4 Proven Ways To Store Your Basil After Picked

Leaving your just-picked basil leaves on the counter is only a good idea if you are going to use them within a day or ideally less – Photo by Ryan Adams from Flickr

A while ago a friend of mine, who was caring of its indoor basil plant, got to a point in which he had so much basil (lucky guy!) that he was unable to use all of it. So he decided to share it with me. At that time I was wondering how long such fresh gift would last as I sometimes I did not need it straight away. I found the answer after a bit of research and here you have it.

How long does basil last after it is picked? Basil leaves after picked last from 7 days up to several years depending on how they have been stored. More precisely:

  1. Left in the open air: around 1-2 days;
  2. Left in the open air in a vase with water: up to 2 weeks;
  3. Frozen: indefinitely if properly frost although after 6 months might start losing flavors and nutrients;
  4. Dried: up to 4 years.

It is important to notice that the approach you choose to preserve your basil strongly depends on the use you are planning to. Moreover, each of the above preserving processes has pros and cons that must be considered; some might guarantee longer preserving time but they might as well affect the original flavor or they might require extra work. Stay with me to discover more!

How to Preserve Basil Like a Pro

Before diving into the several preserving techniques, and in case you have yourself a basil plant, you might wonder why do you need to pick up basil leaves even if you do not need them? Why do not leave them in the plant? Well, if you are not new to gardening you should now that basil plants need to be pruned at a constant interval in order to promote the best growth. Hence, even if you do not need those fragrant leaves, you should harvest them to promote growth.

Hence, what you do with such leaves if you do not need them straight away?

1 – Open Air

The easiest (and the laziest) approach is to just dump your fresh leaves on the kitchen counter waiting to be eaten. This is acceptable only if you are going to use them later in the day for a tasty dinner or for lunch the day after. For any use above 2 days, I highly suggest doing something more than abandoning them on the kitchen counter. Placing them in the fridge makes the situation even worst as the leaves might turn black and wilt.

Leave basil on your counter is a bad idea if you are not going to use it soon
Photo by Stephanie Bader from Flickr

2 – Open Air + Vase With Water

This is by far my favorite approach. Indeed it keeps all the flavor of a fresh just picked basil and gives me usually enough time to use them. This is because the basil is living and thriving and can actually originate a new plant!

For this approach, you simply need to cut the terminal part of each stem (just a few millimeters, do leave the stem, do not cut all of it) and put in a glass of water filled enough to submerge ⅓ of the stems but please not the leaves (otherwise they might get moldy/slimy). If the stems are too short you can use a small concave plate.

Ideally, after a few days, you might start seeing some roots. Do not be scared, on the opposite, that’s a very good sign that your basil leaves are just kept working and are still fresh as just picked from the plant. This approach of preserving is also used to propagate a basil plant (multiply endlessly your basil).


To add some water when it dries otherwise your basil might start dying. Be sure to have them on the counter at a relatively warm environment in a sunny place.  I usually pick up the basil within a week.

Another technique that might do wonder keeping your basil fresh for longer is to cover it with a plastic bag and place it in a dark place at ambient temperature. Many reported lasting time up to 2 weeks.

3 – Frozen

In this case, the frozen basil can last as long as you might ever need (often you might forget to have it). The process is not however straightforward.

If you put the leaves in a food plastic bag and threw them in the freezer, chances are that you might end up with a slimy green mash once defrost. Why?

Leave your basil in the freezer, after blanching, can is the solution that will guarantee you the long-lasting time – Photo by Dustin Moore from Flickr

Long story short, basil has special so-called enzymes responsible for the deteriorating process. Such enzymes are not stopped or slow down by low temperature. The only way to make your basil last longer in the freezer (theoretically indefinitely if you do not change the temperature) is to neutralize such enzymes. 

