The Ultimate Guide to Washing and Storing Greens & Herbs for Your Rabbit

Reviewed by rabbit expert Lucile Moore, PhD.

In the wild, rabbit diets consist mainly of fresh grass, cereals, browse, nuts, fruits, seeds, etc. The domestic rabbits' diet consists of hay, fresh leafy greens and herbs, and fortified pellets. Providing your pet rabbit with a variety of fresh, clean, and properly stored greens is crucial for their overall health and well-being.

Washing and storing greens properly is an essential part of rabbit care, as it helps prevent the risk of bacterial infections and other health problems that can arise from eating contaminated or spoiled food. It also helps you save money by preventing unnecessary waste!

What Factors Cause Greens and Herbs to Decay?

  1. Excessive exposure to light can harm chlorophyll, leading herbs to turn yellow especially thin, delicate herbs like parsley or cilantro, especially when stored in sunny spots.
  2. Too much oxygen can cause tender herbs such as basil or mint to brown, especially if the leaves are damaged. In tests, wrapping or covering herbs extended their freshness compared to leaving them fully exposed to air in the fridge.
  3. Excess moisture can lead to decay, resulting in slimy or moldy leaves and stems. This is often observed when herbs are left inside plastic supermarket bags.
  4. Insufficient moisture causes herbs to dry out, diminishing their flavor as moisture escapes into the air.
  5. Improper temperatures accelerate herb decay or flavor loss. Most herbs should be refrigerated, except for basil and thin-leafed mint, which can be damaged by cold temperatures, causing browning and bruising. In the fridge, storing herbs at the back of the top shelf can lead to some parts freezing, causing cell damage and mushiness due to ice crystals.
  6. Herbs and veggies that grow close to the ground are prone to bacterial contamination, with cilantro being particularly problematic due to its often sandy, root-intact packaging, according to Molly Siegler, global culinary and hospitality associate coordinator for Whole Foods. In a 2017 study, it was discovered that even organically grown marjoram and basil plants tested positive for E. coli shortly after sprouting.

Purchasing herbs from farmers' markets isn't necessarily safer. In a 2014 study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 24 percent of cilantro, parsley, and basil sourced from 13 different farmers' markets tested positive for generic E. coli. This isn't meant to discourage you or your pet from enjoying greens, but to emphasize the importance of washing all produce thoroughly, whether you buy it or grow it yourself, to ensure your pet's safety.

By following the tips and techniques outlined in this guide, you can ensure that your rabbit's greens are always fresh, delicious, and safe to eat.

The Basics of Washing Greens for Rabbits

Rabbits are prone to digestive problems, which is why it's especially important to wash their greens thoroughly before feeding them. Washing greens removes any dirt, bacteria, or chemicals that may be present on the leaves, helping to reduce the risk of digestive issues.

Basic Tips

  • Ensure that you're using only fresh, high-quality produce that is suitable for rabbits. Purchasing organically grown produce is preferable to conventional for many reasons.
  • Avoid feeding your rabbit any greens that are wilted, slimy, or discolored, as these may be spoiled or contaminated. A great rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t eat it, don’t feed it to your bun!

  • Wash your produce immediately. This helps to extend shelf-life because you can remove any damaged leaves and harmful bacteria which can hasten the shelf-life of the produce.
  • Rinse greens before every feeding to naturally add more water to the diet. Even if you've stored your greens properly, you may wish to rinse them again before feeding them to your rabbit. By leaving some water droplets on the leaves, it can provide additional hydration for your furry friend.

When it comes to washing leafy greens and herbs, navigating through different methods can be overwhelming. We've done the research for you and identified the most effective method using a simple ingredient: baking soda. Compared to methods like rinsing/soaking with water or vinegar soaks, this approach removes up to 98% of surface pesticides, ensuring cleaner produce for your buns.

Most surface pesticides are unstable at an alkaline pH, and mixing in a little baking soda into water provides an alkaline environment. The baking soda breaks down the pesticides’ compounds and helps them to wash away.

Baking Soda Method

  1. Fill a large bowl or sink with cold water.
  2. Add 2 teaspoons of baking soda per quart of water and stir until well combined.
  3. Add the greens to the water and swirl them around gently.
  4. Let the greens soak in the water for a few minutes*.
  5. Remove the greens from the water and rinse them thoroughly under running water.
  6. It's important to dry greens thoroughly after washing them, as damp greens can quickly become spoiled. To dry greens, gently shake off any excess water and then lay the leaves out on a clean towel or paper towel. Pat the greens dry with another towel, and then allow them to air dry for a few minutes before storing them. I love using our salad spinner as it helps to dry the greens really quickly and efficiently.

*One source stated all it took was a 30 second soak while another source instructed a 15-20 minute soak. I personally soak for anywhere from 5-20 minutes just depending on what I’m doing! I’ve accidentally left leafy greens and herbs soaking for a few hours and honestly they were all fine!

