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Problems with storing fresh basil

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I've always read in the cooking literature that you shouldn't store fresh basil in the refrigerator, because it can be shocked by the cold and start developing black spots. Instead, the proper way to store fresh basil is to stick it in a vase of water like cut flowers. Supposedly, this keeps basil freshest longest. Before I knew this, I had always stored basil in the fridge, and it never turned black on me. Recently, I've decided to try this method, and I've tried and tried and tried. Every time I stick my basil in a vase of water, it starts wilting (stems and leaves drooping, losing tugor pressure) within 6 hours, and I have to resort to sticking it in the fridge. Even with the freshest basil I can get at the farmer's market, with ROOTS still attached, the plant still starts to wilt when stored for 6 hours at room temperature.

Has anyone had this problem, and who has actually managed to store basil in a vase of water? I really don't see the problem of keeping it in the fridge. It lasts for a week for me.

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  1. If it works for you storing it in the fridge, then store it there. I also store mine in the fridge. Keep in mind that basil is not meant to be stored forever without it decaying like any other flower or herb.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Cherylptw

      I'm just puzzled why sticking it in water doesn't work, even with the roots attached.

      1. re: michaelnrdx

        When I send my excess to market I cut it and immediately place it in jars of water as I cut. I know it stays fine throughout the market day. Have you tried cutting the bottom half inch or so off the stems before putting them in the vase? It's possible that the old cuts have sealed over so water can't reach the plants. Don't know about the rooted ones except to surmise that the roots are damaged and can't function. I rarely have basil in the fridge because it's in the garden and in the winter I have a pot under grow light.

        1. re: morwen

          Yea, I do cut off a bit of stem before submerging in water. However, I don't get around to doing this until I get home from the farmer's market, which is about an hour. I'm from San Francisco, and it usually isn't so hot that the basil should be damaged too much by an hour long transport.

    2. I store mine in a glass of water. As Morwen mentioned, cut the stems 1/4 - 1/2 inch immediately before putting in water. Then recut every day (or 2-3 days) as needed to keep them drinking well. This is really the same as should be done with cut flowers to maximize shelf life.

      1 Reply
      1. re: DMW

        I cut the stem off as well, stick it in a small vase, then put it on the window sill where it gets morning light. It does well here and eventually sprouts roots which I end up planting outside and they've done great. But if I only leave this on the counter with no direct light at any time of day, it doesn't do well at all and wilts by the next day. Trader Joe's basil (not in the pot) has done much better than the basil I get at any store elsewhere.

      2. Best way with basil is to buy the pots of "living herbs" at the supermarket, rather than cut stalks. Keep trimming it and, of course, it regrows - a pot easily keeps me going for a month or so.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Harters

          That's very true. I did get a pot from Trader Joe's, and I can be assured that the basil remains fresh. However, I still buy extra basil from the farmer's market when I don't want to harvest too heavily from the live plant, and the farmer's market also has some varieties of basil that I don't grow.

        2. I always cut about 1/2" off the stems and put them in a glass of water on the counter. Sometimes they wilt immediately and never recover, and sometimes they take root and keep growing. I have a successful bunch on my counter now, and I just had to pinch back the new growth. The roots are about an inch long. I change the water every couple of days. One of the stems didn't root so it wilted and I tossed it yesterday. I'm on week 3 of this bunch. I have no idea what makes the difference because I treat them the same every time.

          1. What I do to store basil, chard, lettuce, and herbs is to wrap these items in kitchen towels (each item separately), and then to place the items in green veggie bags and store in the crisper drawer in the refrigerator. Of all the methods I've tried over the years, this has worked the best. With basil, you'll want to cinch the wrap with a rubber band or string at the base, and keep the leaves loosely wrapped but well covered. This will enable you to keep the basil for at least a couple of days, and for other greens/herbs, even longer. I've been able to keep kale ok for up to a week this way, and for herbs like rosemary and thyme for as long as two weeks.

            1. I bought a living Basil plant over a month ago, the kind that comes with the roots and on the advise of an old Italian gentleman put in a vase with water almost covering the roots. It stayed on my window sill for at least 3 weeks before it started to droop and I picked off leaves almost every day for use. I did learn that you have to make sure the water is below the stalk by a bit or it will start rotting the stem.

              1 Reply
              1. re: beekeroc

                i like the living basil but after a couple weeks it starts to get little bugs.