Fresh herbs add depth to recipes when added in the beginning and brightness at the end. They add color to otherwise drab-looking pasta, and can be used as a sauce for everything from grains to meat and veggies – pesto or chimichurri, anyone? As beautiful as herbs are, they don’t last long, but here’s how you can store them and use every last leaf.
What’s the difference between tender and hardy herbs?
Tender herbs include leafy varieties with soft stems, like basil, parsley, cilantro, and dill. (Mint can be classified as a tender herb, too, but we’ve found that it can be stored well like a hardy herb, too!).
Hardy herbs include types with woodier stems, like rosemary, thyme, and oregano. They’re also the ones that require less water to grow. Think: Rosemary growing in the clay-like soil of the Mediterranean and oregano growing on the sandy mountains of Greece.
Where should you store herbs — on the counter or in the fridge?
Tender herbs benefit from being treated like live flowers and stored in water at room temperature – the fridge’s temperature and air can bruise bare, delicate leaves (two exceptions: Parsley and cilantro can stand up to the cold; just loosely cover dry leaves with plastic before stashing in the fridge). To help them last longer, change the water every couple of days and discard wilted stems.
Keep hardy herbs dry in the clamshells they’re sold in, or wrap in a damp paper towel and store in an open baggie in the fridge. If stored in water, hardy herbs can become waterlogged. Check on them every couple of days: They’ll last longer if you occasionally change their wrapping and throw away wilted pieces.
Should you wash your herbs before storing?
You should. Plus, if you wash them before storing, you’ll be likely to use them when you’re cooking. It’s important, however, to dry your herbs well before wrapping and storing, to prevent them from getting wet and moldy.
To wash tender herbs, hold by the stems and plunge the leaves in cold water. Shake to dry. You can be a little less careful about drying when storing on the counter because the herbs will dry naturally in an upright position.To wash hardy herbs, swirl around in cold water and lay flat on a clean dish towel. When dry, transfer to a damp paper towel and wrap in bundles before placing in an open baggie in the fridge. Both of these cleaning methods allow dirt and debris to fall to the bottom of a bowl without leaves being bruised from running water.
How long do fresh herbs last?
Depending on how you store them, some herbs can last up to a couple of weeks while others should should be used right away. A few other factors contribute to their longevity, including the quality of the herbs when you buy them and how dry or unbruised they are before you store them. Here’s a quick cheat sheet:
Basil: Up to 1 week Cilantro: 1 week to 10 daysParsley: 1 to 2 weeksDill: 1 weekMint: 3 to 4 days Chives: Approximately 1 week
Rosemary: 2 to 3 weeksThyme: 2 weeks Oregano: 1 to 2 weeks
How to store fresh herbs in the freezer
To store herbs long-term, fresh herbs can be frozen — but don’t just toss them in a baggie! If you do, they’ll likely freeze together and form ice crystals that will drain and muddy their flavor when they defrost. Instead:
Thoroughly dry herbs (water droplets will cause splattering during cooking) and chop them. Add herbs to an ice cube tray and fill with oil before freezing through. Use the frozen cubes when you first start cooking the way you would normally heat oil in a pan, or stir in at the very end to finish.
How to dry herbs
Fresh herbs may be dried or dehydrated so they can last for up to six months when stored properly. To dry herbs, wash and dry them completely, then use a dehydrator on a low temperature (95ºF to 105ºF) to draw moisture out of the leaves until they crumble in your hand. The amount of time varies based on the herb: Tender herbs will dehydrate faster than hardy ones. Store dehydrated herbs in a small, airtight container in a cool, dark place.