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Why does my basil die so quickly?

Am I doing something wrong? Each week I buy a big bunch of basil, parsley, and cilantro from the little fruit/veg market near my home. I wash them in a big sink of cold-ish water, let them dry on some dish towels, cut the ends off of each with a sharp knife, and put them in a big cup/vase filled with room temperature water, and leave it on the counter.

They look great - but without fail, the basil is almost completely dead/dried out by morning. The cilantro lasts a bit longer, and the parsley lasts longest.

I even change the water daily. I've been following this routine for the last few months, but am honestly starting to think I got better results by just sticking them in the vegetable crisper... and I know that's so wrong.

Any ideas?

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  1. First, I wouldn't wash them until you are going to use them. I put my herbs in the refrigerator in evert-fresh bags which absorb ethelene (sp?). You can get them at www.gaiam.com. I store all my produce in these bags and it all lasts much longer than produce stored in plastic or unwrapped.

    1. Don't wash. Put stems in jar of water, cover loosely with a plastic bag, and refrigerate. The herbs should last about a week this way.

      4 Replies
      1. re: pikawicca

        DO NOT refrigerate basil. The cold turns it brown very quickly, unlike the other herbs mentioned it will not react well in the fridge. The other suggestions are great. The reason MM Ruth may have had success is because the door of fridges are not as cold. So if you are going to put it in your fridge, out it in the warmest part. I prefer to leave it out in a cool part of the kitchen out of the sun.

        1. re: gooseterp

          Your fridge must be really cold! I've never had any trouble storing basil in my refrigerator.

          1. re: pikawicca

            I'm with pikawicca here, but I'm notorious for keeping my 'fridge less cold than recommended. The recommended temp is 35-38 degrees! That's barely above freezing! Mine's at 42-45 degrees, but I never "store" meat in it- I buy on the day of use (or freeze), and I wish I could have 2 refrigerators- one cold and one cool, but I digress.

            I plop the stems into a jar of water, gently tent a plastic bag around said jar (Bonne Maman jelly jar, to be exact) loosely, and put in the fridge, and they are fine for a weekish, which is more then enough time- it's usually gone in a day or 2.

            But I also agree that basil is super easy to grow, as long as you pay attention to it every couple of days.

        2. re: pikawicca

          "Don't wash. Put stems in jar of water, cover loosely with a plastic bag, and refrigerate."
          This is pretty much what I do and it works perfectly. Basil lasts up to 10 days.

        3. Very timely - I was just about to post about some success that I've had keeping basil. I've tried the putting it in water etc., to no avail. But, I bought some (roots on) on Sat morning, b/c of space constraints, stuck it in the door of the fridge, and it still looks great. Hopefully not a fluke, and I'm planning on making some pesto this evening. With parsley and cilantro - I remove any rubber bands, wrap in paper towels, put back in bag and keep in the crisper drawer.

          1. I have found with cilantro if I wash it, spin dry and wrap loosely in paper towels and then put it in a unsealed plastic bag and put in in my refrigerator it will last about a week and a half. The basil I don't have a problem with, I grow my own and just pick what I need and keep pinching off the flowers so it does not go to seed. I grow the basil in post on my back step.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Candy

              C

              Mrs jfood gave me an herb garden for fathers day a few years ago and jfood has 5 basil plants. So when I want fresh do i:

              1 - take the leaves off individually at the plant site
              2 - cut a good swath from the main stem
              3 - and you point when it starts to bloom flowers, i pinch off thes flowers and it will still grow?

              TIA

              1. re: jfood

                I think you got some good answers before i could respond. But yes, pinch back and keep it from flowering. Try several varities, cinnamon basil is lovely, I have 2 new plants in a new variety called ruffles, one is green and the other purple. They are gorgeous. I have them in a big contianer with dill and Mexican oregano. So handy to just step out the door and pick what I need. My husband accidentally made me a gin and tonic last summer with a sprig of basil. We had discovered we like a sprig of mint in it and I had some freshly washed basil on the drain board. He thought it was mint. It was tasty too.

