Kalyn's Kitchen

How to Preserve Fresh Basil on the Countertop

If you have a bunch of fresh basil and you’d like to keep it fresh a little longer, here’s how to preserve fresh basil on the countertop! No kidding!

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How to Preserve Fresh Basil

For years I’ve been freezing fresh basil, to use in soups, stews, and pasta sauce all winter long. Then a few years ago I started to hear about a way of preserving basil when you wanted to use it fresh, but had more than you needed right then. I don’t know where I first heard that stems of basil in a cup or jar of water on the countertop would stay good for days, but it may have been from Pam at Sidewalk Shoes.

Recently I cut several buckets of basil and froze some, used some to make basil pesto, and kept out a generous handful of basil stalks for a little experiment. So, just how long do you think a jar of basil will stay good on the kitchen counter if you keep adding water?

Here’s the basil jar the first day, and the basil is brightly green and fragrant.

Day 3, and there is no noticeable difference in the color or smell of the basil.

After three more days go by, some leaves are barely starting to curl, and the overall plant looks just the tiniest bit wilted.

Two more days, and the leaves are a little more curled, but still fragrant and perfectly usable.

Finally, 10 entire days and although one leaf has fallen off, the basil is really essentially as good as when I put it in the jar. I filled the water about every other day, and didn’t allow myself to cut any leaves off so I could compare the photos. Of course, I doubt you’d ever keep a jar of fresh basil this long without snipping off most of the leaves to add to whatever you’re cooking, but I thought it was great fun to see that it lasted this long. (Edit 9/15/2010 -It’s now nearly two weeks later, and the basil is mostly still perfectly fresh and usable! Most of the stems have roots, and the basil actually seems to be growing in the water!)

Do you have a garden where you’re growing basil? If so, I’d love to hear your own tricks for preserving it or what you like to make with your fresh basil.

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    44 Comments on “How to Preserve Fresh Basil on the Countertop”

  1. Kalyn — in spite of my basil being grossly neglected when I went away, some of it is still doing fine — both in the water, and potted.

  2. Thanks for that tip about the rosemary! Hadn't thought of that before. You can also freeze your rosemary if you have a lot of it.

  3. This works with Rosemary too! I was so surprised to see roots form on some I put into a little bud vase. It lasted for weeks, until I let the water level get too low and forgot to refill. Will be using this method next growing season!!!

  4. Leah, I'll be interested to hear.

  5. I think my basil does have more flavor; it's definitely "ecologically clean" as they say here. I'll try to let you know what happens with the indoor basil.

  6. Leah, fun to see how you're making the most of your basil. I haven't tried drying it. Is the flavor really better than the dried basil you buy?

    I'd be curious to hear back about how much longer the transplanted basil will grow inside, because I know it's an annual so it won't keep producing indefinitely. But if you got basil for a few more months that would be great!

  7. Hi Kalyn — I tried your wonderful idea, and mine are on the windowsill now. I also took it a step further. I had simply yanked out my entire plants (no special gentleness.) After removing the lager leaves to dry and putting some higher stems into a vase, I trimmed the bottom part of 6 plants and potted them. Meanwhile they're fine, and I think they should continue to be fine, unless it gets too cold on the sill. You can see them all here: http://www.photoblog.com/chossid/2010/10/06/birds-bells-and-basil.html

    To anonymous, with a tub of basil — go for it! To keep it producing, keep any flower heads trimmed off!

  8. Daria, that's an interesting idea! Not sure it will work with the thick stems from basil in the garden, but the thinner small stems are worth trying.

  9. I cut basil stems just recently and put them in a jar on the window. I found that after a week or so the leaves started drying up and shriveling. So I finally made pesto today. After making about two cups of pesto from basil leaves only, I then proceeded to make a secondary pesto from the stems and whatever-basil-leftovers which had not gone bad. I didn't have the heart to throw them out… If not as smooth, it is just as good and aromatic as the pesto made from basil leaves, so my advice to you is : don't waste it!

  10. Tealparadise, you're welcome. It makes me happy that I've helped you keep your basil around a little longer!

  11. Oh wow! I had been freezing my basil without putting oil on it and was wondering why people bothered when it always went dark!!! Now from this entry I can both keep basil on the counter && freeze it! Thanks for linking to that entry, I'm so excited not to lose any more of my pretty little leaves!

  12. Beth, I grow my basil from seed too. I don't know how long the growing season is for basil to keep producing, but I know it's an annual plant, so it won't produce indefinitely. I'm guessing you might be able to extend the season for a month or so, but not much longer than that. Let us know what happens if you try it.

  13. I have my Basil growing in a small washtub. When I planted it I just sprinkled the seeds, covered and watered them. I have a tub full of plants and I've harvested several times. I was wondering if I brought the tub inside would it continue to produce? It would be in an upstairs south window. Does a plant have a certain lifespan or will it continue to produce given the right conditions?
    I appreciate any and all comments. Thanks

  14. Pam, loving it and tonight I noticed that my basil is getting a few roots!

  15. I'm so glad it worked for you too!

    After I get roots, I even replant them in the garden. So by the end of the summer, I have tons of basil plants. Which reminds me, it's almost time for my last harvest!

  16. Oh Dara, you'll love the frozen basil in the winter! I love it for soup and pasta sauce.

  17. Wow, that is amazing! I never think to cut my basil off in a bunch like this. I am heading straight to your "freezing basil" post.

  18. Katrina, no you don't have to make the basil into pesto to freeze it; here is the link for How to Freeze Fresh Basil.

    I love having that basil to use in the winter!

  19. I do good just to keep a few plants of basil alive. But a chef friend of mine with a newer blog just posted about basil and pesto yesterday. It's great info. http://acookinglifeblog.blogspot.com/2010/09/linguine-with-garden-fresh-basil-pesto.html
    Love the idea of keeping some in a jar of water!

    I need to go find your post about freezing basil, do you not have to make it into pesto first?

  20. CJ, this is inspiring me to just keep going with my jar of basil and see if I can get it to grow some roots too!