Basil Turning Brown (Brown Leaves & Woody Stem Included)

Everybody loves basil! It’s one of the most common herbs you’ll find in any kitchen and is great for seasoning sauces, soups, salads, and a myriad of other delectable delights. This is especially true of basil you grow on your own, as its fresh and natural flavor is something special. That’s why it is so devastating to see your beloved basil turning brown. 

Why is your Basil turning brown? How can you stop this from happening again in the future? Read on to find out all the reasons your delicious, fragrant green basil is going bad, and how you can stop it.

Why Are Your Basil Leaves Turning Brown?

In order to solve this problem, we need to know why it exists in the first place. There are a number of reasons that your basil could be turning brown. One of the most important steps to solving this problem is to diagnose what is causing the leaves to wilt or rot.

This could be due to a number of factors from how you are watering it to the environment you put it in. 

Basil is actually quite a low-maintenance plant. However, this doesn’t mean you can just up and forget about it. You need to make sure your basil is taken care of well!


Basil, like most other herbs, needs to be watered daily. However, you can’t just throw some water in and call it a day. It is very important that you pay attention to when and how your basil is being watered. Improper watering is one of the most common causes of browning basil leaves! 

Firstly, your basil could be underwatered. If you are not watering enough, the basil could begin to dry out. This is because, like all other plants (and living things) your basil requires water in order to stay alive, and without it will begin to die very quickly.

 Make sure you are watering your basil on a regular schedule instead of just whenever you remember or it is convenient. This will allow your herb to have a constant intake of water on a consistent basis, keeping it happy, healthy, and green. 

Be careful though, as you run the risk of overwatering your plant. This is also an extremely common reason that basil turns brown. This may even be more common than overwatering, considering the fact that fewer people know about it and how it can ruin their plants!

If you put too much water into your basil’s soil, you can cause the roots of the plant to be suffocated. This will quickly cause root-rot, a condition that will kill your basil very quickly by not allowing the rest of the plant to intake nutrients from the soil by killing the roots that intake those nutrients. 

You might be wondering how you can manage this delicate balance of overwatering vs. underwatering. Luckily for you, there is an easy way to make sure that you are doing neither. Simply wait for the first one to two inches of the soil your basil is planted in to dry. That is when you’ll know your basil could use a little bit of water. 

Water it to the point that what is dry is no longer dry, but not so much that water begins to pool. Then simply repeat this process!


The other major reason that your potted basil turns brown is a lack of sunlight. Basil needs at least six hours of direct sunlight every day, or else the plant will begin to die.

If your basil is outdoors, make sure it isn’t under a tree or in some other source of shade that will block it from full sunlight for more than six hours. On the other hand, if your basil is indoors, try to pick a window that will allow for six hours or more of direct sunlight every day. Windows that face to the south often work very well for this. 

This is a much easier thing to fix, as you can simply set it up where it needs to be and never worry about it again. That being said, make sure it’s getting proper sunlight every once and a while by double-checking during hours there should be sunlight on it that there actually is!


If your basil isn’t grown in the right kind of soil, this can cause the leaves to begin to brown. The soil you need is slightly acidic average soil that is not too rich in organic matter. This will be the healthiest kind of soil for your basil as it will encourage growth but not reduce the fragrance of your basil. 

If your soil is too acidic, this could be the source of why your basil is turning brown. This is actually from the soil burning your basil, turning the leaves that unsightly brown color you are here to get rid of. 

The browning could also be the result of chemical fertilizers. Try not to use store-bought chemical-based fertilizers, instead opting for something natural, such as old tea leaves, twice every growing season. 

Why Is Your Basil Turning Brown In The Fridge?

So, we’ve covered all the reasons that basil you’ve grown yourself or is still growing could be turning brown. However, what about basil that is off the plant and is now being refrigerated? 

It is always important to refrigerate basil after removing it from the plant. However, sometimes even in the fridge, it gets an ugly brown color on it. So why is this?

The answer is actually quite simple! Once the basil is cut off from the plant, it only has a certain amount of time before turning brown. This is because of a process called oxidation, in which enzymes in the plant begin digesting it. This is similar to fruits like an apple, which begins to turn brown once you cut into it. 

The basil in your fridge will first turn brown, and then become slimy and become even darker eventually turning black. Make sure to use it before it goes bad! 

