Spring is quickly approaching, and that means farmer’s markets galore for much of the country. Herbs are a great farmer’s market find and are fabulous for your health.
But what do you do with that glorious farmer’s market bouquet of cilantro after the guacamole? Does your basil turn brown and moldy before you can get it into the pesto? Nothing compares to the flavor of fresh herbs, but their shelf life can be frustratingly short! Don’t toss out the bundle of parsley that didn’t make it into the tabouleh. With proper storage, you can extend the life of your herbs long after they’ve been picked!
When it comes to storing herbs, there are as many different methods for keeping them fresh and flavorful, as there are herbs available to grow! So which is the best way to store fresh cut herbs?
The first thing to do is determine which type of herbs you are working with. There are two general types of herbs: leafy, soft-stemmed (like parsley, basil, cilantro, and mint) and wood stemmed (like rosemary, thyme, tarragon, and sage.) Let’s discuss the most popular ways to store both types of herbs:
The Bouquet Method
Forget flowers! What could be prettier than a bushy green bouquet of delicious herbs on your table? The bouquet method is great for soft-stemmed herbs. Trim the ends and remove any wilted or dead leaves, as well as any rubber bands or twist ties. Place the herbs in a small cup or vase filled ¾ full of water. For cold sensitive basil, keep the vase at room temperature on the countertop. Cilantro really digs the cold, so place the vase in a shelf in the fridge, cover with a plastic bag or loosely wrapped with paper towels, and trim leaves as needed. Parsley and mint can be stored at room temperature or in the fridge. Be sure to change out the water every few days or so!
The Plastic Bag Method
This one might sound a little strange, but it really does work for all herbs (and lettuces too). Wrap fresh, dry herbs loosely in a dry paper towel and place in a plastic bag. Then blow the bag up like a balloon and seal. The carbon dioxide from your breath will keep the greens perky. As always, be sure to wash greens before using, to rid them of any dirt and germs, and to calm any squeamish dinner guests who might be privy to your herb storage methods.
The Freeze Method
Freezing herbs will change the look and texture of herbs, so frozen herbs work well in recipes where the crisp leaves and bright herb colors are not featured. Wash herbs, thoroughly dry, and if desired, chop. Lay flat in freezer bags, or press into ice cube trays, and store in freezer until needed. To use, grate or cut desired amount, and return the remainder to a storage container in the freezer to prevent freezer burn. This method will result in somewhat dried herbs, and the flavor will be concentrated as a result, so adjust accordingly when cooking.
The Dry Method
All herbs can be dried for later use. Gather herbs into a bouquet and fasten with string or twine. Hang upside down in a cool, dark area until dry. Or, using a dehydrator or oven, lay washed and dried herbs in a single layer on the tray and heat on lowest temp until dry. Dried leaves can be stored in airtight bottles, containers, or bags for up to a year. Dried herbs have slightly less flavor than fresh, so be sure to adjust amounts when cooking.
The Oil Method
Freezing herbs in olive oil can preserve not only the flavor of fresh herbs, but can prevent the discoloration and freezer burn that can occur when freezing herbs without oil. To preserve herbs with this method, remove leaves from stems, chop, and place them in ice cube trays. Fill the trays with olive oil and freeze until firm. Alternatively, leaves and oil can be blended together in a blender and frozen in trays. Remove from trays, and store flat in bags or containers in the freezer until ready to use.
Don’t forgo the fresh herbs next time you’re at the farmer’s market! Store them properly and enjoy them for weeks, months, or even up to a year later! Also, check out our post on how to grow herbs in your own kitchen.
Image source: Wallowa County Farmer’s Market / Creative Commons