How to Cook with Fresh Herbs

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Fresh herbs are a great way to finish a dish and add a burst of fresh flavor to every bite. Learn how to cook with fresh herbs using this helpful guide to answer all of your fresh herb questions.

The Complete Guide to Cooking With Fresh Herbs

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Have you ever bought fresh herbs from the grocery store used a sprig or two and left the rest of the package languishing in the back of the refrigerator? Don’t let these powerful flavors go to waste.

Are you intimidated by fresh herbs? Maybe you don’t know how to best store and handle them. Are you wondering what herbs go with what food and when should they be added to a dish? Keep reading for answers to all of these questions.

Buying fresh herbs

At your local grocery store, there are several different ways fresh herbs are sold: loose in small plastic boxes, fastened in bunches with rubber bands, mixed with olive oil in a plastic tube, or sometimes still growing in a pot.

Look for herbs with vibrant color and fresh aroma. Go ahead and open up those plastic boxes for a sniff. I won’t tell anyone. Avoid herbs that are limp, yellowing, have black spots, or don’t look and smell completely fresh. For some of the freshest herbs consider stopping by your local farmers market.

How to store

  • Towel Method: Hardier herbs such as chives, dill, lemongrass, marjoram, oregano, sage, rosemary, and thyme should be wrapped in a damp paper towel, placed in a zip-top bag, and stored in the refrigerator. Herbs will last up to two weeks using this storage method.
  • Planting Method: Tender herbs such as cilantro, parsley, mint, and tarragon should be stored using the “planting” method. Remove any rubber bands, trim the base of the stems with scissors or a knife, and remove any wilted leaves. Fill a glass jar with an inch of cold water. Place the herbs stem down into the water and cover the tops with a plastic bag. Secure the bag with a rubber band and place in the refrigerator. Herbs will last up to three weeks using this storage method.

Basil is a rule breaker. Use the planting method to store basil, but leave it uncovered and at room temperature.

Pouring olive oil into ice cube tray with rosemary on table, closeup

Washing Fresh Herbs

Wash herbs just before you are ready to use them. Put them in a bowl of water and swish them around to loosen any dirt. Pat them dry them using a clean cloth or spin them in a salad spinner.

This is my favorite salad spinner! I have been using it several times a week for years and it still looks brand new. It even comes apart in several pieces to make cleaning easier.

Freezing Fresh Herbs

If you will not be able to use all of your herbs before they start to wilt, you can freeze them for later use.

  1. Wash, dry, and chop the herbs.
  2. Place the chopped herbs into an ice cube tray.
  3. Add a small amount of olive oil to each cube. Some of the herbs will float to the top. That is ok we will take care of them tomorrow.
  4. Place the ice cube tray in your freezer and let it sit overnight. Once the herbs are frozen, remove them from the freezer and top off with more olive oil until the herbs are completely covered and return them to the freezer.
  5. Once they are frozen, remove the cubes and place them in a plastic zip-top bag labeled with the date and contents.

For even more information about freezing herbs check out this post: Three Methods for Freezing Fresh Herbs

Fresh Herbs drying on white towel

Tip: Use a sharp knife or these herb scissors to chop fresh herbs. A dull knife will crush instead of cut the herbs which will cause bruising.

When should you add fresh herbs to cooking?

Hardier woodier herbs should be added at the beginning of cooking. Herbs like marjoram, thyme, and rosemary do best when they are allowed to mellow during the cooking process. Lightly crush the sprig before adding it to release the flavor oils of an herb in a slow-cooking sauce, soup, or stew. Leaving the leaves on the stem makes it easy to remove the whole herb later.

For lighter more tender herbs chop them and add them near the end of cooking or sprinkled on top of a finished dish.

Don’t waste the stems save them to add to your next batch of chicken stock.

A variety of herbs and spice on spoons

Is it better to use fresh or dried herbs?

I wouldn’t say one is better than the other. But they excel at different tasks.

Dried herbs should be added early during the cooking process. They need time to infuse the dish with their flavor. Dried herbs are also great for rubs.

Fresh herbs have a more subtle flavor and are best used in dishes that have a shorter cooking time. If a dish takes longer to prepare, make sure you add the fresh herbs towards the end of cooking so that they maintain their flavor.

