Basil is one of the most fragrant herbs you could have in your kitchen (or garden) but it’s a very fickle plant, very sensitive and it’s quite tricky to keep alive and healthy. So you’ll often find yourself wondering if that brown spot on basil is fine to eat, or if that slightly wilted leaf is too go add to a salad. Let’s take a closer look !
Can you use basil with brown spots ?
Some brown spots are fine on basil – such as dried edges from dehydration or too much sun exposure – and some brown spots are not safe to eat, such as brown spots from fungal infections or insect infestations.
A good rule of thumb is to check the texture and color of the rest of the leaf and the whole plant, if you see a bit of brown. A small bit of dried brown edge is fine, as long as the rest of the leaves look green and healthy, and the plant still smells like basil.
A few brown spots may still be safe, as long as they are just very few and only on a couple of leaves. An entire plant with spotted leaves is an issue, and it might be best to skip it. And of course, basil leaves that have turned brown/black and are also getting soft are not good to eat.
But to be 100% safe, it’s best to only consume the basil leaves that have a brown edge form dehydration, if you have to.
Why does basil get brown spots ?
There are a few reasons basil can get brown spots, some of them benign and some of them cause for alarm. Please remember that basil is a very fragile plant and prone to many issues, so an occasional brown spot is a given.
Basil is very sensitive to water and cold, will turn brown in the fridge
Is the basil you’re using actually basil leaves, already picked ? If they’ve been stored in the fridge in a bag they will produce extra moisture and quickly start to break down. They will turn brown and get soft, just like spinach leaves. If you’ve bought a lot of basil leaves or picked a lot of them form your garden, there are ways to store them safely and to preserve their flavor. We’ll get to that in a minute, but until then know that you shouldn’t be storing basil in the fridge.
Basil plants may be attacked by bugs or infections
Are your basil plants healthy ? Some infections show up as brown splotches on the leaves, and they slowly get closer to the stem of the leaf, until they eventually reach the stalks. Once the stalks are infected it’s easy to get the entire plant sick. Some of the most common culprits are fusarium wilt, fungal leaf spot, downy mildew, or leaf spot.
You’ll notice your basil plant has a pest problem if you see small holes appearing in the leaves, and/or if you notice small eggs on the underside of the leaves and on the stems. In these cases the plant might be saved, and most gardening centers will also carry a few solutions. However if the issue is fungal or bacterial, the only way to save the plant is to remove the infected parts, plus half an inch of ‘healthy’ tissue, and possibly re-pot the entire plant in case the soil has become a problem. In such cases you can expect your basil roots to be infected as well.
Basil can dry out near the edge of the leaves
Your basil might just be sunburned. This is the best case scenario ad infections and pests are hard to get rid of. How does basil get a sunburn ? By getting too much sun exposure, even if you watered the plant very well. Your basil needs a bit of shade as well, as do all aromatic plants.
In fact, it’s best to grow your basil in a bright but shaded area, such as near a window or, if it’s an outdoor plant, under a tree or somewhere it can get partial natural shade. This way the plant doesn’t overheat.
Read also: Why Mint Leaves Turn Brown ?
Can you use wilted basil ?
Wilted basil is safer to use than brown basil, though the texture won’t be as great as fresh, green basil. When you basil has begun wilting it won’t look that great as a garnish, but it will still taste very good in a pesto or in a stew. Just make sure to expose it to as little heat as possible to retain the flavor. Here’s why basil can wilt in the first place.
Underwatering and/or too much sunlight can wilt basil
Basil is a very fickle plant, and it can be very sensitive to heat and water (or lack thereof). So a wilting basil plant may be overheating, even if it’s not in direct sunlight. And it may also not be getting enough water. Usually the first signs is the leaves themselves are softer but the stem and stalks are still sturdy. Once the stems soften and the whole leaf droops, you definitely need to change your watering schedule.
Basil wilts very quickly after picking, doesn’t store well
Have you already picked the basil leaves ? Then they might just be wilting because they’re dying. Basil leaves are fragile, and they will wilt very quickly, after a few hours. They don’t store well, such as overnight on the counter. If you want to give your basil leaves a fighting chance, you need to keep them on the stalks, and store them like that in the fridge.
How to store basil leaves at the end of the season
If you’ve got your very own basil plant (or several) and you’ve got plenty to harvest a the end of the season, you’re going to need some way to store it for the next few months. Here’s some of the best methods we know.
Make your own frozen pesto cubes
Do you like pesto ? Then you’re going to love this idea. Pesto freezes very well, and you can make a rough pesto base to use in other foods. Just blitz basil, olive oil, a bit of parmesan, and pour this into an ice cube tray. Then, whenever you need an extra pop of flavor, add your frozen pesto base right at the end of cooking.
Freeze fresh basil leaves in ice cubes
Another option is to roughly chop the basil, place it in an ice cube tray, and fill it with water. These cubes can be added to your meal at the end, and you can omit the water entirely if you like. Simply frozen basil leaves will work just as fine as fresh basil if you’re cooking.
Dry basil leaves for your spice rack
If you want to make your own spice rack, then you can dry your basil leaves and then crumble them into much smaller pieces. Store in airtight containers like mason jars and you’re good to go. It might be a good idea to label when you made each batch, since they generally last about a year.