How to Store Fresh Herbs
For even the casual cook, there is a joy that comes with bringing fresh herbs into the kitchen. The vibrant colors. The intoxicating scent. And, of course, using fresh herbs when preparing meals immediately elevates food in ways that just can’t be matched by dried seasonings. Whether you’ve harvested a backyard crop, visited the farmers' market or are lucky enough to have generous green-thumbed friends, having fresh herbs on hand makes every cook a chef.
If only they'd last.
There’s a reason we dry or freeze herbs. Fresh herbs just don’t last that long. Left on the counter or tossed in the refrigerator, the clock starts ticking as soon as they come in the door. Many herbs will wilt in just a few days and after a week, most are probably ready for the compost bin.
Depending on the type, a couple of low-effort strategies make it easy to extend the life of fresh herbs once they have been cut. If your dinner plans are more than two weeks away, freezing them may be the best option. If bumper crops need to be stored beyond a few months, drying probably makes sense. Still, using fresh herbs will always yield the most flavorful results and giving cut herbs a little attention as soon as they arrive can extend their freshness for two weeks or even longer without significant browning or wilting.
Bundles of soft-stemmed herbs like basil, mint, cilantro and parsley are not unlike a bouquet of fresh flowers. Just as one might arrange flowers in a vase of water to extend their lives, the stems of these herbs can be clipped and immersed in a Mason jar or glass of water to keep the moisture flowing to the tender leaves. Keep the water level below the leaves and change it every few days to maximize efficacy. Popping them into the fridge will also keep them fresh longer. When refrigerating these fresh herbs, cover them loosely with plastic wrap or a bag to protect them and minimize wilt and store in the warmest part of the fridge (usually the door or crisper). Unlike the other herbs in this group, basil is not cold-tolerant and should be stored uncovered at room temperature.
Herbs with stems that are firm or woody, like oregano, thyme or rosemary, do not benefit from water immersion, but light moisture and refrigeration are both helpful for effective storage. Loosely wrap these herbs in a slightly moistened paper towel or dish towel and place in a plastic bag to store in the warmest part of the refrigerator. Make sure to wring out the towel thoroughly before use to avoid the mold that can develop when the herbs are kept too wet. Check every day or two to make sure the towel remains moist and the herbs don’t look “slimy.”
Extending the freshness of cut herbs is useful for those without access to herb plants that can be harvested on demand. If fresh herbs have become part of your routine, it may be time to add a few to the garden or brighten up your kitchen by planting your favorites in containers to have truly fresh herbs always within reach.