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Jun 5, 2007 12:38 PM

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 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


              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?


              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.