Friday, September 03, 2010

How to Preserve Fresh Basil (2010 Garden Update #13)

How to Preserve Fresh Basil found on KalynsKitchen.comFor years I've been freezing fresh basil, to use in soups, stews, and pasta sauce all winter long. Then a few years ago I started to hear about a way of preserving basil when you wanted to use it fresh, but had more than you needed right then. I don't know where I first heard that stems of basil in a cup or jar of water would stay good for days, but it may have been from Pam at Sidewalk Shoes (go see the fresh basil in water in her blog header.) Recently I cut several buckets of basil and froze some, used some to make basil pesto, and kept out a generous handful of basil stalks for a little experiment. So, just how long do you think a jar of basil will stay good on the kitchen counter if you keep adding water?

Here's the basil jar the first day, and the basil is brightly green and fragrant.

Day 3, and there is no noticeable difference in the color or smell of the basil.

After three more days go by, some leaves are barely starting to curl, and the overall plant looks just the tiniest bit wilted.

Two more days, and the leaves are a little more curled, but still fragrant and perfectly usable.

Finally, 10 entire days and although one leaf has fallen off, the basil is really essentially as good as when I put it in the jar. I filled the water about every other day, and didn't allow myself to cut any leaves off so I could compare the photos. Of course, I doubt you'd ever keep a jar of fresh basil this long without snipping off most of the leaves to add to whatever you're cooking, but I thought it was great fun to see that it lasted this long.

(Edit 9/15/2010 -It's now nearly two weeks later, and the basil is mostly still perfectly fresh and usable! Most of the stems have roots, and the basil actually seems to be growing in the water!)

Do you have a garden where you're growing basil? If so, I'd love to hear your own tricks for preserving it or what you like to make with your fresh basil.

You can see what else has been happening in my garden this year by using the label 2010 Garden Updates.
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43 comments:

Melissa said...

Awesome information! I see those little bouquets of herbs all the time on cooking shows but I assumed they were just using them that day. That's awesome. I've ordered several herbs to start a kitchen garden. My basil and other yummies should be arriving in October. I'll remember this great tip!

JMom said...

I started freezing basil because of you. I got the idea from one of your posts.
During the summer months, I always have a jar of fresh basil in the kitchen. One time, I had a stem in there so long it started rooting! I swear :)

Healthy and Homemade said...

What a great idea! Better than always freezing the leftovers and having to buy even more fresh basil.

Kalyn said...

Melissa, glad you like the idea. I know I'll be doing this all the time now that I've tried it.

JMom, you're ahead of me on this one. Love the idea of the basil getting roots!

Healthy and Homemade, I'm thinking this idea is even better in winter when basil is so expensive!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

What a great experiment! I'm lucky to have an herb garden right outside my kitchen door, so I can harvest just as much or as little as I need. But at the end of the season, you often have to harvest everything at once, before the first frost.

Silvia said...

It really stays fresh for up to ten days but only if it's fresly picked before putting it in the water, or at least there are just a couple of hours passed. On the 5-6th day it even strike roots.
But often when I byu basil much more time has passed from the picking up time and it fades very quickly. In these cases making pesto is my solution - it stays fresh in the fridge for 5-6 days.

HeatherinSF said...

It's been almost 2 weeks, my basil is rooting and has started to flower! I'm thinking of just planting it now. Great fun!

Kalyn said...

Lydia, even though my herbs are just a short ways from the back door, I was surprised at how I loved having the basil on the counter. I think I'd love the convenience of just snipping off some basil to add to things and probably use a lot more basil this way.

Silvia, I hadn't thought about that, thanks for sharing that info. So this method is probably not going to help much in the winter when you have to buy basil from the store. I am wondering though if you get the last basil of the year from the garden and manage to start it growing roots, how long you could get that to last in the fall. Hmm, another experiment.

Heather, I love that idea. I wonder if I could root it plant mine inside in a month or so when it's starting to get cold here.

Anonymous said...

for some reason my husband popped a large stalk of basil in a small bud vase and put it over the sink; and yes it was fantastic how long it lasted, and how convenient it was to pull a few leaves whenever I felt like it for cooking;

bellini valli said...

A great tip Kalyn. The refrigerator will shorten it's life considerably.

Jacqueline said...

Wow, that is a brilliant tip Kalyn and I loved yoour experiment. Basil is my favourite herb and I work my way through a lot of it, so this is useful :)

Amanda said...

I've been experimenting so much with other herbs this year (thyme and tarragon mostly) that I have neglected to use my basil but a couple of times. I knew basil would stay good in water for a couple days, but ten?? Wow! Great experiment :)

Anonymous said...

I've never tried keeping it on the counter but putting it in a flat-bottomed jar with a little water and then into the 'fridge works really well. JD

Farmgirl Susan said...

Love the day to day photos! I finally started creating kitchen counter basil bouquets last year, and it really is amazing how long they last.

You can also store other fresh herbs this way, like parsley; I wrote about it on my kitchen garden blog here.

So many sources tell you to store your herb bouquets in the fridge, but there's really no need. Basil loves the heat - and I know I'd just knock over the glass the next time I opened the fridge, LOL.

I'm a huge pesto fan, but my favorite way to enjoy fresh basil these days is tossed with pasta along with cherry tomatoes and sundried tomato artichoke pesto. The simple recipe is here and the trick is to use LOTS and LOTS of basil. I've even been eating it for breakfast. : )

The Italian Dish said...

If my garden is low on basil and I need to buy a bunch, I always stick it in a little jar. Also, the vendor at the farmers market told me when I got home to resnip off the ends of the stems a little and they will soak up the water better.

