The Ultimate Guide to Keeping Herbs Fresh You Didn’t Know You Needed
Fresh herbs can bring any dish to the next level—unless they wilt before you can use them. Here are tricks chefs use to preserve these fragile flavor bombs.
When it comes to mints, this one might be in a league of its, especially because there are so many fun ideas for using fresh basil. But what's the secret to keeping it fresh? "Keep it potted and in a sunny place, water every other day, and mist it daily," says Yousef Ghalaini, executive chef of FIG Restaurant at the Fairmont Miramar Santa Monica in Santa Monica, California. "You should grab leaves from the plant by cutting at an angle an inch below the leaf," he recommends. "Keeping fresh herbs in potting soil inside is great, just keep an eye on them and don't let them bolt (this is the seed pod that pops up at the top of the plant once it gets old), as the leaves become really tough and lose flavor," says Ghalaini.
Don't have a live plant? The best tip for store-bought basil is to keep the the stems trimmed and place in a jar of water. Loosely cover it with a plastic bag, as it'll create a mini greenhouse sort of environment. Basil does better at room temperature so never throw this one in the fridge, where it will wilt quickly.
Amazing in mashed potatoes, chives look hearty but are actually delicate. Even so, Ghalaini recommends the thick wet paper towel treatment, "and keep the towels moist," he says. Here's another, longer-lasting option: Freeze your chives. Wash, trim, and chop the herb, place them in an ice cube tray and just barely cover with water. Then freeze.
You either love it or you think it tastes like soap. For the lucky cilantro lovers, the herb punches up everything from salsa to soups to summer salads. Because it's so delicate, handle this herb with care: In a test by the Vegetable Gardener website, the best way to keep it fresh is to place the bunch in water up to the stems, place a loose plastic bag over the leaves, and keep it in the fridge.
Love some dill with your smoked salmon? Goldberg advises storing it in a tall mason jar or quart jar with an inch or two of water in the bottom. Snip the stems so you can fit the herbs, and then close the lid, she says. Learn how to grow your own dill and other spices.
This useful herb can withstand a fair amount of exposure, so you can keep it in the fridge or out. "The benefit to keeping mint live is that it keeps away bugs and it tastes amazing when it's plucked from the plant for immediate use—try steeping in some black tea for a great post meal digestive!" says Ghalaini. Read on for more natural home remedies for an upset stomach.
Give life to your pizzas and salads with this delightful herb. Laura Lea Goldberg, a Nashville-based certified holistic chef, head of the popular site, LLBalanced.com and author of the new cookbook, The Laura Lea Balanced Cookbook, recommends placing oregano stems between paper towels, rolling them up, and tightly sealing them with plastic wrap or in resealable bags. Learn about oregano and other spices' healing properties.
Give your soups a beautiful finishing touch by sprinkling chopped parsley on top as a final garnish. "This hearty herb can withstand a lot," says Ghalaini. "I like to wrap it with thick wet paper towels and store it in the refrigerator." Just be sure to trim the ends if you keep parsley in the fridge. Like basil, you can also keep it in a jar of water at room temperature.
Amazing with roasts, potatoes, and vegetable medleys, rosemary is hearty and stores well. Goldberg recommends this method for storing durable herbs like rosemary: Place the stems lengthwise evenly on double-layered damp paper towels and roll them into a log shape. Then wrap them in plastic or place in a resealable bag and refrigerate. Did you know keeping a rosemary plant in your office can make you more productive and energized at work?
One of 10 top healing herbs, sage is great on beef and poultry, or mixed into butter and served with pasta. Similar to rosemary, you can roll it up in paper towels or try freezing it in ice cube trays, recommends cooking website thekitchn.com. When you're ready to use it, place the sage cube in a strainer until the ice melts away: The herb will have retained its potent flavor.
Thyme is one of the hardier herbs—you can freeze whole stems in a resealable bag and use the whole leaves when you're ready. Or follow the chive instructions by chopping up your thyme, freezing it with water, and then keeping the cubes in a resealable bag; drop the whole cubes into stews and soups. Want to keep it fresh? Leave it sitting in a small flowerpot with water coming up the thyme at the 1.5-inch mark, says Ghalaini.