shelf in our laundry closet. See:
So now that I had the globe basil out of the way, I focused on the regular basil. I dried it in the oven. There are folks who claim that this ruins the basil, sucks out those essential oils, blah, blah, blah. Totally don’t care what they say, doing it my way.
Drying Option #2: Pick all your basil leaves off the plants and make a thin layer on a tinfoil lined cookie sheet. I lined it with foil just because it seemed like the thing to do. This is the longest step and it turns your nails green if you don’t use scissors.
Set your oven to the lowest temperature you can. Mine goes to 170 degrees. Most of the online directions said to leave it in 5-10 minutes. I call bullshit on that one. Some of the leaves were in for 15 minutes, some of the larger ones were in for 30 or so. I rotated cookie sheets in and out, pulling out the dried ones and keeping the still-moist ones in. I checked them in 5 or 10 minute stages. Since the oven isn’t that hot, you can just reach in and fluff the leaves about, feeling to see how dry they are. Take them out when they are just starting to go on the crunchy side.
FYI: The whole house smelled like fresh basil all day. It really was wonderful.
And the final product?
Piles of fresh dried basil! I might crumble these up, bottle them and give them as stocking stuffers or something this year because this is a shit-ton of basil.
Step 4: Whether you oven or air dry, make sure that when it’s done you package them up in some air tight containers. I use zip lock bags and make sure I get as much air out as possible before the final seal.
The globe basil will need a few weeks to dry. I’ll let you know how that goes. I also have a giant lavender plant that’s still got some blooms on it. Might dry those too to make some little drawer sachets or something. And there’s still that lemon sorbet….it’s easier to make then you think!
So there you go. Easy peasy, really. I just went all Martha on you. How ‘bout that?