How do you convert dry herbs to fresh?

If you are replacing dried herbs with fresh herbs in a recipe, use 3-4 times more fresh herbs than the recipe calls for and add at the end of the cooking process.

One of my favorite ways to use up any herb is to make some fresh herb pesto.

Fresh Herb Pesto on a spoon

Fresh Herb Pesto

Yield: 1 Cup
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes

My number one way to use up any fresh herb is to turn it into pesto. Traditionally pesto is made with basil. But it can be made with pretty much any herb or even leafy green vegetables. Spinach is one of my favorites.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of your favorite nut
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon of pepper
  • 2 cups of fresh herbs or leafy green vegetables

Instructions

  1. Add the oil, parmesan cheese, garlic, nuts, salt, and pepper to a food processor, puréeing until a paste is formed.
  2. Next add the herbs or greens, processing them for as short a time as possible to maintain their color.

Notes

Pesto can be stored in the refrigerator for up to seven days or in the freezer for up to six months.

How to cook with fresh herbs

Basil

Basil

A close relative to mint, basil has a sweet peppery licorice flavor. There are two main types of basil: Sweet, or Genoese, basil and Asian basils. Sweet basil pairs well with tomatoes and almost every type of meat or seafood. Asian basil has a stonger licorice flavor and is often used in soups, stews, stir-fries, and curry pastes. Try adding it to curries, pestos, soups, stews, stir-fries, and tomato sauces. Add basil at the end of cooking for maximum flavor and to prevent browning.

How to Store Basil

Basil is a rule breaker. Use the planting method mentioned above to store basil, but leave it uncovered and at room temperature. To dry basil, use a dehydrator or spread the leaves out on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven’s lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Basil Pairs Well With

  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Fish
  • Tofu
  • Eggplant
  • Bell Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Mozzarella

Basil Recipes

Homemade LasagnaTastes of Lizzy T
Crispy Bacon Pasta Salad with Fresh HerbsHow Sweet Eats
Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce with Fresh HerbsIt’s a Veg World After All

Chives

Chives

Chives have a mild onion flavor. Try adding them to dips, garnishes, omelets, potato salads, rice, risottos, sauces, and soups. They also make a delicious addition to these sourdough crackers. Chives are best when they are used raw or added at the very end of cooking so as to not lose their delicate flavor and vibrant hue. Purple chive blossoms are more pungent than the stems and can be a beautiful addition to a salad.

How to Store Chives

Store chives using the paper towel method mentioned above. Chives will keep in the refrigerator for 10 days. To dry chives, use a dehydrator or spread the leaves out on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven’s lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Chives Pair Well With

  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Asparagus
  • Cucumbers
  • Onions
  • Potatoes

Chives Recipes

Buttermilk Ranch DressingFood Folks and Fun
Mini Cream Cheese and Chive BiscuitsHow Sweet Eats
Garlic and Chive Mashed PotatoesNatasha’s Kitchen

Cilantro

Cilantro

Cilantro has a bright citrusy flavor. Try adding it to chutneys, curries, guacamole, salads, salsas, and soups. Cilantro is best when added after a dish has been cooked. Some people do not like the flavor of cilantro (myself included I often use parsley instead) and think it tastes soapy.

How to Store Cilantro

Use the planting method mentioned above to store cilantro. Cilantro will keep in the refrigerator for 10 days. To dry cilantro, use a dehydrator or spread the leaves out on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven’s lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Cilantro Pairs Well With

  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Lamb
  • Tofu
  • Avocado
  • Bell Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Lentils

Cilantro Recipes

Mango SalsaTastes of Lizzy T
Thai Quinoa Salad with Fresh Herbs and Lime VinaigretteOnce Upon a Chef
Cilantro Lime RiceSpend with Pennies

Dill

Dill

Dill has a tangy grassy flavor. Try adding it to omelets, potato salad, salad dressings, sauces, and yogurt dishes. Dill is also popular in pickling recipes. Remember a little bit of dill will go a long way.

