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Basil storage failure

For the second summer in a row, I’m missing out on the opportunity to run outside and cut fresh herbs for whatever I’m cooking. And sure, I manage to get by just fine with farmer’s market supplies, but I really miss that part of cooking where I don’t have to worry for a second about whether the herbs in my crisper drawer are still fresh enough to use or not.

And, while I have access to excellent Chinese and Vietnamese markets in my neighborhood, they do know their primary clientele, so they don’t sell Genovese basil. Or lemon basil. Or any variety of basil besides Thai, which I like, but not in everything.

But here’s the thing. I know all too well that basil doesn’t keep well in the refrigerator. But everyone I know says to cut the stems a bit, free the bunch from its twist tie or rubber band, and set it in some water in a glass. Everyone I know claims this works amazingly well in getting the basil to stay fresh and healthy and happy on their counter for a week or more.

In my experience? That hasn’t happened.

Here’s what happens to me: I bring the basil home, free it from its mortal coils (of rubber band), snip the ends, plop it in water, and then do whatever else I’m doing that day. The next morning, invariably, the basil’s already looking unhappy. Two days later, it’s in a full state of wilt. If I don’t use it by the third day, I throw it away.

This happens if I change the water every day or not. If I snip the ends or don’t. If I put the basil in a window or leave it in the kitchen where its natural light quotient is less-than-satisfactory.

I stumbled upon my friend Marc’s method recently, and I will admit to never trying the plastic-bag, faux-hydroponic approach. I’m willing to try it, and it makes sense to me from a biology standpoint, but I’ll bring a healthy dose of skepticism to the table. Maybe basil only likes me if I grow it myself?

8 Comments on “Basil storage failure”

  1. #1 Suz
    on Jul 11th, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    I’m definitely willing to try your friend’s method! I’ve never been able to get my basil to last longer than a couple of days on the counter.

    At least you can grow basil, I’ve actually never been able to get it to grow either!

  2. #2 Fern @ Life on the Balcony
    on Jul 11th, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    That’s really weird. I wonder if there is something in your tap water that basil doesn’t like? I have *never* had basil wilt or die while sitting in a cup of water. The only thing that happens if I leave it for too long is that the stems start growing roots.

  3. #3 Eric Hegwer
    on Jul 12th, 2009 at 4:49 am

    I completely know what you mean. I love making fresh pesto – and probably do it 4-5x a month. Which means I use a lot of basil, too. I got tired of heading to the store whenever I needed a bunch (and always wondering if they were going to have any in stock in the Produce Aisle).

    So a few months ago, I put my first 6 basil plants in the Ground. Now I just strip off some leaves whenever I want. I planted them near an automatic sprinkler head, so they get water at least 2x a week, and about 3/4 of a day of sun.

  4. #4 Chiot's Run
    on Jul 12th, 2009 at 7:07 am

    I have always had luck with the above stated method. But I bet it has something to do with the original freshness of the basil. Mine’s always cut from the garden and it lasts for a week or more in a cup on my kitchen windowsill.

  5. #5 Daphne
    on Jul 13th, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    I can get basil to last a long time in a glass of water. It usually roots before it dies if I put a baggie over the leaves. Of course I pick it fresh from my garden and it is put in water within a few minutes. Do you have a lot of chlorine in your water? Plants don’t like it, but if you let the water sit out overnight before putting in the basil it will be gone. That might not be it at all, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

  6. #6 Becks
    on Jul 17th, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    I doubt it’s the water, since I have the same source of water as you do and have no problems. In fact, all of the basil planted on my balcony was originally purchased at the farmers market and then rooted in a cup of water. It must be your basil source. I usually buy basil (or bought basil) from Happy Boy Farms and had very good luck with it.

  7. #7 Vanessa
    on Jul 17th, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    I have the same problem with the glass of water method and I can attest that the plastic bag method works for me every time.

  8. #8 inadvertentgardener
    on Jul 21st, 2009 at 7:48 am

    Suz, I wish I was growing some now — I had a plant in the house for awhile last year…may need to get another one.

    Eric, even if the produce aisle has basil, it’s usually not up to par. So sad.

    Chiot’s Run, I’m buying it super-fresh from the farmer’s market, though…

    Daphne, interesting thought about the chlorine, but as Becks said, she and I are using the same water for this purpose. I might try the overnight idea, though.

    Becks, most of the time, I’m using Happy Boy Farms basil, though, and actually, it’s happened even when I had just cut the basil out of my garden. So odd.

    Vanessa, this is good to hear — I’m going to definitely give it a try.

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