Dear Ruthy, I love fresh green herbs and I really crave them in almost every dish in the summer. I don’t have all that much time to grocery shop, so I typically buy lots of herbs to last about a week, sometimes a bit longer, and everything always wilt and even rots so quickly in the fridge. Do you have any storage tips?
I’m sure that this is a question that so many people have but yes, there’s a fix! For years I couldn’t get my herbs to last very long, but after experimenting with numerous different techniques from washing and no washing, wrapping and bagging and no wrapping, I landed on what I’m convinced is the best way to store herbs so that they last. And they can last quite a long time, so I’m excited to share my tips with you!
Firstly, let’s talk just a little “Fresh Greens 101” so that we understand why ultimately, washing herbs as soon as you buy them and proper wrapping is so important. Why do we wash? Whether you can see it with your naked eye or not, there’s a fair bit of bacteria and other debris on the surface of your herbs. While washing won’t completely disinfect, it will remove a good amount of junk. If you don’t give herbs a good rinse, all of that debris can cause pretty quick decay. Also, since too much oxygen exposure and the wrong balance of moisture will cause herbs to wilt, dry out, or decay, the right wrapping technique will help control all of these variables. OK, let’s jump into it…
All herbs need to be washed. I find the easiest and most effective way is to fill a very large bowl with cold water, add in your herbs (stick to one variety at a time) and gently agitate, loosening the soil and any other debris. Transfer herbs to a salad spinner and spin until relatively dry. Next, transfer to a clean kitchen towel or layer of paper towel and blot any residual moisture with more paper towel. Remove any leaves or stems that have already started to wilt or brown.
This is where it gets slightly more complicated, as the way herbs tolerate cold and moisture depends on how hardy they are. So, we’re going to split them up into 3 categories:
Tender Herbs: Jar + Fridge
(Photo from Simple Green Smoothies)
This applies to herbs such as dill, chives, mint, parsley and cilantro. These are thirsty herbs that don’t want too much oxygen. Fill a glass jar with a couple inches of water, trim off the very ends of the stems and place in the jar. Cover the leaves with a plastic bag, seal the bag around the sides of the jar using an elastic band and store in the fridge. Herbs should last 2-3 weeks.
(I’ve never tried bending the stems over and sealing the jar with its lid and I’m not sure whether this would be too airtight, but it would definitely take up less space in the fridge. If you try it, let me know how that works out!)
Hardy, Tougher Herbs: Roll + Fridge
(Photo from Tending the Table)
This applies to herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme. Slowly drizzle a little bit of water onto a clean kitchen towel or a couple layers of paper towel (enough sheets so that when folded in half, you’ve got a kitchen towel size piece) until the towel is ever so slightly damp. Spread the herbs on the towel so that they’re not piled on top of each other, and roll the towel from one end to the other like a log. Transfer the roll to a resealable or regular plastic bag, seal and store in the fridge (ideally in the high humidity drawer). Herbs should also last 2-3 weeks.
Basil: Jar, No Fridge
(Photo from The JOYÀ Life)
That’s right, basil gets its own category. Basil’s a thirsty herb but doesn't like to tan, so you’ve got to give it a good supply of water but keep it out of direct sunlight. Fill a glass jar with a couple inches of water, trim off the very ends of the basil stems and place in the jar. I find it best to keep the jar somewhere where it will be exposed to indirect sunlight. I typically go through my basil quite quickly, but stored this way, I’ve had it last almost 3 weeks.
(Main image from With Food and Love)
Ruth Elnekave is a Toronto-based chef, holistic nutritionist, culinary instructor, recovering corporate lawyer and founder of JOYÀ. Her projects are fuelled by one main goal: to spread the pure joy and wellbeing experienced when sharing and savouring delicious, real food.