How to Store Dill

Store dill using the paper towel method mentioned above. Dill will keep in the refrigerator for 10 days. To dry dill, use a dehydrator or spread the leaves out on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven’s lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Dill Pairs Well With

  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Green Beans
  • Lemon
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Yogurt

Dill Recipes

Dill Pickle DipDinner at the Zoo
Cheddar and Dill Pickle Pasta SaladYellow Bliss Road
Dill and Maple Roasted CarrotsIt’s a Veg World After All

Lemongrass

Lemongrass

Lemongrass has a zesty citrusy flavor. Try adding it to Asian soups, curries, marinades, rice, and tea. When purchasing lemongrass, look for firm, pale-green stalks with bulbous bottoms and fresh-looking tops. Most of the lemongrass’s flavor is found in the bottom four inches. Its flavor becomes more intense as it is cooked.

How to Store Lemongrass

Store lemongrass using the paper towel method mentioned above. Lemongrass will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Lemongrass Pairs Well With

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Pork
  • Tomatoes
  • Bell Peppers

Lemongrass Recipes

Kiwiberry Green Fruit Salad with Lemongrass SyrupFuss Free Flavours
Lemongrass Chicken with Cashews and EdamameFoolproof Living
Crispy Pan Fried Lemongrass ChickenI am a Food Blog

fresh raw green herb marjoram on a wooden rustic table

Marjoram

Marjoram has a sweet grassy flavor. Try adding it to brown butter sauce, risottos, salad dressings, soups, and stuffing. Fresh marjoram is less flavorful than the dried version. For the most flavor add marjoram at the end of cooking.

How to Store Marjoram

Store marjoram using the paper towel method mentioned above. Marjoram will keep in the refrigerator for 10 days. To dry marjoram, use a dehydrator or spread the leaves out on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven’s lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Marjoram Pairs Well With

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Carrots
  • Mushrooms
  • Peas
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini

Marjoram Recipes

Crock-pot Lasagna SoupCrock-pot Ladies
Quick Italian Bean SoupConfessions of an Overworked Mom
Roasted Lemon Garlic Herb ChickenCooking Classy

Mint

Mint

Mint has a sweet cool flavor. Try adding it to cocktails, cream sauces, curries, fruit salads, lemonade, marinades, and soups. Mint adds a nice cooling flavor to spicy dishes. Spearmint has a sweeter flavor while peppermint has a much stronger flavor.

How to Store Mint

Use the planting method mentioned above to store mint. Mint will keep in the refrigerator for 10 days. To dry mint, use a dehydrator or spread the leaves out on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven’s lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Mint Pairs Well With

  • Lamb
  • Carrots
  • Eggplant
  • Fruit
  • Mushrooms
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Watermelon
  • Beans
  • Lentils

Mint Recipes

Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip CookiesRaspberries and Kohlrabi
Grain-Free Pomegranate Hemp Seed TabboulehFrom Pasta to Paleo
Spring Shrimp Zucchini Noodles with Mint PestoLively Table
Cool Smashed Cucumber and Minted PeasFuss Free Flavours

Oregano

Oregano

Oregano has a peppery bitter flavor. Try adding it to pizzas, tomato sauces, and salad dressings. Oregano also makes a delicious addition to these sourdough flatbreads. Fresh oregano has a stronger flavor than its dried counterpart. Because of its strong flavor oregano can be added at the beginning of cooking.

How to Store Oregano

Store oregano using the paper towel method mentioned above. Oregano will keep in the refrigerator for 10 days. To dry oregano, use a dehydrator or spread the leaves out on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven’s lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Oregano Pairs Well With

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Fish
  • Artichokes
  • Bell Peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Mushrooms
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini

Oregano Recipes

Crock-pot Creamy Italian Sausage Soup with PastaCrock-pot Ladies
Tomato Salad with Cucumber Dressing The Honeycomb Home
Crockpot Baked BeansMy Recipe Confessions
Homemade Vegetable Loaded Spaghetti SauceRaspberries & Kohlrabi

Parsley

Parsley

Parsley has a fresh grassy flavor. Parsely is one of the most common and versatile herbs. It seems like every savory recipe I read calls for a bit of parsley. Try adding it to garnishes, salsas, and sauces. Parsely has a subtle flavor and you can use both the leaves and the stems. Flat-leaf or Italian parsley has the best texture and flavor for cooking. Curly parsley is best used only as a garnish. Raw parsley also acts as a natural breath freshener.

