Maximize your perishable produce with our guide to choosing, storing and using all kinds of fresh herbs.
August 20, 2012
1 of 11Photo: Oxmoor House
We’ve put together a guide to selecting, storing and prepping health-boosting fresh herbs like basil, mint, thyme, parsley and more. And to make sure nothing goes to waste, we’ve included versatile recipes using various herbs in pesto, herb-infused oils, marinades, rubs, dressings and herb butters. All that’s left to do is to go grab some fresh herbs at the market (or from the garden, if you’re lucky) and get creative.
2 of 11Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner; Styling: Lydia Degaris-Pursell
Experiment with different types of basil but stick with the sweet variety called Genovese for pesto and other Italian dishes. To store, place bouquet-style in a glass of water with a plastic bag over the leaves. Basil’s highly perishable so use it quickly. Preserve a large quantity of this antioxidant-rich herb by blending washed leaves with olive oil in a food processor, placing in a jar, topping with olive oil (to retain the vivid green hue) and storing for several weeks in the fridge.
Tip: You can freeze pesto in ice cube trays, wrap the individual cubes in plastic and freeze in an airtight plastic container for up to a year.
3 of 11Photo: Becky Luigart Stayner, Styling: Lydia Degaris-Pursell
Pungent thyme has been used traditionally for cooking as wel as an antibacterial agent. This woody-stemmed herb keeps relatively well; loosely wrap thyme in a damp paper towel, then seal in a zip-top plastic bag filled with air. Refrigerate for up to five days.
Tip: To prep, simply hold a stem and run your fingers down the sides to remove the tiny leaves for use in recipes.
When selecting this vitamin K-rich herb, do as chefs do and choose Italian (or flat-leaf) parsley; it has more flavor than the curly-leaf variety. Look for fresh, deep green leaves with no signs of wilting Store washed parsley wrapped first in paper towels, then in a resealable plastic bag.
Tip: Use the stems as well as the leaves in your recipes, as they actually have a stronger parsley taste.
Although the two most common varieties of this refreshing, digestion-enhancing herb, peppermint and spearmint, are often used interchangeably, peppermint is a bit more pungent, while spearmint has a slightly smoother taste. Choose fresh-looking bunches with evenly colored leaves that show no sign of wilting. Store a bunch of mint in the fridge in a glass with water over the roots and a plastic bag loosely covering the leaves; it’ll keep for about a week this way.
Tip: Change the water every day or two for better results.
6 of 11Photo: Becky Luigart Stayner, Styling: Lydia Degaris-Pursell
Cilantro leaves look a bit like Italian flat-leaf parsley but are more delicate and a slightly paler shade of green. Like mint, they too are known to have antibacterial properties. Look for vibrantly fresh, vividly green bunches without any yellow or brown spots. Store this highly perishable herb in the fridge (with its roots still attached) in a glass of water and cover the leaves with a loosely fitting plastic bag.
Tip: Wash leaves right before using since wet cilantro leaves will spoil more quickly.
7 of 11Photo: Becky Luigart Stayner, Styling: Lydia Degaris-Pursell
Sweet, anise-flavored tarragon has also been traditionally used as a medicinal herb to aid digestion. In professional kitchens, chefs prefer French tarragon for its delicacy and flavor. When buying this spiky-leaved herb, look for bright green bunches with a strong aroma and no signs of wilting. Store tarragon in the fridge wrapped in a damp paper towel in a resealable plastic bag and it will stay fresh for about a week.
Tip: Use only the leaves and use a light hand with tarragon, as it packs a serious flavor punch.
8 of 11Photo: Becky Luigart Stayner, Styling: Lydia Degaris-Pursell
This hardy, antioxidant-packed herb has intensely fragrant, needle-like leaves that add woodsy flavor to dishes. Buy sprigs of rosemary that are fresh-looking with a deep sage green color and free from yellow or dark marks. Store it in the fridge wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel.Chopped fresh rosemary combined with salt, pepper and garlic makes a fantastic rub for meat.
Tip: Prep by running your fingers down from the top of the stem to strip off the leaves.
9 of 11Photo: Becky Luigart Stayner, Styling: Lydia Degaris-Pursell
Delicate chives, smaller cousins of onions, are a great way to add a more subtle oniony flavor to recipes. Look for leaves with a uniform, glossy green color and no shriveling or brown spots. You can store chives in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for about a week.
Tip: For minced chives, simply hold a bunch on a cutting board and use a rocking motion with a sharp knife to chop them finely; for bigger pieces, simply snip chives with scissors. A great way to use chives and other fresh herbs is to infuse their fresh flavor into olive oil.
10 of 11Photo: Becky Luigart Stayner, Styling: Lydia Degaris-Pursell
Feathery dill leaves add a delicate yet distinctive taste to dishes. At the market, choose bunches with deep-green fronds. Some wilting is okay, as dill leaves droop quickly after being picked, but avoid bunches with wet or yellowed leaves. Wrap dill in a slightly damp paper towel and place it in a resealable plastic bag in the fridge, but note that this fragile, free-radical-fighting herb won’t stay fresh for more than a couple of days. Wash just before using.
Tip: Revive limp dill leaves (or other herbs) by trimming off the bottom of their stems and placing them in ice water for a couple of hours.
11 of 11Photo: Becky Luigart Stayner, Styling: Lydia Degaris-Pursell
Use soft, silvery sage leaves to add fantastic, savory flavor to food. It’s an antioxidant-rich herb, like its sister herb rosemary. At the market, the leaves should look fresh and be a uniform green-gray in color. Wrap sage in a damp paper towel and place it inside a loosely closed plastic bag; it will stay fresh for several days in the fridge this way.
Tip: Though distinctive, the flavor of sage is also very delicate – as a general rule, try to add it near the end of the cooking process.