              2. re: Candy

                I agree completely with this one re the basil. Grow your own and voila! No problem! Granted this is only a seasonal solution but it works for me. I would modify the cilantro advice. I get it to last a bit longer by placing it in a container with enough water to cover the bottom couple of inches then leave it in the refrigerator.

              3. Don't wash & dry it...just wrap in damp paper towels and store in the crisper. Better yet, buy a plant. Basil grows well in a container.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Hungry Celeste

                  I second Hungry Celeste's suggestion. We always store our bought basil in damp paper towels, in the vegetable storage section. The one caviat is you need to refresh the paper towels regularly to provide the basil with the cool humidity.

                  If you're making pesto, parboil the basil leaves (this breaks down the cell structure), squeeze out the moisture (this removes the tanins that cause alot of the browning), add a pinch of powdered ascorbic acid (vitamin C - which acts as an antioxidant), and this will prevent the pesto from browning. I learned this from Michael Chiarello on one of his shows on PBS years back... Amazingly, these added steps help keep your pesto nice and green.

                2. Washing that basil is what is killing it. Don't wash until you are ready to use.

                  I'd use a scissors to nip the end of the basil. Make sure you don't have leaves sitting in the water ... only stems ... the leaves rot and mess up the water. Maybe you need to shop elsewhere. The market may not have very friesh basil ... but I repeat the big problem here is washing. If you washed a rose, put it on a towel to dry and THEN put it in water, I guarantee it would be dead by the next morning.

                  1. I have the same problem. I've never been able to keep basil for more than a day or two, washed or unwashed, in a glass of water. I've always had great success keeping parsley and mint that way, though.

                    I've started buying the little basil plants at the supermarket. If I water it every day and cut from the top, I can get quite a few uses out of it. At about £1 per pot, it's not such a great expense.

                    1. Thanks for all of the great replies. I'll try some of the suggestions, and let you know how they work. :)

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Tara9000

                        Sarah Moulton gave this tip on TV and I didn't believe her until I tried it: Don't wash basil - just put it in a plastic bag, blow it full of air (like a b alloon), and tie it off. Mine kept for over 2 weeks until I used it all up.

                        1. re: Claudette

                          Claudette,
                          After you blow it up and tie the plastic bag, to you put it in the refrig or keep it out?
                          Thanks

                          1. re: bxgirl

                            Keep it out. Basil doesn't like cold.

                            1. re: Claudette

                              Agreed, don't put basil in the fridge. Actually if you go to pho joints a lot like I do, you can take the leftover basil stems home and put them partially in water. They will eventually root and you can transfer them to soil. They'll grow great if the weather is warm enough.

                      2. Grow your own basil in season, Penzey's freeze-dried will serve most purposes the rest of the year.

                        But I'm wondering now if I should keep my jar of freeze-dried basil in the freezer as I do all my good spices. Suppose it doesn't like cold even when it's been freeze-dried? I don't think Penzey's description mentions such a thing but I'll double check.

                        18 Replies
                        1. re: PhoebeB

                          I don't bother with the freeze-dried...it's just not the same. And if it was freeze-dried, it was already very, very cold...FREEZE-dried, right? So I'm sure you could keep it in the freezer.

                          1. re: Hungry Celeste

                            (1) Freeze-dried basil is indistinguishable from fresh for many uses.
                            (2) The issue of whether ANY spices/herbs should be frozen is a matter of hot debate. Google it and see what I'm talking about.

                            1. re: PhoebeB

                              To me, the lettuce-y, green, fresh qualities of basil are most important. I don't use it dried or freeze dried, as it is a pale shadow of itself. Dried basil is right up there with pre-squeezed lime juice: it's not even remotely the same flavor to me, so I don't use it.

                              1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                Do you use NO dried herbs? What you say about basil could be said of most of them.

                                1. re: PhoebeB

                                  I use only fresh basil, cilantro, and mint, but I think that dried oregano & marjarom are fine, as is dried dill. Dried parsley is okay, but mostly for green colored specks, rather than true parsley flavor. Luckily, I grow all of the above fresh in my garden nearly year-round.