How to Store Parsley

Use the planting method mentioned above to store parsley. Parsley will keep in the refrigerator for 10 days. To dry parsley, use a dehydrator or spread the leaves out on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven’s lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Parsley Pairs Well With

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Lamb
  • Tofu
  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Cucumbers
  • Lemon
  • Mushrooms
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Pasta

Parsley Recipes

Greek Chicken KebabsRaspberries and Kohlrabi
Homemade MeatballsRaspberries and Kohlrabi
Mediterranean Potato SaladAmanda’s Cookin’
Cheeseburger Bites Crescent Roll AppetizersThe Honeycomb Home

Rosemary

Rosemary

Rosemary has a piney pungent flavor. Try adding it to focaccia bread, pizzas, roasted vegetables, sauces, soups, stews, and tomato sauces. If you are not using whole springs, chop rosemary finely. Its needle-like leaves can remain tough even after being cooked for a long time. Rosemary’s flavor can be quite strong so use it sparingly.

How to Store Rosemary

Store rosemary using the paper towel method mentioned above. Rosemary will keep in the refrigerator for 10 days. To dry rosemary, use a dehydrator or spread the leaves out on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven’s lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Rosemary Pairs Well With

  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Rabbit
  • Mushrooms
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes

Rosemary Recipes

Garlic Herb-Crusted Roast BeefTastes of Lizzy T
Lemon Garlic Herb Grilled SalmonCooking Classy
Crispy Baked Goat Cheese over Roasted Rosemary Squash and Garlicky FettuccineThe Foodie and the Fix

Sage

Sage

Sage has a bitter musty flavor. Try adding it to brown butter sauce, risottos, roasted vegetables, salad dressing, soups, and stuffing. Sage has a strong flavor so use it sparingly to avoid overpowering your dish. When buying sage look for leaves that are brightly colored and not wilted.

How to Store Sage

Store sage using the paper towel method mentioned above. Sage will keep in the refrigerator for 10 days. To dry sage, use a dehydrator or spread the leaves out on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven’s lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Sage Paris Well With

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Turkey
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Eggplant
  • Peas
  • Winter Squash

Sage Recipes

Crock-pot Pumpkin RisottoCrock-pot Ladies
Sage Butter BiscuitsHow Sweet Eats
Creamy Pumpkin Pasta with Sausage and SageFood Folks and Fun

Tarragon

Tarragon

Tarragon has a sweet licorice flavor. Try adding it to garnishes, gazpachos, omelets, and salad dressings. To make the most of its unique flavor, add tarragon near the end of cooking.

How to Store Tarragon

Use the planting method mentioned above to store tarragon. Tarragon will keep in the refrigerator for 10 days. It is not recommended to dry tarragon as it looses much of its flavor.

Tarragon Pairs Well With

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Fish
  • Artichokes
  • Carrots
  • Leeks
  • Mushrooms
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach

Tarragon Recipes

Eggplant and Goat Cheese Sandwiches with Tomato Tarragon SauceDomestic Superhero
Sheet Pan Salmon DinnerAmanda’s Cookin’
Asiago Parmesan Cheese Spread My Pinterventures

Thyme

Thyme

Thyme has a floral minty flavor. Try adding it to dips, rice, roasted vegetables, stews, and tomato sauces. Thyme should be added early in the cooking process to give it time to release its flavor.

How to Store Thyme

Store thyme using the paper towel method mentioned above. Thyme will keep in the refrigerator for 10 days. To dry thyme, use a dehydrator or spread the leaves out on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven’s lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Thyme Pairs Well With

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Duck
  • Lamb
  • Turkey
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Bread,
  • Carrots
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Winter Squash

Thyme Recipes

Ham and Leek Pot PieRaspberries and Kohlrabi
Leek and Potato SoupRaspberries and Kohlrabi
Roasted Carrots with ThymeOnce Upon a Chef
Smoky Chorizo, Kale & Squash SoupFrom Pasta to Paleo
Crock-Pot Acorn Squash SoupCrock-Pot Ladies

Want even more fresh herb recipes? Check out my post on beverages made with fresh herbs.

More kitchen tips from Raspberries and Kohlrabi

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The Complete Guide to Cooking With Fresh Herbs
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