Tips for using and preserving fresh herbs

Fresh herbs are useful and attractive plants and a great way to add flavor to dishes. You can use them fresh or preserve them for later use.

A small amounts of fresh herbs may be all it takes to turn an ordinary meals into an extraordinary one. The ideal amount of herbs to add varies with the type of herb, type of recipe and personal preference. Fresh herbs smell stronger than dried ones but do not taste as strong. Overall use three times more fresh herbs than dried. The general rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon (3 teaspoons) of finely cut fresh herbs is equal to 1 teaspoon of dried leafy herbs.

According to Michigan State University Extension you can store fresh herbs in your refrigerator for about one week in a container that has an inch of water in it. Cover the container with a clear plastic bag or wrap but don’t seal it up tight. Fresh herbs can also be dried or frozen.

To prepare your herbs before drying or freezing:

  1. Pick herbs in the morning before the sun is hot.
  2. Throw out very dirty or imperfect leaves and stems.
  3. With the leaves on the stems, lightly rinse herbs under cool running water.
  4. Gently shake to remove excess water and let them dry on paper towels.

To dry fresh herbs in a microwave:

  1. Dry only small quantities at a time.
  2. Remove all excess water or the herbs will cook and not dry.
  3. Place about 4 herb branches between two paper towels. 
  4. Microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes or maybe a bit more. This is dependent on the wattage of your microwave and the amount and kind of herb you are drying.
  5. The leaves are ready to store when the leaves are brittle and crumble.
  6. Store whole or crumbled herbs in air tight containers and place the containers in a cool, dry, dark place.

To air dry fresh herbs simply tie them into bundles and hang the bundles upside-down or put them in paper bags or dry them in a food dehydrator.         

To freeze fresh herbs simply rinse, drain and pat herbs dry with paper towels then wrap a few springs or leaves in freezer wrap and place in a freezer bag. Frozen herbs can be chopped and used in cooked dishes. They are not suitable for garnish because frozen herbs become limp when thawed. Use your dried or frozen herbs within a year for optimum quality.

Visit MSU Extension’s Michigan Fresh site to find a wide variety of information to help you explore locally grown fruits, vegetables, flowers and ornamentals.

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