Reducing kitchen waste is a real priority in many homes, ours included. By learning how to correctly store fresh herbs you can really extend their life.
Here are some of your options for storing fresh herbs at home. It is not just about throwing them in the fridge and forgetting about them! Between making a herb butter, herbal infusions, ice cubes with oils, preserving in sugar, storing in water in the fridge, herbs that do not like the fridge or even drying your own herbs. No more food waste!
It can be a minefield, but one well worth wading through to have fresh herbs ready for cooking all year round.
1. Making A Herb Butter – Store For Up To 6 Months
This is a nice and straightforward way to have fresh herbs ready to hand at all times. Once you have made your compound butter it will last in the freezer for around 4-6 months with very little flavor fade. You do not need to have a fancy dinner party planned to make the most of these herb butters or compound butters as they are sometimes called. We use them on steamed vegetables, salmon, steak and chicken dishes. You will also love to let a disc melt through some fresh pasta as these ones have the taste of an Italian Summer!
To make your Italian herb butter you will need;
- 1/2 cup salted butter (if you want unsalted you will need to add a pinch of salt to flavor)
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil.
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley.
- 1 tablespoon oregano freshly chopped.
- Freshly ground pepper
- Squeeze of lemon juice
Start by softening the butter, then using a fork incorporate the fresh herbs and ground pepper. Once combined add the squeeze of lemon (or lime if preferred). Roll into a sausage using greaseproof paper to line. Alternatively press into butter molds and leave for 2-3 hours for the flavors to infuse. Then pop into the fridge or freezer.
We have 7 favorite compound butter recipes available for free here.
2. Making a Fresh Herb Infusion
This is a great way to release the essential oils from your herbs as well as flavor. However you will not retain the actual herbs once you have made your infusion. Perfect for storing in the fridge for up to a week, but in the freezer for easily 6 months without degrading the taste and aroma.
You can make a hot infusion by steeping your herbs in just boiled water for around 20 minutes. You could also make a cold herbal infusion by leaving in cold water overnight. There is a third option which we love for more robust herbs and barks like cinnamon, that is decoction. You will simmer your herbs in water for around 45-60 minutes.
For more on herb infusions have a look at our quick reference guide here.
3. Making Ice Cubes With Fresh Herbs
There are three main ways to do this.
First of all freezing flowers in water. Borage, chamomile, chives, mint all flowers and you can snip them off and pop into an ice cube tray with a little bit of water. Transfer to the freezer and you have perfect cocktail ice cubes to hand all Summer long.
The second method is to use a decoction and really reduce it down. Here is our guide to making one, but then simmer with the lid off. It will become almost a syrup and you can then pour into ice cube trays. Again making for lovely Summer cocktails and cordials with herbal ice cubes!
The third way is to use olive oil in the ice cube trays. This is a great way to ensure that your herbs do not get the equivalent of ice burn. They are also ready to use in cooking. Suitable for basil, parsley, cilantro, dill, chives and mint. As well as hardwood herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano and marjoram.
4. How To Store Herbs In Sugar
This is suitable for any herb that you want to add to a sweet dish. For example lavender, basil, mint, lemon balm, kaffir lime leaves, vanilla, cardamom, ginger. The sugar will desiccate the softer leaves and so you may not want to keep the dried leaves once the process has finished. Vanilla and kaffir lime leaves can be left in longer. Use a kilner jar or similar airtight container. Fill with sugar of choice, castor or granulated. Add the clean, dry leaves or stems and cover with sugar. Try to avoid the leaves doubling on top of each other, you want each leaf to be coated with sugar. Cover and leave for a few days. When you return the sugar will be infused the flavor and aroma of the herbs.
This is fantastic for gifting to friends and family. Vanilla sugar goes well in coffee and we love lemon balm sugar on pancakes.
5. Storing Fresh Herbs In The Fridge
This is not as straight forward as you may at first think. Herbs like basil will not thank you for being put into the cold refrigerator and the leaves will blacken and die back very quickly. Here is our guide to using a fridge for storing fresh herbs.
- As soon as the herbs get home from the supermarket, wash them under a cold tap.
- Once rinsed shake the excess water clear and use a salad spinner to dry, before patting with paper towel. Moisture on the leaves will create a slimy mold very quickly.
- Cut the ends of the stems to allow the herbs to take up the water you are about to put them into.
- A fresh glass of water will be required, then cover loosely with a clear plastic bag. This is just to reduce drying out and evaporation in the fridge.
- This method is perfect for using herbs in fresh salads and as a garnish. Other than growing on the windowsill, we think this is the best option for fresh cut herbs from the supermarket.
- Change the water frequently and check to make sure it has not gone down too much.
- Herbs stored in the refrigerator in water will last fine for around 3 weeks if they are softwood but even longer if they are hardwood like thyme, rosemary, oregano etc.
If they start to droop at all, cut the ends of the stems as often they produce a protective ‘heel’ that closes up the route for water intake.
6. Storing Fresh Herbs By Drying
There are five main ways to dry herbs; microwave, oven, air hanging, dehydrator and sun drying. I am a recent convert to using a dehydrator and have put together a guide for most herbs you will want to dry out this way, available for free here, print it out for future reference.
Before drying herbs you will need to rid them of pests and soil. Do this by running under a cold tap and drying out with a paper towel. Some herbs are pretty tricky and for lavender we have a free guide to each form of drying. Some herbs like basil and parsley lose a little of their intensity when dried and are therefor hard to follow the simple ratio of 1 teaspoon dried to one tablespoon fresh. So I have put together a guide to converting recipes from fresh to dried, available here.
7. Growing Fresh Herbs With Hydroponics
A bit of a cheat this one. However it works really well for those of us who want to cook with fresh herbs every week of the year. I have a lot of faith in our little windowsill hydroponic system and it is a work around for other ways to store fresh herbs. For a full explanation of why we chose a passive watering system with LED light I have put a how to guide together here.
8. Preserving Herbs In Salt
Using a very similar method to storing fresh herbs in sugar, but this time choose herbs that you want with a savory dish. Rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, oregano etc. Fill a kilner jar with salt (rock salt for preference) and then add your clean and dry leaves or stalks.
The herbs will dry out and give their flavor to the salt. You can store in jars once you have removed the original herbs for 6 months. Store in a cool dark place with a label on with date and flavor.
9. Using Fresh Herbs To Make Salt Rubs
Just as above but adjust your ratios. Basically you are using a lot more herbs here and mixing with ones you would like for your own salt rub. All Recipes have a great method using oregano and thyme.
10. Storing Herbs In Water
Basil and mint will do very well outside of the fridge but in a glass of fresh water. Simply wash the sprigs of fresh herbs under running water. Dry thoroughly and cut the ends of each stem. Pop into water in a sunny location on your windowsill. Change the water regularly and take the leaves as you need them. You will have fresh herbs in your store cupboard / windowsill for many weeks to come.
Cooking with fresh herbs is so exciting and can turn your everyday meal into something really special. So why not start to grow your own herbs? Or even start with growing those living plants that you get from the supermarket?
However you move forward we hope that you have many new options for keeping your herbs fresh for longer. Certainly there are lots of options for your herbs and it is just about finding the right ones for you!