The best way to store basil and keep it fresh

No herb garden? Here's the best way to keep the store-bought stuff feeling home-grown.

A field of bright green fresh basil
Photo: MARCO BERTORELLO (Getty Images)

Fresh basil tastes like sunshine and a warm breeze, which is one of the reasons I use so much of it in the summer. I turn big handfuls into my favorite pesto pasta, toss some sprigs into a tall glass of lemonade or an ice-cold pitcher of switchel, snip it into ribbons over homemade pizza, and tear it up into salads. I always come into summer with big basil plans, which is why I planted two enormous basil plants in my backyard this spring. And, through no fault of my own, both plants are now dead.

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My basil showed resilience and fortitude when confronted with my terrible gardening skills, but it could not survive the violent and (thanks to climate change) frequent hailstorms that have been pelting my house in Baltimore with fat chunks of solid ice. I have entered the summer entirely dependent on store-bought basil, and while I do use a good amount of it, I don’t always have the need to use all the basil right away. That’s why I liked having the plants outside: I could run out and snip off only a leaf or two whenever I needed it, and the rest could stay thriving on the plant until it was their time to die.

Basil’s delicate nature means that the usual rules of food storage just don’t work; throwing it in the fridge will cause it to quickly wilt and brown. To keep store-bought basil fresh and perky while I’m working my way through the bunch, I don’t treat it like food—I treat it like flowers.

Trim an inch or so off the bottom of the basil stems, then put them in a large glass jar partially filled with room temperature water. Then, cover the basil with a plastic ziptop bag, which helps keep it fresh by regulating the temperature and humidity, and protecting it from rogue elements like house cats.

Once my basil is readied for storage, I don’t like leaving it in the refrigerator where I will inevitably knock the glass over while fumbling around looking for dip and/or pickles. Instead, I’ve been setting it on the dining room table next to a pile of junk mail and cookbooks I’ve been meaning to put away for months. Depending on your kitchen, you can set yours on the counter, a table, or any other place where it won’t be subject to draft or cold temperatures. Change the water each day to keep it fresh. Stored this way, basil can last up to a week.

DISCUSSION

By
Lurch of the SoCal

Huh, never thought of this. Thank you most kindly.

We have land, we have basil plants, but I still wind up having to buy store bought far too often.

Damned rabbits love the stuff. They’ll climb a three and a half foot wooden garden box and chew through a couple layers of bird netting to get to it. I had a plant at the last place I lived, in a city apartment, that lasted for YEARS. I can’t get a single damned basil plant to make it more than three months before the goddamn rabbits figure out how to get to it, and I can’t grow it inside because my MIL is old and will inadvertently kill it every time. Like, seriously. My last one got to about a foot and change in height, just full enough to give enough leaves for a good cooking session, she saw it in my window from outside and went to my room to pull it because “you had a weed growing in that pot”.