Vinegar Soak - An Alternative Method

Another method of washing veggies is to use vinegar. To do this, you can mix 3 parts water to one part vinegar and follow the rest of the instructions above.

Vinegar removes up to 98% of bacteria which is great! However, as Michigan State University’s Center for Research on Ingredient Safety states: “While you can technically remove pesticide residues using a soaking solution such as vinegar and water or salt and water, it’s not advisable. There’s a small risk the chemical reaction between the pesticides and the solution could produce potentially harmful compounds.”

I’ve personally used the vinegar soaking solution if I happen to not have baking soda on hand.

Can I Mix Vinegar and Baking Soda for an Ultra-Powerful Cleaning Solution?

You may be thinking “Well if I use vinegar it will remove bacteria and if I use baking soda it will remove pesticides so why not just mix them to cover all my bases?”. Not so fast! Let’s talk chemistry for a second.

Baking soda reacts with vinegar, acquiring one of its hydrogen protons. The result is a carbonic acid which is unstable and decomposes into water and carbon dioxide. English, please! In simple terms, they basically just neutralize each other and are thus ineffective at doing their jobs.

Proper Storage Techniques

In addition to washing greens properly, it's also important to store them correctly to ensure their freshness and nutritional value. According to an article by Serious Eats, they tested out every storage method they could think of for their herbs and found some simple storage methods for different types of herbs:

  • Store hardy herbs and leafy greens by arranging them lengthwise in a single layer on a slightly damp paper towel, rolling them up like a jelly roll, then transferring the bundle to a plastic zipper-lock bag or wrapping it in plastic wrap. Store in the refrigerator.

  • Store tender herbs by snipping off the bases of the stems and removing any discolored or wilted leaves. Transfer them to a large Mason jar with an inch of water in the bottom. Seal the jar with the lid (if it fits), or cover the top of the jar with an overturned plastic bag sealed with a rubber band. Store in the refrigerator. The downside to this method is that it takes up a lot of space and can easily, accidentally spill. Using a quart container with a lid is an easy solution for this.

  • Store basil & mint by snipping off the bases of the stems and placing the bunch in a vase or a Mason jar with an inch or two of water at the bottom, just like a bouquet of flowers. Store at room temperature in a light area, but out of direct sunlight. Wash right before using (they don't do well being pre-washed).
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My Personal Storage Method

Greens can be stored in a variety of containers, such as plastic bags, airtight containers, or specific produce storage containers. It's important to choose containers that are clean and dry. My personal favorite method of storing is using old plastic salad containers from previous mixed salad greens that I’ve purchased.

I line the container with a dish towel and put the washed greens & herbs in (I don't use the jelly roll method), covering them with the towel before closing the lid. By doing this, I’m saving paper towels (better for the environment and my wallet!) this way and it truly has been the best method for storing my greens and herbs.

They last well over a week stored this way and stay nice and fresh. It’s definitely important to store all greens and herbs in a container; I’ve purchased a head of kale before that was not in a container or plastic bag and stored it straight in the produce drawer of our fridge. Within a day it had completely wilted.

My Favorite Storage Method for My Pet Sitter

For our pet sitter, I love to portion out my rabbits’ greens for the duration of my vacation. This helps both me and my pet sitter feel confident, knowing they are providing the right type and amount of greens daily. Check out our video on prepping and packing our greens for pet sitters! 

I thoroughly wash and dry everything and then lay out paper towels (1 for each day). I portion out the greens and herbs onto the paper towels and wrap them in the paper towel, storing them in individual ziplock baggies marked for each day of the week. I press as much air out of the baggies as possible. I can get about 7 days worth of greens packed like this for ~$20-$25 for our four rabbits. Not bad! I don’t recommend packing more than 7 day’s worth as in my experience, the greens have started to go bad after 7 days. Note: I reuse the ziplocks for as long as I possibly can and actually save the paper towels too, using them to wipe up messes around the house. Stay green! Pun definitely intended. 🙂

How to Revive Wilted Herbs

It's a common scenario: you buy a large bunch of parsley intending to store it properly for the week ahead, but life gets busy and you end up tossing it into your crisper drawer, only to find it sad and wilted a day or two later. Fortunately, there's a solution that doesn't involve throwing it away.

The secret to reviving wilted herbs is ice water. Fill a large bowl with ice and cold water. Remove any bruised or blackened leaves, then submerge the wilted herbs, stems and all, into the ice bath. The cold water will shock the herbs back to life. Depending on the herb and its level of wilt, this process can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Once the herbs have floated to the top and appear perky and bright green, they're ready to use.

Basil and mint requires careful handling to revive and store properly. Avoid exposing it to cold water for extended periods, as this can cause the leaves to turn black. Instead, quickly shock the leaves for 1-2 minutes to perk them up. Pat dry and use immediately, as washed basil & mint does not keep well.