                                  1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                    It's certainly true that some flavors preserve better than others. You mention lime juice, and I couldn't agree more. Minute Maid's unadulterated frozen lemon juice is good; their lime juice tastes weird and chemical.

                                    I don't think I've ever thought of using cilantro any way but fresh, but though I wouldn't garnish plates or make fresh salsas with dried herbs, I can smell and taste excellent flavor in my soups/stews/curries/marinaras with high-quality dried mint/parsley/basil/shallots/etc.

                                    Maybe they're only a 7 or 8 on the scale of 1-10, but It would be a long sad winter in the north without them.

                                    1. re: PhoebeB

                                      Check out the herb section of your local asian market...a great source of fresh herbs, year-round, often at a fraction of the price of the small plastic clamshells sold in mainstream groceries.

                                      1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                        My "local asian market" is a two-hour drive each way and I go to the city where it's located about once a year :o). And it has fresh produce only in the summers when I either have my own or can get everything right here at my local farmer's mkt. For a full Asian mkt. I'd have to drive 3 1/2 hours--each way-- to Boston. And trying to drive and park in Boston is the quickest way I know to ruin the appetite.

                                        Mercy, Celeste! Not everyone can be a purist in everything all the time. I'm a lobster/clam/mussels purist (easy on the Maine coast), a green chile purist (I order them whole/roasted/unpeeled/frozen from NM), a grits & cornmeal purist, a tomato purist (I grow my own and don't eat them the rest of the year if I can't find Ugli Ripes), a jam & chutney purist (I make all my own) a no-hydrogenated fats purist (I render leaf lard in my crockpot and get sweet butter & eggs from a local dairy, use olive oil for everything else), a homemade stock purist...maybe a few other kinds of purist.

                                        But circumstances won't let me be a fresh herbs purist. I have a big strawberry pot of cilantro/basil/thyme/marjoram/oregano/2 kinds of mint/dill/rosemary/chives/parsley/savory on my back deck. I'll enjoy them fresh til frost in late Sept. and dry a bunch of each for the winter, but generally speaking, that's it for fresh herbs until the next late May or early June. They won't even grow on a windowsill in my kitchen: not enough sun and too cold at night.

                                        I can't afford to buy a $2-3 bundle of an herb I seldom use and that I know I'll have to throw away in a few days minus a few snips. So except for special occasions I just don't make dishes in the winter that absolutely require fresh herbs. And though you'll probably disagree, there really aren't many such dishes.

                                        As my home-dried herbs are used up or no longer have a good strong scent, I'll order some from Penzey's and try to keep a stiff upper lip til summer.

                                        1. re: PhoebeB

                                          PhoebeB, where do you get your leaf lard from? The crockpot sounds clever. TIA!

                                          1. re: Claudette

                                            I'm lucky enough to have a real honest-to-goodness meat market (they butcher their own meat from full carcasses, lots of it from their own farm or neighboring ones, and can supply virtually any meat item in any fashion known to man). Their beautiful clean well-trimmed leaves of lard are ~$3 a lb. and render out a solid 90% lard and a small bag of cracklings that are delicious in cornbread.

                                            (I'm scared to death they're going to realize what some websites are asking for leaf lard and quadruple their price.)

                                            The crockpot is the ONLY way to go. I've tried the stovetop method and it is a PITA: takes all day, esp. on low enough heat to keep it white and not tasting slightly browned.

                                            I put about 3 lbs. in my small (3 1/2 qt.?) crockpot (fill it approx. 3/4 full), add a couple of TBSPs. of water, cook it on LO for ~ 8hrs. with a toothpick under the lid to barely tilt it to release moisture & keep the temp low as possible.

                                            It renders crystal clear, chills to snow white, cracklings are floating in a mass in the center and can be lifted off w/one swipe of the fork. Hardly needs straining at all.

                                            You can't believe the hoops some instructions would put you through. One says to chop the lard in a food processor, which might be the stupidist idea in food history. It takes 3-4 batches to do 3 lbs. of the leaves, and an hour trying to scrape each stringy, gummy batch off the processor container and blades.