Why Are Your Basil Stems turning Brown or Woody

If your basil stems are turning brown or woody, there are a few reasons for this with relatively simple solutions.

Firstly, it could be due to you not trimming your basil enough. Basil needs to trimmed and harvested early and often to keep it healthy. Otherwise, the stems begin to turn brown because the plant will flower, which creates a seed that causes the woody stem. 

Secondly, it could become woody to protect itself from lower temperatures. Make sure it is in the proper amount of sunlight, and that you only grow it inside in good conditions during the winter months. Basil can be grown in winter, but you need to be careful to keep its temperature up!

How to Prevent Basil Leaves Turning Brown

Whether your basil is turning brown while still on the plant or in the fridge, there are a number of ways you can keep this from happening again in the future. 

On The Plant

The number one way of preventing your basil leaves from turning brown is to take good care of your basil plant from the moment you get it. Using proper plant care techniques may be a bit more tedious, but it will save you a lot of headaches and wasted time down the road. 

Firstly, keep a consistent watering schedule. This means having a daily time in which you water it at a certain volume. Every plant is different, so use the one-to-two inches of dry soil trick and constantly monitor it for the first few days. After this, you can see how long it normally takes to dry out and set your watering schedule accordingly. 

Wondering why your Basil Plant is turning yellow? Click here to find out why and what to do about it!

You should also make sure it’s getting the proper amount of sunlight, which is six hours daily at least. This, along with what kind of soil it is in and what type of fertilizer you are using, are simple and easy things that need to be set up once or twice a growing season, but can still make or break the color and fragrance of your basil plant. 

In the Fridge Or Off the Plant

As far as keeping cut basil fresh, there are a few methods that seem to work very well. These vary in how well they work for individual people, so try a few out and see which one works best for your basil and your fridge. 

If you have the room, the best method is to put your basil in a glass jar or vase, almost like it is flowers. It is important that it is glass so you can see if anything else is going wrong with your basil over the days you are refrigerating it without constantly having to take it out to check. 

Trim the ends and stick all your basil, bunched up, in a glass vase. Fill it with water about halfway, and then cover it with a plastic bag. This method usually keeps basil very fresh for a little while. 

The downside is that it’s a bit inconvenient, and takes up a ton of space in your fridge. However, it is probably the best method for keeping basil fresh, so if you have the room and the patience, this comes highly recommended. 

Wondering why your Basil Plant is dying? Click here to find out why!

As far as alternative options, there are some. One of the best and most common ways people keep basil fresh is by wrapping it in a paper towel. You can’t just stick them all in there bunched up like in the vase, though. 

Pick the individual leaves off of the stems and place them on the paper towel. Try not to overlap them too much, creating what is pretty much a single layer of leaves on the surface of the paper towel. A clean hand towel or kitchen towel would work as well. 

Then simply roll up the towel, stick it in a plastic bag, and place it in your fridge. This method is not quite as effective as the vase method, but is still pretty good, and takes up a lot less space while also being far more convenient. 

You can also freeze your basil! There are a couple of ways to do this. 

The first way is to blanch it. First, stick it in boiling water (with a little salt) for 15 seconds and then drain it quickly. Then put it in ice water to cool. After this, blend it up with a bit of olive oil. This will allow you to pour it into an ice tray and use it later as a purée! 

You can also freeze the whole leaves. Do this by laying them flat and spread out on a baking tray and then freeze them. After about an hour, they should be frozen, at which point they can be transferred to plastic bags and used at your leisure.

Basil stored this way will turn black, but still retain its fragrance and flavor. You can keep it green by blanching it, but once it is blanched it will retain far more flavor with the purée method. 

Is It Okay To Use Brown Basil?

Whether or not your basil is okay to use is actually less about the color and more about how it smells and feels. If your basil smells fresh and fragrant and feels dry or hydrated but not slimy, you should be good to go if it has a few brown spots. 

However, if your basil smells mildewy, or feels slimy in any way, then it is a no-go! These are tell-tale signs that your basil has gone bad and should not be eaten. 


So, there are a lot of reasons that your basil could be turning brown, and a number of ways to solve them. It is important to first figure out why your basil is turning brown so you can fix it, use the basil before it goes bad, and then prevent the issue from happening again in the future. 

That being said, don’t give up on your basil just because it has a brown spot or two. If it smells and feels fine, chances are it is. So what are you waiting for? That sauce, sandwich, or salad isn’t going to flavor itself!


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