How To Make Fresh Basil Last, According to an Expert

Basil is one of the treasures of summertime, but it wilts and turns black notoriously fast. Here’s how to make fresh basil last so you can enjoy its fresh flavor for longer.

How To Make Fresh Basil Last, According to an Expert
fresh basil on a wooden cutting board (2 different varieties - green and purple)
Simply Recipes / Getty Images

Fresh basil tastes like summer to me. The bright green and tender leaves, with their intoxicating aroma, go into all sorts of summery dishes, from caprese salad to fresh pesto and beyond. It’s just not summertime without it. 

The problem is, as soon as the herb is picked (whether by a grower or by you, the gardener), its days are numbered. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up a clamshell of basil at the grocery store, only to notice that it’s already wilted with several black leaves the next day. This has sometimes dissuaded me from buying basil—I tend to only pick it up if I plan to use it ASAP.

And while I had just accepted basil’s fast-wilting properties as inevitable, I learned something valuable after talking to Jenn Frymark, the Chief Greenhouse Officer at Gotham Greens. Basil should and can last! I’ve just been storing it wrong.

How To Store Basil So It Lasts

The number one rule: keep basil out of the fridge. “Anything below 50°F will damage the product through chilling stress,” says Frymark. This means your basil will turn from bright green and perky to limp and discolored in no time if it’s kept in the fridge.

Frymark recommends storing basil on the counter away from direct sunlight. My new favorite method is to add basil to a jar so that the stems are submerged in water, much like a bouquet of flowers. Then, I loosely cover the top with a thin plastic produce bag. An open zip-top bag will also work. 

This sits on my counter in a shady spot and lasts for a solid week! This is at least twice as long as basil lasts in the fridge.

caprese (sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil) on a plate
Simply Recipes / Getty Images

Other Easy Ways To Extend Basil's Shelf Life

There are a few other things you can do to make basil last even longer:

  • Buy great basil to being with. “To ensure it lasts as long as possible, it’s best to look for basil that is locally grown,” says Frymark. She recommends buying from farmers markets or companies that harvest locally, like Gotham Greens. Look for crisp, bright green leaves with no obvious dark spots, and avoid packages with condensation.
  • Tend to your basil. To make the herb last even longer, check it every day or two for grey, black, or slimy leaves, and remove them. Change the water, much like you would for cut flowers.
  • Get creative for longer storage. If you end up with an excess of basil (lucky you!), Frymark recommends infusing the leaves into cooking oil and freezing the oil in an ice cube tray. I like to make homemade pesto and freeze it the same way, adding a frozen cube or two to pasta sauces or soups.