                                            Someone else said to chop it into 1/2" cubes. That takes hours and you're lucky if you don't lose a finger. It's slippery and fibrous, hard to chop. For the crockpot I just cut it into 1 1/2" to 2" chunks.

                                            Last time I did it I put it on at bedtime and turned it off in the AM.

                                            1. re: PhoebeB

                                              Boy, am I envious of you! No such butcher near my home, and I admire your innovation. But why chop the leaf lard at all? Doesn't it all just melt anyway?

                                              1. re: Claudette

                                                I'm not being a smartaleck, but I guess for the same reason you cut up potatoes to boil them--because they cook faster in pieces than whole. And if you've ever tried rendering lard the stovetop way you can't believe how long it takes even cut in small pieces.

                                                Though I suppose that in the slow crock pot you could just cut the leaves enough to fit them in the pot and they'd cook down eventually with no more effort on your part.

                                                  1. re: Claudette

                                                    Claudette, you're in the SF area, right? That's not quite like semi-rural Maine, but ask around and see if you can't locate a small meat mkt. that can supply you with an occas. few lbs. of leaf lard. I didn't know of the existence of my source for years after I lived here and yearned for some affordable lard.

                                          2. re: PhoebeB

                                            Phoebe I am with you on getting fresh herbs from the grocery - why do they put so many in a bunch? No one could use that much of one herb in the short amount of time they stay fresh!

                                            I'm in upstate NY and only have the herbs from my garden until late September. I've had lots of success freezing herbs, especially dill and cilantro. Just wash, remove the bulk of the water (no need to fully dry them) put in the cuisinart with a small amount of olive oil and chop fine. Throw them into a ziploc bag and toss them in the freezer. They will freeze fairly loose so you can just pull out a small amount. While I wouldn't use the dill or cilantro from the freezer in salsa (but then without good fresh ripe tomatoes I'm not making salsa, am I?!) they are an excellent substitute for fresh in most recipes. I get enough to last me all winter this way.

                                            1. re: lupaglupa

                                              Re the bunches of herbs - I sometimes find boxed fresh herbs that have a combination of different herbs in them - ie, for fish or chicken - and often they'll have what I need in them, at the cost of one box, rather than 3-4.

                                              1. re: lupaglupa

                                                Lupa, I'll try it that the next chance I have. I've in the past chopped & frozen some of the expensive fresh herbs that would otherwise go to waste but never as you say, w/olive oil.

                                                Do you think this is better than just drying herbs at season's end?

                                                1. re: PhoebeB

                                                  I don't have good luck with drying dill and cilantro. I do dry my oregano and sage. I don't dry at the end of the season though. I dry herbs now. They have a stronger flavor earlier in the year. The best time to do them is before they flower, which on perennial herbs like oregano is now. I've really liked the cilantro and dill done in the way I described. In fact I'll be doing it this week since my first batch of cilantro is up and ready!

                            2. Oops, I forgot to tell you to put the lid on the jar in case you were wondering.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: CilD

                                Somehow I screwed up my above post. What it should say is: I store basil in my refrigerator drawer, but not for more than a few days. I'm going to try the "balloon" idea posted by Claudette! Parsley keeps great (up to two weeks) if washed (I usually cut off the long stems), NOT dried, just drained a little, and stuffed into a glass jar. The remaining moisture helps keep it fresh. Put on the lid and refrigerate. I do the same with cilantro, but it won't keep quite so long.

                              2. I use a Herb Keeper (http://www.chefscatalog.com/catalog/p...). If you change the water every few days, herbs stay fresh for a long time. I have some mint in the fridge that is still crisp and it's been in the Herb Keeper for three weeks.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: christina_hunnicutt

                                  I got an Aerogrow (Aerogrow.com) last year and now grow all the herbs year around and that is saying something in No. Arizona.

                                2. I just want to thank all of you who suggested the stems in water, cover loosely with plastic bag. I've often done the stems in water but not the bag. I've had my basil out on the counter like this for a week now and it is still looking, smelling, and tasting great.