Healthy Kitchen Hacks: Refreshing Herbs

Fresh herbs hanging isolated on white background
Photo: GETTYIMAGES.COM/EGAL

More than many other kitchen ingredients, herbs seem to become food waste. Fresh herbs in the fridge can turn brown overnight, and dried herbs in the spice drawer become bland in flavor and aroma after just a few months. Use these tips to avoid tossing herbs in the garbage or compost pile.

Tender Herbs

Basil, cilantro, mint, parsley, dill, tarragon

Blow into the bag. Since plants thrive on carbon dioxide, a puff of your breath into a plastic storage bag can keep herbs fresh up to 10 days. Wash and pat herbs dry, then place in a dry plastic bag. Blow into the bag and secure by tying or using a twist-tie; wash the herbs again before using. Be aware that your breath may contain pathogens.

Store properly. Tender herbs don’t like frigid temperatures in the back of the bottom shelf of the refrigerator; store herbs at the front of the top shelf in bags or in jars with the herb stems in a small amount of water (change water daily). Herbs don’t last as long in jars of water, but if you plan to use them within a few days, they will be hydrated and not droopy.

Make pesto. To use up large amounts of herbs at once, make a simple pesto with any mix of herbs (including salad greens), two to four tablespoons oil, a handful of nuts and grated cheese (optional). Puree ingredients in a food processor or blender, adding water if the mixture is too thick.

Blend into smoothies. Use this formula for green smoothies: 2 cups frozen fruit + 1½ cup 100-percent fruit juice + 1 cup packed stems and leaves of any tender herb. Blend and enjoy!

Robust Herbs

Lavender, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, bay leaf

Before preserving robust herbs, wash, dry and remove any yellow or brown leaves.

Put ’em on ice. Place one tablespoon chopped robust herbs in each hole of an ice cube tray. Cover to about two-thirds full with broth, oil, white wine, water or coconut water, then freeze. Once frozen, place ice cubes in zip-top freezer bags. Use one or two frozen cubes in soups, stews, sauces, roasted vegetables or omelets.

Dry with ease. Use kitchen string to tie bunches of herbs and hang them upside down in the kitchen for about a week or until completely dried. To oven-dry, lay sprigs of herbs on a baking sheet and place in the oven set to 180 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour or until herbs are dry. To preserve using the microwave, place four or five dry herb branches between two paper towels and microwave on high for one to two minutes; if herbs are not brittle and dry, microwave in 20-second intervals. Store dried herb leaves in airtight jars away from light.

Grow and snip. Robust herbs generally grow well from a single seed. Purchased herb plants also are fairly easy to keep alive. Place them in a kitchen window or garden and snip as needed; the plants will keep growing and provide fresh leaves.

Dried Herbs

Convert with confidence. This is a classic conversion for using dried herbs instead of fresh in recipes: 1 teaspoon dried herbs = 1 tablespoon fresh herbs.

Crumble between fingers. Whether you dry your own or buy them bottled, crumble dried herbs before using to release fragrant flavor and aroma.

Cook wisely. Dried herbs should be steeped in a cooking liquid for at least 30 minutes to sufficiently soften and release flavor, making them perfect for simmered or slow-cooked soups, stews and sauces.

Use more. Dried ground herbs and spices may start to lose potency after about six months. To avoid food waste and tossing out pricey herbs and spices, just use more! If spices are older than six months, use about ¼ to ½ teaspoon more than the amount called for in a recipe.

Deanna Segrave-Daly and Serena Ball on Facebook
Deanna Segrave-Daly and Serena Ball
Deanna Segrave-Daly, RDN, is a food-loving dietitian based in Philadelphia and co-owner of Teaspoon Communications, LLC. She blogs at TeaspoonofSpice.com. Follower her on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Based in St. Louis, Serena Ball, MS, RD, is a food writer and owner of Teaspoon Communications. She blogs at TeaspoonOfSpice.com and produces bi-weekly Facebook LIVEs. Serena co-created TheRecipeReDux.com. She is happiest in her aqua-blue kitchen baking bread. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.