How to Store Fresh Basil So It Doesn’t Wilt

Updated: Apr. 30, 2024

Don't let one bit of this fresh, fragrant herb go to waste! Learn how to store fresh basil to make it last.

If you’re a basil lover, the best thing you can do for yourself is to plant some of your own. There’s a place where everyone can grow this herb. Plant basil indoors in a kitchen windowsill garden, in a pot on a sunny balcony, in a backyard garden or tucked in with a border of annuals. Once you do, you’ll be rewarded with all the fresh, vibrant basil you could want—and maybe even a little more than you were expecting!

When your plant produces more than you know what to do with, knowing how to store fresh basil will let you use this type of herb in all kinds of recipes: sauces, savory dishes, desserts and even as a liqueur for cocktails.

How to Choose Fresh Basil

Basil leaves that are ready for harvesting will be fragrant, plump and a vivid shade of green or purple. (The color will depend on your variety of basil.) The stems should be sturdy with no shriveled or wilted leaves. Look for stems that are at least six to eight inches in height, which will have an easier time regrowing than very young stems. It’s best to harvest before basil plants flower—avoid stems with large buds or open flowers, as their leaves will be bitter-tasting.

Editor’s Tip: Make a habit of pruning your herbs like basil plants to remove emerging flower buds. When you see them, just pinch the buds off of the plants. This keeps basil plants alive longer and lets them direct their energy into growing more leaves.

How to harvest fresh basil

When you need just a small amount, gently pinch basil leaves right off the stems starting with the uppermost leaves. When you need lots of basil, use scissors to snip the stem just above a leaf node. Take no more than a third of each basil stem, to be sure that the plant will recover and continue to produce more leaves.

If it’s the end of the season and frigid weather is on the way, it’s OK to harvest all the basil since it won’t survive a cold snap. (Want a perennial herb that can survive the cold? There are quite a few!)

The Best Way to Store Basil

Fresh basil in a glass of water with a plastic bag creating a dome over the bundle on a kitchen counterTMB Studio

Treat your beautiful bunch of fresh basil as you would a beautiful bunch of flowers: Place in a jar of water and set out on the counter. This fresh herb is not a fan of the cold so skip the fridge; the cold will cause fresh basil to turn limp and start browning along the edges. That’s why it’s so important to know the right way to store fresh herbs!

If you’re not using the basil within a day or two, gently drape a plastic bag over the top with all the leaves tucked inside. This will create a lightly humid little bubble that will help the basil last for a week or longer. Replace the water every other day, and trim the stem ends when you do to help them take up water. (Both the leaves and basil stems can be used in recipes.)

How to Prep Basil for Storage

To prevent the leaves from turning limp or brown, wait to wash basil until just before you’re ready to use it. Rinse the stems and leaves gently under cold water, then shake off the excess. Allow them to air dry on clean dish towels.

Can you freeze basil?

Yes! The best use of frozen basil is in dishes that you’re cooking or baking, like sausage and basil pasta.

The easiest method for freezing herbs is to spread fresh basil leaves that have been rinsed and dried on a tray and place in the freezer. When solid, transfer the leaves to a freezer container or resealable plastic bag. The downside to this method is that once thawed, the basil leaves will turn black. To preserve the green color, blanch the leaves first: Drop them into boiling water for about 10 seconds, then quickly transfer to ice water. Lay the leaves on paper towels to let most of the moisture drain off, and then freeze them.

You can also freeze fresh basil in ice cube trays. Chop the leaves, add them to the tray and submerge them in a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Freeze the cubes until solid, then transfer the cubes to a resealable freezer bag. The basil-oil cubes are perfect for seasoning sauce recipes and making marinades.

Tips for Storing Fresh Basil

  • Dry the basil: Turn your fresh basil into dried basil. Spread the leaves out on a baking sheet and place them in a low oven, about 200°F. Bake them for two to three hours, until they’re completely dried. Once cool, crumble the leaves into a spice jar and seal.
  • Turn it into pesto: Another way to preserve your fresh basil is to turn it into homemade pesto. Once the leaves have been blended up into the sauce, portion it into freezer containers or an ice cube tray, and freeze. Pesto will last in the freezer for up to six months.
  • Skip thawing: For frozen basil, plan to use the leaves within three months for the best flavor. Frozen leaves can be added straight into dishes that you’re cooking; no need to thaw them first.

Use the same tips when buying fresh basil too: Farmers markets will have the freshest harvest of the herb. At the grocery store, look for hydroponically grown or small potted plants in the produce section—they’ll be fresher, more attractive and better tasting than packaged basil leaves.

Fresh Basil Recipes

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