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Fresh basil in a jar
Credit: Ngoc Minh Ngo

Q. What are ways to prevent fresh herbs from spoiling quickly?
Mary Iannaccone
Boise, Idaho

A. Most fresh herbs are past their prime a few days after you buy them at the grocery store. But if you store them correctly, you can extend their life, says Aliza Green, author of Field Guide to Herbs and Spices (Quirk Books, $16, Follow these guidelines to safeguard yours.

  • Parsley, dill, basil, and cilantro: These delicate, watery herbs are fragile, and they work best when frozen in some form of fat, like oil or butter. Puree the herbs in a food processor with just enough oil and butter to coat them, then freeze in a resealable bag or container for up to six months. Tip: When pureeing, the herbs may turn dark because of the presence of the fat. Throw in a few crushed ice cubes to keep the mixture bright green.
  • Bay leaves, marjoram, mint, oregano, sage, and tarragon: The key here is air circulation. Hang these sturdier, dryer herbs on a wire rack, or place them upright in a glass for about a week. This will preserve the essential oils in these herbs for up to six months.
  • Thyme: Thyme freezes well on the branch because of its sturdiness, so simply store it in a resealable freezer-safe plastic bag or container for up to six months. It won’t be in top condition for chopping, but you can toss it into a pot of soup or a braised meat dish straight from the freezer.
  • Rosemary: Don’t dry rosemary. It will become needlelike and spiky. Instead, pull the leaves off the stem and chop them. (The leaves don’t mash well in a blender because of their shape.) Next, mix the leaves with just enough olive oil to coat the rosemary, then freeze in a resealable plastic bag or container for up to six months.