This is not an article on which dishes are best for fresh herbs (we believe fresh herbs belong in every dish). Instead, it’s about getting the most out of fresh herbs; the key word here is: fresh.
Apart from learning how to keep herbs fresh, longer, we will also look at how to keep fresh herbs long-term but still have them retain a lot of their ‘fresh’ qualities.
#1 Rinse the herbs immediately
There is contrary advice circulating on the Internet about whether or not to wash your herbs immediately after picking or purchasing. Most seem to advise against it because of the excess water that remains on the herbs leading to spoilage soon after. However, the simple solution to this is to use a salad spinner to get the moisture out or to simply allow your herbs to dry for a few hours while laid out in a single layer on a rack. We do not recommend attempting to paper-towel dry the herbs as residual water will still remain and cause spoilage.
Besides the easy fix to wet herbs, there is a solid reason as to why you should wash them—to rid the herbs of any bacteria, debris or dirt. Apart from those being gross to eat, they also lead to early-decaying of your herbs.
#2 Wrap in damp paper towel
This method works for tough herbs like chandon beni, thyme and rosemary. Simply, sprinkle a sheet of paper towel with a few drops of water, ensuring that the towel becomes damp. Then, use it to wrap the herbs. Place in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. This doesn’t only keep the herbs fresh but, it also prevents it from drying out in the refrigerator (have you ever seen wilted herbs in your fridge drawer?) and maintains its bright, fresh flavour and texture.
#3 Trim the stems
This works best for softer, more tender herbs like parsley, cilantro and chives. Trim the stems of the herbs and place in a mason jar with about 1 to 2 inches of water. Then, place a plastic bag over the herbs, press the air out and seal at the bottom. For a regular shopping plastic bag, tie, knot or secure with a rubber band; for a zipped freezer bag, partially seal it at the bottom. Leave the jar in your fridge—away from excessive sunlight, oxygen and moisture (see #4 for more on this). Tear your herb leaves off or remove the stalks as needed. Herbs should stay fresh for up to three weeks.
#4 Avoid excess light, oxygen and moisture
Each tip either avoids excess light, oxygen and moisture. This is because too much of either element can hamper the freshness of the herb. Too much light will dry out the herb—have you ever seen your herb with yellow edges? That’s the result of excess bright light. While moisture is needed, too much can make herbs soggy and limp. Excess oxygen (like from leaving your herbs in a mason jar in the fridge without coverage from a bag) will turn herbs brown and we can all agree that that is not appetising.
Freezing herbs is a great way to maintain their colour and some of its freshness. Unlike the drying method, the flavour of the herb is not completely changed and thus, some of your initial intentions for it can still be retained. The best way is to chop your herbs and place them in an ice cube tray or zipped freezer bag. Fill with a neutral oil like vegetable, soybean or grapeseed and then freeze. The herbs retain most of their flavour and brightness even though the texture is compromised. You can easily add a block of frozen herb-oil cubes to soups, curries, stews and vinaigrettes (once properly thawed out).