5 Simple Steps to Extend the Shelf Life of Your Fresh Herbs
Say goodbye to soggy herbs with these smart storage tricks.
Sick of food waste? So are we. Fresh herbs are one of the biggest preservation pain points—it can feel near impossible to use them up (or even get close to it) before their delicate little leave start to wilt.
Factors such as the amount of moisture, sunlight, temperature, and oxygen can cause fresh herbs to go bad faster than you would like. The key is to find the appropriate balance between these elements, which is dependent upon the type of herb you're storing. Excessive moisture can cause your soft herb leaves to wilt and become slimy, while too little moisture can dry out your woody, hard herbs like rosemary and thyme. Excessive light can cause your herbs to turn yellow, too much oxygen will turn your leaves an unappetizing brown, and deciphering the appropriate temperature for your herbs’ storing environment plays an important factor in determining whether your herb should be kept on the counter or stored in your fridge to prolong shelf life.
We're here to help. Here are 5 easy ways to avoid having to throw away soggy herbs before you’re actually able to use them. Next time you’re putting away your fresh herbs, consider these simple storage methods to ensure you get the most out of your delicate greens.
Not all fresh herbs are created equal, and determining the type of herb you’re working with is an essential first step in figuring out the best way to store your plant. Herbs will primarily fall into two distinct categories, soft and hard herbs. Soft herbs are generally categorized by their flexible, tender green stems with leafy, soft leaves such as parsley, cilantro, basil and mint. Hard herbs have woody stems with firmer leaves such as sage, rosemary, thyme and oregano. The two kinds will require different storing methods to best ensure the levels of light, temperature, oxygen, and moisture are balanced to avoid spoilage.
Some people believe you shouldn't wash herbs before storing due to the additional moisture. However, washing your herbs will remove dirt and bacteria that will promote even more rapid decay. Thus, you’ll simply want to wash your herbs under cold, running water and remove all moisture in a salad spinner to ensure your greens are as dry as possible before storing.
Implement the “wet jar method” by gathering your herbs in a bunch and trimming the ends, as you would a bouquet of flowers. Then, place the greens in a jar (mason jars work great) with a small amount of cool water, enough to cover the ends, but not touching the leaves. Seal your jar with a lid or a plastic bag, store it in the fridge and replace the water every couple days or as it becomes discolored. This method will ensure your leaves remain hydrated and won’t dry out in the cold refrigerator climate, as well as limit the amount of oxygen coming into contact with the leaves to avoid browning. By contrast, keep your basil from spoiling quickly by applying the “wet jar method,” yet storing on the kitchen counter where the plant is able to get some sunlight, instead of in the fridge.
Loosely wrap your hard, woody herbs in a slightly damp paper towel to keep your herbs moist enough so they don’t dry out. Place in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator or resealable bag to restrict oxygen from entering and avoid wilting. If you have a larger amount of herbs, you may want to bundle smaller batches individually to better control moisture levels. Make sure to re-moisten the paper towels as they become dry over time. If you’re looking for a more eco-friendly and sustainable alternative, you may want to invest in an organic cotton, reusable herb/produce bag that helps keep your herbs drier and fresher without creating additional waste.
Proper care of your fresh herbs will extend shelf life upwards of two to three weeks. However, if you find that you won’t need as much supply as you had previously anticipated, don’t let your unused herbs go to waste—dry or freeze them instead. Bundle your herbs with a rubber band, place in a paper lunch bag with holes for aeration and hang upside down in a warm, dry room until they are crisp to the touch and crumble easily. Alternatively, you can freeze your clean, fresh roughly chopped herbs in ice cube trays, filled with olive oil or water. These individually portioned herb cubes will be good to go just over eight hours and can be preserved for months for anytime use.