Even if you don’t have a garden — or have a severely neglected one like mine this year! — you can still have fresh (organic) basil all the time without spending an arm and a leg on the fresh stuff at the grocery store.  Or a ton of time caretaking or multiple daily rinsing (like with sprouts) or whatever — you can set this up and (mostly) forget about it, except for pinching and watering (more on that below).

You just take several cuttings of fresh organic basil — either purchased from the store, or if you’re lucky and have a friend with basil plants, cut fresh from the garden (in which case you might not even need this tip — last year we literally had BUSHES of basil, and took a whole garbage bag of it, complete with accompanying earwigs, to a friend who innocently asked for “some” basil :) ) — and then you cut off a little bit from the end of the stem so the cut is fresh, and stick it in a jar of water, making sure that only the stem (i.e. no leaves) is in the water.  I haven’t even taken the rubber bands of the last couple of store-bought groups that I’ve used!

(This is also a great way to keep a few sprigs of basil going from your garden, if you have one, in the fall in anticipation of a frost!)

Put the basil jar on a windowsill (I keep mine on the window above my sink so I don’t forget to water it!), and the stem will shoot out roots into the water, and eventually the plant will put out lots more leaves.  All for your culinary pleasure!  :)

It may try to put out flowers at first, instead of leaves, which will look like this:

Just pinch those off at the next joint down that has two full normal-shaped leaves.  Keep pinching them off whenever they appear, and eventually they’ll start not appearing as often, as the plant develops a fuller root structure.


Nipping it in the bud! (literally!)

What got pinched off

After pinching

For comparison, this is what a non-budding new set of leaves looks like. This is what you want -- don't pinch this off!

And make sure to keep plenty of water in the jar.  With the plant I have going now, which I’ve had going for a couple of months, I’m filling the pint jar about every three days — it’s very thirsty!


Basil plants won’t last forever this way, nor will they probably produce enough leaves to make any large batches of pesto (you’ll need a friend with some earwigs for that! :) ), but it’s wonderful for a little garnish or to add some fresh herb flavor to dishes.

When you find leaves starting to get brown splotches on them, and/or leaves start to wilt and fall off, it’s time to use up the rest of the leaves in a (small) batch of pesto or something of that ilk before they all succumb to whatever is ailing the plant.  Then buy from the store, or pick from the garden, a new cutting, and start the process all over again!


This post is part of Real Food Wednesday, Healthy 2Day Wednesday, Gluten Free Wednesday, Works for Me Wednesday, Turning the Table Thursday, Simple Lives Thursday, Pennywise Platter Thursday, Real Food 101, and Full Plate Thursday.

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14 Responses to Perpetual Fresh Basil

  1. Allan Jackson says:

    Are there any advantages or disadvantages to growing it in water rather than in a small pot of soil?

    • Megh says:

      An excellent question. I suspect once it has rooted, you could put it into soil. I think you might want to make sure the soil was sterile, tho, since basil can be prone to fungal issues. But maybe not. Maybe I’ll try an experiment the next time I get them — put one in soil, one in water, see which one does better! :) Thanks for the idea! :)

      • Allan Jackson says:

        I didn’t even necessarily mean planting from cuttings. You could just grow basil from seed in a small pot with soil in front of your window. I assume if you never took all the leaves at once, it would keep growing back.

        • Megh says:

          It’s true, if you don’t take all the leaves, and keep pinching the buds, it’ll keep growing back. The advantage of cuttings over seeds is that, 1) You have fresh basil right away, you don’t have to wait. And 2) You don’t have to figure out how to sprout seeds, which can be tricky and intimidating; seeds often need a lot more light to grow up and be healthy plants than cuttings do, and can run into a host of other issues, like drying out too quickly, or the opposite of being overwatered, or getting various soil-borne and insect-borne diseases that can kill them off and be very frustrating! I’ve started plenty of basil before from seed, but I always used seed starting supplies, grow lights, etc., and they never really took off, despite transplanting, until they made it into garden soil and full sun. But I’ve been able to keep these basil cuttings going in a north-facing window, I can’t overwater them, and occasionally I can forget to water them until they are dry :) Growing from seed, especially if you’ve already got soil, pots, and a good light source, is probably cheaper, tho! I’ve really neglected the gardening this year, so, I’m really enjoying “idiot-proof” gardening like this these days!! :)

  2. just gorged on pesto last night with the last of our garden batch. I’m hoping to scrounge one last stem and try this. thanks for the tip!

    • Megh says:

      Cool! If yours doesn’t work, I think I have some that sprouted rogue in my mess of a garden, you’re welcome to try with some of it–altho it’s been going to seed for a while now, so I don’t know if it’ll work or not!

  3. I actually had this happen accidentally once, I just bought some basil at the farmer’s market and have it in a mason jar on the window sill in the kitchen. Wonderful idea to share.

    • Megh says:

      Cool! Thanks! I kind of wonder if this would work with any other fresh herbs … maybe I’ll try with some of the cilantro and dill I bought today. :)

  4. Hi! I am so excited to try this idea, since my chickens ate up all my basil! Thanks for the good idea. I found you through Simple Lives Thursday, by the way, and I’m excited to read more of your blog!

  5. Miz Helen says:

    What a great idea. I still have Basil in my garden so I am off to get a sprig to try out in a jar. It will be in my kitchen window soon. Thank you so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday and have a great week end!
    Come Back Soon,
    Miz Helen

    • Megh says:

      Thanks! I need to do the same, I think! The one I took a picture of last weekend is looking like it definitely needs to become pesto pronto!! :)

  6. Elizabeth says:

    This is a great idea! I despair at my ability to grow fresh herbs indoors. I can’t even keep a chive plant alive! (Hangs head in shame.) I’m going to try this. I hope I can keep some basil alive for a while despite my black thumb, because basil is expensive!

    • Megh says:

      Thanks! You know, I’ve never tried growing chives indoors. Although we’ve been using so many of them lately, I probably should try this winter. Good luck with the basil–you can do it!! :)

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