Whether a verdant sprinkle of cilantro serves as the finishing touch to your weeknight dinner or a heap of parsley and mint leaves are tossed up into your springy salad for lunch, fresh herbs are never a bad thing to have around (and a fun thing to grow too). But to get the best texture and most intense, herby flavor, you have to store them properly. Before I learned the simple techniques for dealing with an abundance of herbs, I can’t tell you how many times I looked forward to whipping up basil pesto, garnishing my brunch-y omelet with a shower of delicate dill, or adding a fragrant touch of thyme to a sheet pan dinner only to arrive home and find a bundle of wilted brown leaves.
Excess light, moisture, oxygen, incorrect temperatures, and debris or bacteria on the herbs themselves can all promote faster yellowing, browning, and molding of fresh herbs but, thankfully, overcoming these factors is simple—you just need to key in on the differences between “tender” and “hardy” herbs, then get to know the foolproof storage methods that will help you keep them fresher, longer.
Tender Herbs vs. Hardy Herbs
While it might seem trivial, as you can probably make a reasonably educated guess as to which herbs are tender and which are hardy, the difference is actually a great indicator of how long a particular type of herb might last and the best way to store them. Tender (or soft) herbs include dill, parsley, cilantro, mint, and basil, whereas hardy (or hard) herbs include rosemary, thyme, sage, and chives. Stored properly, tender and hardy herbs alike can last between 1 and 3 weeks—a feat I didn’t think possible until I learned the tricks of the herb storing trade.
But before storing your herbs, you’ve got to wash them first.
How to Wash and Dry Fresh Herbs
Washing herbs right when you get them home from the supermarket might seem like a chore, but it’s really worth it when it comes to keeping them fresh and making the most use of them. If you just throw them in the fridge as they are from the grocery store, in plastic containers or bags, they will probably start to decay, brown, or turn limp within a few days—a waste of money and food that's entirely, and easily, avoidable.
To wash both tender and hardy herbs, you can gently submerge them in a large bowl of cold water and give them a little swirl—letting the debris fall to the bottom of the bowl. You can also rinse them under cold running water (just keep that water pressure low!) if you don’t feel like dirtying up a bowl to wash your herbs.
If you have a salad spinner, spin those herb babies dry. If not, shake them gently or let them drain in a colander before patting away any excess moisture with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. While it’s important to get them as dry as possible here, don’t feel that you have to overdo it. If you give them a light shake and they don’t release any water droplets—they’re dry enough.
How to Store Fresh Herbs Properly
As a general rule of thumb, you should treat tender herbs sort of like flowers. After washing and drying them, remove and discard any brown or discolored leaves and then cut the ends of all the stems off. Transfer the stalks to a jar or tall glass with some cold water in the bottom. Seal with a lid or other airtight cover, or top with an inverted plastic bag and secure with a rubber band before storing the whole thing in the fridge. Basil is a special tender herb that can be stored as laid out above, or can be propped up in the jar or glass with some water and left uncovered at room temperature.
For hardy herbs, after washing and drying them, arrange them in a single layer on some slightly damp paper towels. Roll the towels up with the herbs inside and transfer to a resealable plastic bag or roll in some plastic wrap before storing in the fridge.