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8 Ways to Keep Basil Fresh After Cutting It

Ways in keeping basil fresh.

There are eight ways to keep basil fresh after cutting it. But before you rush to cut your basil, have you ever thought about where it originally came from?

Judging by its very English-sounding name, you would think basil comes from England, right? Well, you think wrong!

While basil’s origins are somewhat debatable, basil is actually believed to have been first cultivated in China, India, or Africa thousands of years ago. Who would have thought? Nothing Chinese, Indian or African in it, and about basil, if you ask me.

Anyway, what’s even weirder is that today, basil is commonly grown in Italy, France, Egypt, Morocco, California, and other warm climatic regions around the world. And just so you broaden your culinary general knowledge, basil is aka (also known as) by its Latin name, Ocimum basilicum, making it a member of the mint family – to which oregano, thyme, and rosemary also belong.

Okay, now that you know one or two interesting facts about basil, read on and learn what to look for when harvesting your basil or buying it from the supermarket, how to cut the basil so you can harvest it longer, as well as the different ways to keep it fresh after you have cut it.

8 Ways to Keep Basil Fresh After Cutting It

1. Leave it at room temperature

Fresh basil in a bowl.

Apparently, basil can remain fresh at room temperature for a couple of days by simply storing it on your kitchen counter. 

2. Leave it at room temperature in a glass jar.

Storing your bunch of basil in a glass jar at room temperature on the kitchen counter and out of direct sunlight, like a bouquet of flowers can also help it keep fresh and somewhat succulent. The trick is to change the water every few days to maintain freshness. Reportedly, the cut basil will last give or take two weeks.

3. Store it Like Salad Greens-on Paper/Kitchen Towels

Fresh basil wrapped by paper.

It has been established that the very best method to keep basil fresh after cutting it is to store it like salad greens. Do so by picking the leaves off the stems and laying them in more or less a single layer on layers of paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. Roll up the towel around the leaves, and put the roll in a plastic bag. This method apparently keeps the leaves hydrated but not wet or damp.

4. Place in Airtight Container and Refrigerate in Veggie Crisper

Wash your basil, then dry it with a paper towel or in a salad spinner. Wrap a paper towel around the basil and put it in an airtight container or a ziplock plastic bag. Store it in the vegetable crisper alongside other salad greens. Expect your basil to last some two weeks when it is stored in an airtight container in the fridge.

5. Store as a Basil Bouquet in a jar-Loosely Covered With a Plastic bag

Fresh basil in container.

As with any fresh herb, it helps if you think of your freshly cut basil herbs like cut flowers. This is because any leafy herb with a soft stem, including basil, can be stored as you would a bouquet — in water. Do so by first trimming your basil’s stems by removing the last inch or so.

Thereafter, place your basil in a jar filled with a few inches of water. Loosely cover the tops of the basil with a plastic bag or a thin, produce bag. Then leave the basil bouquet out at room temperature, replacing the water every few days.

However, don’t you dare refrigerate it? Exposed basil doesn’t do well in the cold. Whenever you’re ready to enjoy fresh basil, wash and dry the leaves. Freshly cut basil kept fresh in this way will normally last one to two weeks

6. Store the cut basil leaves in a jar and briefly put them in the fridge.

Briefly store the leaves in the fridge like lettuce for a very short time. You can do so by first trimming the bottom one inch (2.5 cm) off the stems. This will depend on how freshly cut your basil is. If newly cut, skip this part. However, do pluck off any leaves that are low on the stems and will be submerged in the water. Ensure that the tips of all the stems are submerged.

Thereafter, put the basil in the jar and store it at around 65 °F (18 °C). Only use this as a short-term prep and storage method. Please don’t put the vase in the refrigerator or anywhere else that gets below 50 °F (10 °C). Change the water every 1-2 days to get up to 7 days of usable basil. 

7. Wrap the basil leaves in a dry paper towel and place them inside a plastic bag.

Basil wrapped by paper.

This is popularly known as the storing basil in a plastic bag method. It protects your basil from harsh elements. For effectiveness, remove the leaves from the stems. Next, wash and then, using either a paper towel or a salad spinner, dry the leaves.

Thereafter, wrap the basil leaves in a dry paper towel and place them inside a plastic bag. Seal and store for one to two weeks. 

8. Blanching and Freezing Fresh Basil Leaves

Freezing basil leaves in plastic bag.

Last but not least, keep your freshly cut basil by freezing it. To do so, first prepare a pot of boiling water and an ice bath. Secondly, place a large pot of water on the stove and set the burner to high heat. As the water heats up, add the contents of about 2 ice-cube trays to a large bowl, then fill the bowl with 75% of cold water. This prepares you to blanche and then freeze your basil.  

