Fresh herbs of all kinds are fleeting. We've all had the experience of reaching into the fridge only to find what was once a bountiful bunch of fresh herbs now wilted and dying. Some are quicker to slip away than others. The worst offender in the withering department is basil. Its moist and delicate leaves bruise and mold so easily that unless you plan on using it immediately, is it even worth the investment?
For us, that's a resounding YES! Its sweet and floral fragrance cannot be beat. It just needs to be treated a little differently. With a little TLC, your fresh basil can stay fresh longer than you thought. Here's how to make it last:
Related: Delicious Ways to Cook with Basil
Ultimately, the best way to keep any plant fresh is to keep it alive. Basil is no exception. Buying potted basil isn't just for green thumbs. It's easy to care for and easy to find. Depending on the season, you can find it in the produce department alongside the packaged stuff in most major grocery stores. Just bring it home, find a sunny spot for it (indoors if the temperatures start to dip into the 40s) and keep it well watered. This will yield you fresh basil leaves for weeks on end so you won't have to rush through it.
Don't have the room or enough sun to start your own indoor basil garden? No problem. You can still keep fresh basil happy by treating it like you would a bunch of cut flowers, with one small exception: instead of admiring it in the center of your table, you'll be covering it with a plastic bag. Pretty centerpiece? Not really, but you'll have plenty of fresh basil at the ready.
Here's how you do it:
Step 1: Take your cut basil out the packaging and trim the last inch or so off the stems. This will help the stems take in water.
Step 2: Place the basil in a cup with a few inches of water and cover loosely with a plastic bag. (Don't tuck it in. The basil needs to breathe!) Produce bags are great for this as they are thin and light and won't easily crush the leaves.
Step 3: Then move your basil bunch to a small corner of your counter, changing the water every few days. Storing it this way will make a healthy bunch last just over a week.
Now, you may be wondering if putting it in the fridge will prolong its life. Nope! Basil hates the cold more than every grandparent in Florida. Moderate temperatures are the key to its well-being.
If you know your bunch of basil isn't going to hang on much longer or you just want to preserve the sweet taste of summer, freezing is the way to go. Before you throw it in the freezer, blanch it first. Blanching sounds fancy, but it just means dipping your basil in boiling water briefly, then moving it to ice water to stop the cooking process. Blanching preserves the bright green color of the basil. Without it, frozen basil turns an ugly brownish black.
Dry off your blanched basil leaves before they are frozen to minimize freezer burn and ice buildup. You can freeze your leaves whole or chop them up and freeze them combined with a few teaspoons of water in ice cube trays (that's our preferred method).
DIY dried basil beats the pants off of the store-bought stuff that's been sitting on the shelf for who knows how long. You don't need any fancy equipment to dry basil either. Just spread out the basil leaves on a baking sheet and let them dry in the coolest setting of your oven (200 degrees or less) for 2 to 4 hours or until very dry and crumbly. The only trick here is to make sure the leaves are really, truly dry. If there is even a hint of moisture, it will get moldy in storage.
Let the basil cool, then crumble and store in a tightly sealed container. It will last this way for a year or more. And one more thing to note: Once dry, basil is more potent than it is when fresh. If you're using a recipe that calls for fresh basil, but you're using dried instead, cut the amount back by a third.