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Here’s how to dry bay leaves so you can use them all year round in your favourite recipes.
Bay leaves are one of the most common herbs to be used in cooking. They add a delicious subtle flavor when added to soups, stews and even pasta dishes. The flavour and aroma of bay leaves pairs perfectly with herbs such as oregano and thyme.
Did you know you can easily dry your own bay leaves at home? There’s no need to buy the expensive package of dried bay leaves at the grocery store.
Bay leaves come from the bay laurel which is an evergreen shrub. If you have a bay laurel hedge or even just one shrub in your garden, you can harvest and dry your own leaves.
When we lived on the BC coast, we grew our own Laurel hedge for a privacy fence. It would be lovely if we could grow bay laurel here in the Cariboo but the Winters are far too cold for this plant which likes a more temperate climate.
How to Dry Bay Leaves
We’re fortunate that one of our Valley friends also has a house down on the Coast. And in their yard there, is a bay laurel. They often share their supply of harvested bay laurel leaves and we appreciate it.
Right now, I’ve got several branches of fresh bay leaves in my kitchen and I would love to share with you how we air dry bay leaves for using all year round. The fragrant leaf has pointy ends and a leathery feel.
But first, a couple of common questions about growing, pruning and picking bay leaves.
How to Grow Bay Leaves?
Bay leaves are laurel leaves, they are the same. You can buy a small laurel shrub or larger laurel tree at the garden nursery or buy a laurel plant online and plant it outside in your yard. If you live in a cold climate, you can plant one or two bay laurel trees pots and bring them in for the winter.
You can learn more about how to grow laurel here.
When to Pick Bay Leaves?
The ideal time to pick bay leaves is in the late summer, but you can harvest bay leaves year round.
How to Harvest Bay Leaves Without Killing the Plant?
There are a few different ways to harvest bay leaves. You can remove individual leaves by cutting them at the base of their stem. This is a good harvest method if you have a small bay laurel bush. Instead of cutting a branch from a plant that is too small, just cut off a leaf here and there from different branches.
If your laurel is well established and big, you can cut branches. Just be sure to cut them back to right above a lower leaf. If your laurel needs a good pruning, this is the perfect time to remove branches and then dry the leaves.
Preparing Bay Leaves for Drying
There are several different methods of drying bay leaves and other herbs, including drying them in the microwave or the oven. You could also freeze the leaves instead of drying.
Freeze leaves on a large baking sheet. Once frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag and store in the deepest part of the freezer.
We always dry our leaves using air drying; that is, drying in open air. We find it the quickest and easiest way to deal with the leaves, so that is the focus of this article.
Once you have picked the laurel leaves, you can get them ready for air drying. Cut the leaves from the stem of the branch. I like to do this right over a shallow open weave basket. This is what we use for air drying the bay leaves.
If the leaves have dust on then, rinse the leaves in cold water, then drain in a colander. Then lay them on a single layer of paper towel to air dry or you can dry them with a clean towel.
Use several baskets so that the leaves end up in a single layer if you possibly can. This will help the leaves to dry by not trapping any moisture between the leaves.
You can use a tray, shallow ceramic bowls or a baking sheet instead of the baskets if you like. Set your drying baskets out of the way but in the open air. A darker spot is better than a brightly lit one, but it won’t matter much in the end.
Once a day, run your fingers through the leaves to fluff them up and expose all the leaves to the air. Let them dry for roughly 10 days to two weeks.
After they are completely dry, transfer them into a glass mason jar, add a seal and a ring. They need to be stored in an airtight container out of direct sunlight and in a dry location.
Tuck a jar or two in the pantry – their subtle flavour makes a wonderful addition to all kinds of soups and stews. A bonus is they are good for your health – some of the benefits of bay leaves include helping with improving digestion and reducing bad cholesterol levels.
Note: When you add a bay leaf or two to a recipe, always remember to remove the bay leaf before serving. They are not meant to be eaten whole and can be a choking hazard.
Now you know how to dry bay leaves, so fill a few jars for year round use in the kitchen!
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More posts about herbs:
Another herb easy to dry is chives – find out how!
Grow Lovage for an herb that tastes like celery.
Top picks for herbs you can grow indoors!
published 2016, updated December, 2021