How often have you been preparing a recipe and reached into the fridge only to find that what was once a fresh bunch of herbs is wilted and dying? The worst offender in the withering department is basil, with its moist, delicate leaves prone to bruising and mold. However, with a little TLC, your fresh basil can stay fresh longer. Here’s how to store basil to make it last.
1. Buy it in a pot.
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. A basil plant is simple 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 fresh basil leaves for weeks on end.
2. Treat it like cut flowers (sort of).
Don’t have room or enough sunlight 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 cover it with a plastic bag.
Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Take your cut basil out of 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 then cover it loosely with a plastic bag. Produce bags are great for this, as they’re thin and light and won’t crush the leaves.
Step 3: Move your basil bunch to a small corner of your counter, changing the water every few days. Storing it this way will help a healthy bunch last just over a week.
You may be wondering if putting it in the fridge will prolong its life. Nope! Moderate temperatures are the key to basil’s well-being.
3. Freeze it.
If you know your bunch of basil isn’t going to hang on much longer, freezing is the way to go. Before you throw it in the freezer, blanch it. 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 leaves.
After you blanch the basil leaves, pat them dry with paper towel to minimize freezer burn and ice buildup. Freeze your leaves whole or chop them up and combine with a few teaspoons of water in ice cube trays.
4. Dry it.
DIY dried basil tastes much better than the store-bought stuff. Spread out the leaves on a baking sheet and let them dry in the coolest setting of your oven (200 F or less) for two to four hours, or until very dry and crumbly. Make sure the leaves are really, truly dry. If there is even a hint of moisture, the basil will get moldy. Let the basil cool, then crumble and store in a tightly sealed container.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)