Blanching is a good option, especially when you have far more fresh basil than you can use within a few days.  Blanch your plucked and rinsed leaves for 2 seconds. As the pot of water nears boil point, pluck the basil leaves from their stems and rinse them under cool water. When your pot finally boils, toss all the leaves in at once for just 2 seconds.

Thereafter, transfer the blanched leaves as soon as possible to an ice bath. After the quick 2-second blanching, use tongs to pull out the leaves as quickly as you can. Transfer them straight to the ice bath. Blanching helps “lock-in” the vibrant color of the basil leaves. The ice bath stops the cooking process before it wilts the leaves.

Although both the blanching of your leaves and the ice bath are optional, skipping them often means that your basil won’t keep as well in the freezer. In this case, go straight from rinsing the fresh leaves to drying them with paper towels.

When that is done, move the cooled leaves from the ice bath to paper towels for drying. After about 1-2 minutes in the ice bath, use your fingers to transfer the leaves to a strip of paper towels. Lay out the leaves in a single layer and softly blot away all surface moisture with more paper towels.

Next, lay a single layer of leaves on a sheet of wax paper, then repeat. Find a sheet of wax paper that will fit easily into a large zip-close freezer bag. Spread out the basil leaves on the sheet, nestling them close together but not overlapping them. Cover the basil leaves with another sheet of wax paper, and add another layer of leaves, until you’ve laid out all your basil leaves.

After 4-5 layers of basil leaves, slide the stack into a freezer bag. In which case you can start a second stack for another freezer bag. Slide the layered leaves into a freezer bag to store for up to 6 months. Carefully work the stack of wax paper and basil leaves into the zip-close bag, then gently press out most of the air.

When this is done, zip the bag fully closed and write “basil” and the day’s date on the bag with a permanent marker. Lay the bag flat in the freezer in a spot where it won’t get crushed. When you’re ready to use the basil, simply open the bag, pull out the number of leaves you need, squeeze out the air, and close the bag again.

Blanched and frozen basil leaves are usually vibrant and flavorful. However, after about 3-6 months, the leaves will start to develop brown or black spots.

Once many dark spots start appearing, discard the leaves.

What to look for when harvesting or buying basil?

Fresh basil in wood chopping board.

Basil harvesting should be done roughly once every 1.5 months. Such a frequency is best since it gives your basil enough time to recover and collect the nutrients for development and growth.

No matter which variety of basil you are planning to harvest, when you’re collecting basil from your garden or buying it from the supermarket, there are some simple pointers you need to keep in mind throughout. 

Ideally, when you are out looking for fresh basil to cut, always look for ones with large leaves and a stem length of around 15 centimeters/ six inches. This way, you don’t have to harvest or buy more, since the large leaves will have you covered. Though some like Getty Stewart would advise that short and bushy is better than tall and spindly.

In addition to leaf size, also always make sure you harvest your leaves when it is dry, NOT wet. This is vital because the basil will be dry and free from moisture on the leaves and stems, which essentially helps reduce the possibility of your basil’s leave stems rotting -after you’ve cut it.

After cutting your basil leaves, always ensure that you remove any brown stems before storage. This is because, ordinarily, the stem on a flowering basil bush is not suitable for assembly and storage.

And what do you need to do when it comes to you buying basil at the supermarket?

As with harvesting your basil, be on the lookout for large leaves (though others advise that short and bushy is better than tall and spindly) whose stems are not already browning. In this vein, since basil is usually displayed in bundles or packages on the shelves,  ensure you choose undamaged, clean, and fresh basil. In particular, you have to pay attention to the characteristic aroma of basil.

How to cut your basil so you can harvest it longer?

Woman cutting basil using scissor.

To cut your basil so that you’ll have a full juicy plant to harvest all season long, remember some of the techniques below when cutting your basil.  Essentially, the trick is to trim or cut your basil early and keep at it throughout the season.

Doing so forces the plant to grow extra stems – one cut stem will be replaced by two new stems. What this means is that within a few weeks you’ll be able to trim those back and double your stems again. It’s not rocket science, is it?!

When cutting, always start from the top of the stem and work your way down until you find a spot where two sets of new leaves are growing. Just above this intersection is where you cut using scissors or gardening shears.

Getty Stewart advises against  pinching the stem with your fingers, you risk injuring the plant by doing so. As the season progresses, more branches shoot out and grow repeat this process on each branch. Always cutting the top crown.

However, as with everything in life, reap sparingly. Always ensure that you leave some large leaves toward the bottom of the plant, at least two sets of leaves. They are the plant’s solar panels and are necessary for the plant to convert the sun’s rays into the energy it needs to continue to grow.

Interestingly, by forcing your basil plants to focus on producing new stems and leaves, it won’t produce flowers or seeds as quickly. And the more the branches and fewer flowers, the more basil for you!

Once you have harvested or bought your basil, next, follow the simple ways below to keep it fresher for longer.