Put fresh herbs in oil to pep up your next meal.

Often times, a recipe calls for just one or two teaspoons of fresh herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, or perhaps even epazote (an herb native to Central and South America that makes a pot of black beans a zesty pot of black beans). But once you mince up a few sprigs for your recipe, you’re left with a significant amount of fresh herbs that need to be used… soon. 

If the herb in question is chives, parsley or cilantro – meaning, herbs with a lot of water in them – your best bet is to treat them like a bouquet of flowers: trim the stems, fill a jar with water and place on the counter (if you’ll use them within a day or two) or in the refrigerator (if you want them to last a little longer). Another way to preserve your leftover fresh herbs is in oil. My favorite is rosemary, since a sprig or two placed in a tall, slender jar of olive oil makes a beautiful display of the starring ingredient. If you can wait two weeks (four is even better), you’ll have a delicious herbed olive oil that can be mixed into salad dressings or drizzled atop roasted vegetables. It also makes a great homemade gift.

If you’re working with something stalkier, such as thyme, rosemary or oregano, your best bet for preservation is drying. Spread the herbs on a dinner plate and place them on the stove for a day or two, with the oven and burners off. The radiant heat from the pilot light will dry the herbs at a nice, slow pace without singeing the delicate stalks to a crisp. Try to flip them once or twice a day so that they dry evenly. (This method also works with the pilot light inside your oven – just be sure not to forget the herbs in there!) Once dried, strip the leaves off the stalks and store them in a small, airtight container in the cupboard, away from direct sunlight. You’ll notice that the herbs you dry yourself are much greener – and more flavorful – than the ones you buy at the store.

Homemade herb butter

A serving of homemade herb butter ready for bread. (Image courtesy Misha M. Johnson)

Since I run a small herb farm with my partner, we always have a lot of dried herbs on hand, and are constantly inventing new uses for them. One of our favorites is herbed butter – two ingredients that are a match made in heaven! Leave a stick of butter out on the counter for half a day, allowing it to soften, then place in a medium-sized bowl. Mix in your stove-dried herbs evenly with a spatula. To preserve some of the butter in the freezer, take a small saucer and cover it with a square of parchment paper. Scoop one to two tablespoons of the butter atop the paper and mold into a circle (the saucer acts as your shaping mechanism), then cover with another piece of parchment. Store these discs of deliciousness in a ziplock in the freezer. That way, you can thaw small amounts at the drop of a hat, impressing anyone who happens to stop by.

Recently, I also added our dried herbs to cream cheese, in the same way I use for making the herbed butter. The spread was so good I never even had time to freeze it! I also commonly mix herbs into a basic olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette, which brightens up a boring salad in an instant. Dried herbs also add extra kick to home-baked bread, especially when combined with minced garlic. Or to improve a plain log of fresh chèvre, crumble your dried herbs onto a dinner plate and roll the log until it’s dressed in herbs. Delicious!

Taylor Mardis Katz is a poet and a farmer living with her partner in the hills of central Vermont. Together, they run Free Verse Farm, a small herb farm specializing in culinary herbs, tisanes, medicinals and herbal remedies. Follow Taylor online at panacheperhaps.com.

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  1. ted
    Posted November 11, 2014 at 11:32 AM | Permalink

    Finely an answer to all those left over herbs…thank you & I will put this to good use!!!

  2. Stephanie
    Posted November 11, 2014 at 8:51 PM | Permalink

    Wait….I'm Italian….what about Basil, lol

  3. Roberta
    Posted December 10, 2014 at 9:18 AM | Permalink

    Who still has a stove with a pilot light?

  4. Sue
    Posted December 10, 2014 at 11:14 AM | Permalink

    Yea, what about Basil, the herb that goes bad in one day?

  5. Deb
    Posted December 10, 2014 at 5:28 PM | Permalink

    I chop it up and put in ice cube (silicone) trays and freeze. Either defrost, drain, or just throw the cubes in your recipe. Keeps color better than any other way I've tried.
    I pop frozen cubes and combine in freezer bag to store.

  6. Eileen Q
    Posted December 11, 2014 at 9:15 PM | Permalink

    I put cilantro, onion, garlic and olive oil in the mixer I use to make smoothies. I squeeze lime or lemon juice in and blend. This retains the green color. I put contents in ice cube tray, cover with plastic wrap and freeze. after freezing, I transfer to freezer bags. when I need herbs pop one or two in whatever I am cooking. celery can also be added to this group of herbs. The lemon juice is optional, herbs may look dark green or almost black after freezing but will resume their fresh green color when added to your pot.

  7. Eileen Q
    Posted December 11, 2014 at 9:34 PM | Permalink

    Powdered onions….. cut onion apart and separate layers into individual pieces. Put in freezer bag and freeze. After freezing, put frozen pieces in blender and blend. Onion will become powdered. Return to freezer and use as needed. Especially good to put in foods for kids who don't like to find onion pieces in their food or gravy .Label when you put in freezer so you will know what it is the next time you need it.

  8. alexredgrave
    Posted December 15, 2014 at 1:12 PM | Permalink

    Thanks for the tip, Eileen! I've tried this myself and it works great.

  9. alexredgrave
    Posted December 15, 2014 at 1:27 PM | Permalink

    Hi Roberta,

    That option is just in the case that you do have a pilot light (and yes, many stoves still have one!) You can also dry the herbs inside without the need for a heat source. Here's another great resource for drying your herbs: http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/drying-h
    Good luck!

  10. Posted March 14, 2015 at 9:15 AM | Permalink

    Awesome post.

  11. Candace
    Posted June 19, 2016 at 4:41 PM | Permalink

    Wash and spin dry basil in a salad spinner to remove excess water. Pat dry if still moist and chop fine in a food processor, with a touch of olive oil to aid motion. At this point, toss in an uncoated vitamin c pill to help keep the basil green. Put little plops into ice cube trays and place in the freezer. After 30 minutes or so, pop them out of the trays and place into small freezer bags. They will stay separate for easy use in upcoming sauces, soups or pestos.

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