How to Bring Wilted Herbs Back to Life

September 21, 2015

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.

     basil out of water

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. 

At least if all else fails, there's always Paula Wolfert's Herb Jam.

Top pretty photo by James Ransom; all others by Kristen Miglore

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Ali Slagle
    Ali Slagle
  • Elizabeth Wadham
    Elizabeth Wadham
  • 702551
  • Lisako
  • Greenstuff
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. 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."


Ali S. November 1, 2015
Has anyone tried reviving softened root vegetables in a similar way—by dunking in cold water for 15-20 minutes? I recently heard about this method and am eager to try it.
Greenstuff November 1, 2015
Absolutely, it works. even when they are cut up, like carrots into carrot sticks.
Elizabeth W. September 22, 2015
Had our own little contest last Thursday when the mint for the peach shortcake garnish went totally limp. We had the time it took for guests to eat dinner to revive- and the winning method was to choose promising leaves, dip in cold water, shake, put between paper towels and chill. Reminded me of how mom crisped up the lettuce in the fridge after she washed the leaves. Each shortcake went out with a lovely little erect green flag.
702551 September 22, 2015
Dunking in water is all good. However, I've found that trimming the stems with a very sharp knife or pair of scissors helps some of these herbs immensely, just like extending the life of cut flowers.

Same with lettuce.

My lettuces normally get trimmed, dunked, shaken out, then wrapped up in a old tea towel in a plastic bag.

For basil, snip off the flowers. That tells the plant that it needs to keep growing. If you grow your own, you know that flowering basil is near the end of the plant's life.
Lisako September 21, 2015
I will definitely try this. I find that the basil in the water glass trick works with a couple of additions: the plastic bag over the herbs help, but I also change the water as often as I can remember (daily is best, but do what you can). For some reason, this helps tremendously.
Greenstuff September 21, 2015
If things are wilting, cold or icy works well. But I have to disagree with you about the basil. I almost always have a glass filled with basil sprigs next to my kitchen sink. They almost always root and grow for as long as I need them. They keep longer and in better condition if I snip off the blooms.
Riddley G. September 21, 2015
My sad basil is going into some water now!
AntoniaJames September 21, 2015
This also works for sad, wilted but not over-the-hill lettuce. Put the leaves in a large bowl or salad spinner with water to cover them well. A few ice cubes wouldn't hurt if your tap water is not super cold. (Ours has actually been warm, during these recent heat waves.) Let sit for 20-30 minutes, or longer if necessary; spin or dry, and store as usual. ;o)
Nicole B. September 21, 2015
Keep a plastic bag over the basil and it should stay fresh for days.