Kalyn said...

Glad people are finding this useful. Thanks to everyone who's giving examples of how they have used this method. If it was really hot in your house, I think putting it in the refrigerator would be a good idea, but I keep my fridge at about 40F, a little cold for basil.

Kalyn said...

Susan, you, Elaine, and I must have been commenting at the same time. Never thought of doing that with parsley, but I like the idea a lot!

Elaine, I love that tip of trimming the ends of purchased basil so it will soak up the water better! BTW, today is day 12, and the basil is still perfect!

Cheryl said...

great to know, thanks for posting!

Kalyn said...

Cheryl, you're welcome!

CJ said...

I had a vase of basil on the counter this summer and it started to shoot roots too. It had never happened for me before.

Kalyn said...

CJ, this is inspiring me to just keep going with my jar of basil and see if I can get it to grow some roots too!

Katrina said...

I do good just to keep a few plants of basil alive. But a chef friend of mine with a newer blog just posted about basil and pesto yesterday. It's great info. http://acookinglifeblog.blogspot.com/2010/09/linguine-with-garden-fresh-basil-pesto.html
Love the idea of keeping some in a jar of water!

I need to go find your post about freezing basil, do you not have to make it into pesto first?

Kalyn said...

Katrina, no you don't have to make the basil into pesto to freeze it; here is the link for How to Freeze Fresh Basil.

I love having that basil to use in the winter!

Cookin' Canuck said...

Wow, that is amazing! I never think to cut my basil off in a bunch like this. I am heading straight to your "freezing basil" post.

Kalyn said...

Oh Dara, you'll love the frozen basil in the winter! I love it for soup and pasta sauce.

Pam said...

I'm so glad it worked for you too!

After I get roots, I even replant them in the garden. So by the end of the summer, I have tons of basil plants. Which reminds me, it's almost time for my last harvest!

Kalyn said...

Pam, loving it and tonight I noticed that my basil is getting a few roots!

Anonymous said...

I have my Basil growing in a small washtub. When I planted it I just sprinkled the seeds, covered and watered them. I have a tub full of plants and I've harvested several times. I was wondering if I brought the tub inside would it continue to produce? It would be in an upstairs south window. Does a plant have a certain lifespan or will it continue to produce given the right conditions?
I appreciate any and all comments. Thanks
Beth

Kalyn said...

Beth, I grow my basil from seed too. I don't know how long the growing season is for basil to keep producing, but I know it's an annual plant, so it won't produce indefinitely. I'm guessing you might be able to extend the season for a month or so, but not much longer than that. Let us know what happens if you try it.

Tealparadise said...

Oh wow! I had been freezing my basil without putting oil on it and was wondering why people bothered when it always went dark!!! Now from this entry I can both keep basil on the counter && freeze it! Thanks for linking to that entry, I'm so excited not to lose any more of my pretty little leaves!

Kalyn said...

Tealparadise, you're welcome. It makes me happy that I've helped you keep your basil around a little longer!

Daria said...

I cut basil stems just recently and put them in a jar on the window. I found that after a week or so the leaves started drying up and shriveling. So I finally made pesto today. After making about two cups of pesto from basil leaves only, I then proceeded to make a secondary pesto from the stems and whatever-basil-leftovers which had not gone bad. I didn't have the heart to throw them out... If not as smooth, it is just as good and aromatic as the pesto made from basil leaves, so my advice to you is : don't waste it!

Kalyn said...

Daria, that's an interesting idea! Not sure it will work with the thick stems from basil in the garden, but the thinner small stems are worth trying.

Leah said...

Hi Kalyn -- I tried your wonderful idea, and mine are on the windowsill now. I also took it a step further. I had simply yanked out my entire plants (no special gentleness.) After removing the lager leaves to dry and putting some higher stems into a vase, I trimmed the bottom part of 6 plants and potted them. Meanwhile they're fine, and I think they should continue to be fine, unless it gets too cold on the sill. You can see them all here: http://www.photoblog.com/chossid/2010/10/06/birds-bells-and-basil.html

To anonymous, with a tub of basil -- go for it! To keep it producing, keep any flower heads trimmed off!

Kalyn said...

Leah, fun to see how you're making the most of your basil. I haven't tried drying it. Is the flavor really better than the dried basil you buy?

I'd be curious to hear back about how much longer the transplanted basil will grow inside, because I know it's an annual so it won't keep producing indefinitely. But if you got basil for a few more months that would be great!

Leah said...

I think my basil does have more flavor; it's definitely "ecologically clean" as they say here. I'll try to let you know what happens with the indoor basil.

Kalyn said...

Leah, I'll be interested to hear.

Anonymous said...

This works with Rosemary too! I was so surprised to see roots form on some I put into a little bud vase. It lasted for weeks, until I let the water level get too low and forgot to refill. Will be using this method next growing season!!!

Kalyn said...

Thanks for that tip about the rosemary! Hadn't thought of that before. You can also freeze your rosemary if you have a lot of it.

Leah said...

Kalyn -- in spite of my basil being grossly neglected when I went away, some of it is still doing fine -- both in the water, and potted.

Kalyn said...

Leah, it's really kind of amazing how long it will last, isn't it? Love learning about this!

Stephanie said...

I am totally amazed at how long basil will last. I always keep a plant or two on my patio. Love the fresh basil.

Julie and Kevin Frantz said...

I'm so glad I found this! I do this with cilantro and I hear parsley also works! I'm going to try this! I do however put my cilantro in the fridge!

Thank you!

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