To do that you need to do the so-called blanching. No worries, very little work is required and should not take more than 2-3 minutes! It is articulated in 3 simple steps:

  1. Place your basil leaves in a bowl with boiling water. Be careful, too little time and the blanching will not be complete. Too long and you might end with cooked basil. Hence, when you place the leaves in boiling water leave them for 10 seconds. Stir the leaves and keep them submerged as they blanch evenly (the enzymes are spread all over the leaves).
  2. However, to avoid affecting the consistency/texture of the leaves you then plunge them in very cold water (a bowl with cold tap water full of ice is ok for the purpose). This is to avoid the hot water cooking them;
  3. Once cold again in you can dry the basil leaves with a kitchen paper (squeezing the leaves as well to remove any excess water) and place it in a plastic bag in the freezer.

4 – Dried

Drying is another popular method to preserve your basil. However, it is the one that requires a bit more work and more time.

You need to wash your leaves and remove any dust and little insect on top of it. Once done just place the dry leaves on a metal tray (on top of an oven paper) and place in a preheated oven. Time varies with the temperature. The higher the temperature the lower time.

A temperature of 200F (or  90C) for 20 minutes is what I usually choose. However, as a rule of thumb, go and check the leaves after 10 minutes. Indeed, although temperature and time matter, every oven is a bit different as many of you that have used the oven of your friend (or new house) might now.

The key things to check is to end up with dry and crunchy leaves. You should be able to broke them with a little pressure with your fingers, like a sheet of cracker. Place them in airtight containers to last longer.

This form to preserve basil though is the one I like the least. Indeed, it might take about to half-hour and changes significantly the taste of the basil compared to its fresh version. Indeed, when the water evaporates, what remains is something that is more potent than normal basil and moreover, such cooking process is also changing the flavour itself as everyone that tasted dry basil (even the one in the supermarket) knows well.

This type of basil is not typically used for pasta (we prefer the fresh ones) although is not uncommon to find it to give flavor to tomato sauce for a pizza (again, if you do not have fresh one).

Alternative Ideas: Prepare a Basil-Based Product

Although this I would not classify this as a technique to preserve basil, many do, so I decided to quickly mention it. The idea is to produce a product that lasts more than the basil itself by mixing (and pureeing it) with other ingredients. 

The most common is the basil oil and pesto. Basil oil, can last up to a week, although I would suggest avoiding any problem and consume it within 2-3 days.

Pesto can be frozen. Hence, it can last for many years although I do suggest to consume it within 6 months to avoid any loss of flavor. 

Remember that when you look for such recipes you can always change the amount of basil, leaving unchanged the number of other ingredients, so to experiment with the intensity of the basil flavor you like to have on your dish.

3 Easy To Spot Signs That Your Basil is Gone Bad

There are very clear signs that you should take note of when checking if your basil is safe to eat.

In case you left it outside, the signs you should look at are:

  1. Leaves wilt for the lack of water;
  2. Change of colour: leaves turn brown when start dying and losing their natural oils
  3. Rotten smell.

To be safe, I would avoid basil that presents any of those sign although wilt leaves are not always a cause of concern, but, just in case, I would avoid it. A tip: in case your basil leaves are wilt you can try to submerge them in cold water and dry them. They might be able to suck the water and get healthy again.

In case your basil has been frozen, a sign of something wrong is to have them a slimy and moldy green mass once defrosted. In this case, very likely is the blanching process has not being executed correctly (i.e., the water was not hot enough, the leaves were not totally submerged or you left to little time). In this case, you need to throw them, they are beyond any hope.

In case the basil has been dried you will not notice any bad smell as there is no water. However, the color will change from a natural green to a bland brown. Such basil should be tossed away.

Related Questions

How long does it last fresh basil in the fridge? One to two days

How often basil been defrosted? Only once. The defrost basil cannot be frozen again

Can I eat basil raw? Basil can be eaten raw and it is actually recommended to enjoy its full flavor. Washing with just water and dry them is recommended before consuming.

Further Readings

21 Tips to grow massive basil

Best container size for your basil

Best potting soil for your herbs

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