Fresh herbs may be used in a variety of ways: making pesto, sprinkling on or mixing in salads (dill, parsley, and mint are my favorites), blending in smoothies (mint is refreshing), or topping on tacos and bowl-style meals (cilantro), as a soup flavoring, or sprinkling on meals.
Fresh herbs rot quickly if not properly stored. And there’s nothing more frustrating than spending money on a fresh ingredient only to find it to be unusable just a couple of days later.
If you want to enjoy a real food lifestyle, and approach this lifestyle from a budget, no-waste perspective (whatever that budget may be), it’s important to learn how to properly store fresh ingredients.
In the past, we’ve talked about the storage containers I use in my fridge to keep fresh food, well…fresh. Today, we’re going to dive deeper with the specific topic of storing fresh herbs.
How to Store Fresh Herbs
Cilantro, Parsley, Dill, Tarragon, Mint, and Basil
Soft herbs should be stored similarly to a bouquet of fresh flowers. Fill a jar (I use a short, wide mason jar) with a couple of tablespoons of fresh water. The amount of water you’ll need will depend on the herb (see picture below).
Trim off any brown spots at the very end of the stems, and place the stems in the water. Cover the leaves with a plastic bag. (I reuse bags. Or use a reusable silicone bag.) Secure the bag over the top of the mason jar with a rubber-band. Place the herbs in the fridge. The bag will keep the herbs from losing too much moisture in the fridge.
To maintain the herbs, change the water every few days, or as needed.
I’ve found that most herbs will keep for about two weeks when stored this way.
Basil is special because this particular herb doesn’t like extremely cold temperatures. Follow the same bouquet practice mentioned above, except skip the bag, and simply store the basil (in a jar filled with water) on the counter. If you feel the need to store basil in the fridge, place the jar in the door of the fridge–this is the warmest spot in the fridge. Change the water ever few days, or as needed.
Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Oregano, Sage, and Chives
Hardier herbs keep best when placed in a single layer on a damp paper towel (or try a linen dish towel for a reusable option). Roll the herbs in the towel, and then place the rolled towel in a ziplock bag or reusable storage container. If you use a bag, let the air out of the bag before sealing. If you use a cloth towel, you may want to change it out every few days. The herbs should be stored in the fridge, and usually keep for about 2 weeks.
If you find that you’re not going to use a particular herb before it goes bad, try freezing the herb to avoid waste. There are a few ways to do this:
- Freeze the herbs in olive oil cubes.
- Make compound herb butter. Compound butter is made by combining butter with various herbs, lemon or orange zest, or even cinnamon and a sweetener. Use compound butter for a quick veggie saute, cooking eggs, spreading on fresh or toasted bread, tossing with pasta, or making garlic bread. An herb compound butter is a great way to put fresh herbs to use. There are two options for freezing this butter: 1. Spoon the butter on parchment paper and then roll it up like a log. 2. Use a cookie dough scooper to form individual balls. Place the balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze. Once solid, add the balls to a storage container and keep in the freezer until ready to use.
- Make a broth/stock bag. Keep a bag in your freezer and fill it with veggie scraps, including leftover rosemary, thyme, or parsley. Use this bag to create a flavorful base for your next homemade stock/broth.
To Pre-Wash or Not?
I didn’t mention anything about washing herbs before storing them. Personally, I don’t wash my herbs before storing them.
If you find that your herbs aren’t lasting, despite using good storage practices, wash and thoroughly dry your herbs before storing them. There may be decayed leaves, or bacteria, on the herbs that may could be causing the other leaves to rot faster than they should.
A salad spinner is a great tool to use for drying herbs since it speeds up the drying and hands-on time.
What’s your favorite way to store fresh herbs?
The best way I’ve found to keep fresh herbs I use most is my deck herb garden. It is just a shallow wooden box [home made from scraps] lined with garden cloth and filled with container plant soil. My chives, thyme, parsley and sage survive the winter here in the south. Oregano and basil I replant each spring. It takes up little space, looks great, and is just a few steps away. For the other herbs I may use for a particular menu I schedule that meal early in the shopping week before the herbs can go bad. Still lose a few, but much less than before.
Thanks for sharing, Sandra!
Thank you so much for this. It is very helpful. Whst about coriander please?
You can do it the same way as parsley and cilantro.
these tips are great! I’ve been using your meal planning book to get started with real food planning this year and I’m loving it! Do you have any printable resources for storing fruits, veggies and herbs?
Hey Ciji, I don’t at that moment. I’ve honestly never thought about making something like that. That’s such a great idea!!
Hi Kristin — I was thinking along the same lines as Ciji. Would love, and need a short download book (this post would have been great) to print as a reference. For easy reference, my preference is to print and read. Spend too much time on the computer.
Appreciate your kitchen wisdom
Hey Sara, Definitely! I’ve been working on a food storage course for about a year now. Hoping to have that out before end of this year that will be full of food storage video, a book of recipes, and more.
I’ve had horrible luck keeping herbs fresh, so I’m excited to try these methods! Basil has definitely been the hardest one for me to figure out. Until I picked up a small, harvested basil plant at the farmers market with the roots still attached. I put it in a vase with water out on the counter like I would flowers and change the water every day. It has been two weeks and it’s still as fresh as the day I bought it!
I hear ya, Tamara! Keeping fresh herbs alive can be really frustrating. You found the trick to basil–treat it like a bouquet. I think you can even plant the ones with roots!