Your freezer is your friend.

By Margaret Eby
March 23, 2020
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Whether you’ve acquired them through a supermarket, a back garden, or a farmer’s market, fresh herbs are great to have around. Herbs add flavor to anything you’re cooking, and you can use them as the backbone of so many sauces. What would pesto be without basil, for instance? Cheesy pine-nut oil, that’s what. Probably delicious, but not the same. Herbs! They’re good. 

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But herbs, particularly the tender green ones, are also quite fragile. I’ve definitely picked up a bunch of cilantro for some purpose or other and opened the fridge a few days later to find it has converted into a pile of green slime. It’s both unappetizing and a waste of money and good food. The good news is that herbs hold up really well in the freezer, and you don’t need to be caught without your go-to herb even if you can’t run to the store to buy some or the windowsill to clip more. This is particularly true for herbs with woodier stems, which require fairly minimal processing to hold up for a long time.  If you store them properly, you can get a lot of use out of even a small clipping. Here’s the best way to store fresh herbs.

Know What Type of Herb You’re Working With

First up, look at your herbs. If the stems are tender and green, they’re going to fall into the “tender herbs” category. Some common varieties in this category include basil, parsley, mint, dill, tarragon, and cilantro. If your herbs have a hardier wooden stem, one you wouldn’t really want to eat, those count as hardy herbs. These are herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage. This matters in figuring out how to store them because the hardy ones are—you guessed it—hardier.

Then, Wash and Dry Them Well

No matter which herbs you have, it’s a good policy to wash and dry them really thoroughly as soon as they come in the door. Surface bacteria and dirt are the enemy of herb longevity! Run them under the tap and knock loose any stray dirt that might be hiding, and then spread them out on a clean dish towel and pat them dry, or use a salad spinner. Get as much water off of them as you can.

If You’re Using Them Soon...

For tender herbs, the best way to store them is to clip off the bottom of their stems, remove any wilted or brown leaves, and put them in a quart container, Mason jar or water glass with about an inch of water at the bottom, like you would flowers. (If it’s a container with a lid you can put a lid on it! Easier to stack!) Keep them in the fridge and change the water every couple of days. Hardier herbs can just chill in the refrigerator. The best way to store them is to wrap them in a damp paper towel, and then wrap that in plastic wrap, like a snug little herb burrito. 

If You’re Storing Them For Longer...

Hardy herbs can be frozen like you would store them in the fridge. Make that herb burrito, then stash it in a resealable freezer bag bag (labeled so you don’t forget what’s in there!) in the freezer. You can even portion out smaller amounts of the herbs in their plastic-wrapped casings and place them all into a freezer bag. Then, when you’re ready for cook with a portion of herbs, there’s no need to unwrap more than you need. Use this method, and you can even reuse the freezer bag. 

For tender herbs, you’re going to want to do a bit more to keep them fresh. I like to blend up tender herbs like basil with a couple tablespoons of canola or olive oil, and then put them in ice cube trays to freeze up. Then I store those herb cubes in a freezer bag until I need one. If you don’t like using oil in your cooking, you could do the same with water. If you don’t have an ice cube tray, you can just put chopped herbs into a freezer bag, add water or oil, squeeze out as much water as you can, and freeze it flat. Voila: Your herbs will now last in the freezer for several months. No more green slime.