Save The Food: How To Save Your Herbs

[ This article is part of our Save The Food series on how to make the most of your food ]

Can you still use your herbs?

  • When fresh herbs turns brown and / or slimy, it's time to toss them. It's easy to spot signs of rot or mold on herbs and when they display these signs it's best to let them go.
  • If fresh herbs lose their vibrant color, begin to turn lighter green to yellowish, or display other signs of wilting, but do not display any of the signs outlined above, they are usually still fine. You may not want to garnish dishes with them anymore, but there are still plenty of excellent ways to make use of them in other forms.

How to save herbs

Freezing: There are two primary method of freezing herbs - whole or in herb cubes.

  • Herb cubes: These can either be water, oil, or butter based. Make herb cubes by adding 2 tbsp of chopped herbs into an ice cube tray and covering them with water, oil, or melted butter. You can then use them later for cooking. Oil and butter cubes can also be thawed and drizzled over various items as herb oil / herb butter.
  • Whole herbs: Heartier herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme, and lemongrass freeze better than light leafy herbs such as basil, cilantro, or oregano, which can become discolored and mushy upon thawing. Simply place the herbs in a freezer bag and freeze for later use.

Sauces & Such: Herbs are great to make sauces from and you can customize them to your liking.

  • Compound Butter: Mix finely chopped herbs into soft, room temperature butter to make a delicious herb butter. You can really use any ratio of herbs to butter depending on how herby you want the butter to be. Add a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of acid to further improve the end product. You can store this in the fridge for as long as you would regular butter, or freeze it indefinitely.
  • Herb Sauces: Mix together a healthy portion of herbs, some oil, an acid (lemon, lime, vinegar, etc.), and salt to make a simply herb sauce. The general ratio is around 1 cup of chopped herbs to 2 tablespoons of oil, 1 teaspoon acid, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Adjust the ratios to your liking by tasting the sauce as you processes it in a food processor or blender. Adding a half of a clove to a clove of garlic using this ratio will kick it up a notch. You can also turn this into a more pesto-like sauce by adding nuts, or add other greens such as spinach to bring up the volume. The herb sauce can also be frozen for later use.
  • Simple syrup: Add a handful of herbs to a mix of equal parts water and sugar. Bring this to a boil, stir it, and then remove it from the heat. Once it's fully cooled strain out and remove all the herbs. You can add the simple syrup to anything of your liking - teas, cocktails, or other dishes. Mint and rosemary work especially well with this method.
  • Salad dressings: Add finely chopped herbs into a salad dressing to bring it to the next level.

Drying: Drying fresh herbs at home is entirely possible and quite simple. Group them into small bunches, tie them gently with twine or rubber bands, and hang them upside down in a cool room with good air circulation. Check regularly and within a few days they should be dry. You can then store them in air tight containers either whole, crumbled, or fully ground just as you would other ground herbs.

How to prevent herbs from going bad

  • Most fresh herbs are best stored by keeping their bottoms in water and being placed in the fridge. Find the most suitable container you have to store the herbs upright with their bottom immersed in water, similar to how you would keep flowers. Change the water every few days.
  • Basil prefers slightly warmer temperates and is finicky about humidity, so keeping it on the counter will yield better results. One of the more effective methods is to wrap it in a damp paper towel and place it in a cool area, somewhere between 50 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

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