Yes, you can un-wilt herbs—sometimes. Here's what you need to know.
If you've ever tried to store basil at room temperature, with trimmed ends dangling into water like flowers, like everyone tells you to do, then you know it's all lies.
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What could go wrong?
If you want to hold onto your basil for more than a few hours, this is an unwise way to go.
A few hours later—tragedy! Moisture loss!
Whether you do this or not, you will encounter wilty herbs sometime—I discovered their salvation quite by accident, no thanks to them. I was testing recipes in my stifling 6th floor apartment and the basil I'd propped up in water had all but gone to heaven. But at one point, I noticed that some of the leaves had fallen into the water itself, and looked bright and perky, like they'd just come back from a spa day.
Since then, anytime I have herbs that are looking deflated, I put them in a bowl of water, forget about them for a while, then come back and they're like new.
Based on the results of my unscientific testing, here's what I can tell you:
This works very well for soft, delicate herbs like basil, cilantro, and mint; less so for hardier ones like parsley and thyme. I assume that this is because they're more permeable—the easier it for them to lose water (that is, the more prone they are to wilting), the easier it is for them to take it back in for a full revival.
If your herbs are oxidized (they look blackened) or borderline dried and jar-able, there's no coming back from that.
A wide range of temperatures will work for this: Ice water isn't great, especially for the more delicate types, and very hot will of course cook them, but anything from cold to room temperature (even warm-ish) will do the trick. I didn't see a huge difference between these.
That said, my testing is incomplete, and largely done in a very humid New York City summer, so I want to know what you've witnessed in the wide world of wilting herbs—please tell all in the comments.
I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."