Every year I tell myself I’m going to grow my own herbs. I plan to set up a porch planter that will sit on my porch rail and yield copious amounts of basil, chives, cilantro, mint, parsley and rosemary. It will be glorious. And then I forget about this goal.
So I buy them.
Finding, buying and storing fresh herbs without using any plastic is a challenge. A challenge, but not impossible. But sometimes we need a little freshness to add to our dishes… in any season… so I’m here to show you how to do it by creating as little trash as possible. Below you will find the second best option(s) to growing your own.
One day I’ll shut up about growing my own stuff and just do it. But until that day, this is how I deal with fresh herbs as a zero-waster:
How to find herbs without plastic
Now I’ll admit, it’s very hard to find herbs sans plastic at the grocery store. So I don’t buy a ton there. The herbs I do go for are: Italian parsley, mint, cilantro and dill (when it’s available). Those usually come in bunches with a small twist-tie, which is less wasteful than the plastic clamshell.
I bet you know what I’m going to suggest at this point but here it is: Go to your farmers market!
At the market, you might find mixed bunches of herbs (which is great if you’re looking to roast a chicken) and plenty of others outside of plastic. I’ve found fresh oregano, thyme, basil, dill, parsley, cilantro, and more at my market at various times in the year.
They come in seasonally, so don’t expect to find every type of herb on your shopping list.
But that’s the beauty of shopping seasonally. It forces us use what’s available and use our creative minds to come up with something delicious.
Right now, they’re harvesting large amounts of basil and selling it by the pound (kind of like fresh spinach or mixed greens). This is great because I can put it into my own container/bag and away I go. I love fresh basil almost more than I love strawberries. It’s like the precursor to my favorite season of all; tomato season.
I’m getting a bit off track here. 😛 Now that you’ve managed to snag some beautiful, plastic-free herbs, here’s what you need to know about storing them when you get home.
How to store fresh herbs without plastic
The first step to storing fresh herbs is to forget everything you know about storing them. Herbs are not meant to sit in the coldest corner of your crisper in their little plastic clamshell caskets, withering away from lack of oxygen and moisture.
You need to think of them more like flowers. Like a beautiful bouquet of wildflowers you picked on your walk along a river in the country. Ahem, or, more realistically, like that bouquet you picked up from the nearest grocery store or neighborhood florist.
When you bring them home, snip off the ends of their stems* under cold running water. Then place them in a glass jar or a regular drinking glass with a bit of water. Simple.
*Do not cut the stems if your herbs have roots, like green onions. Keep the roots intact and they will continue to grow their greens as they sit (more on that in a bit).
Let them sit on your counter at room temperature and replace the water every now and then (every couple of days) as you remember.
They will keep for at least a week looking great that way. But, I tend to use them daily, here and there, so by the end of the week they’re usually gone.
I prefer to keep mine on the windowsill in my kitchen. I’m not sure if the extra sun exposure helps keep them fresher longer or not. But it does help if you’re trying to regrow them from their roots, like green onions.
Also, if you have them in plain view all the time, you’re more likely to use them instead of letting them go to waste in the fridge.
Herb storage troubleshooting
Sometimes herbs are more sensitive to your environment. Mint and basil can be troublesome. A few leaves might oxidize while sitting at room temp.
You can try putting them (in their jar/glass) in the fridge and see if that works better. Or you can try misting them from time to time to give them a little extra moisture. There are many ways you can fuss with your herbs.
But you don’t have to fuss with them. If you notice some of the leaves looking a little lackluster, use those first and save the sturdier ones for the next day.
How to preserve fresh herbs
I rarely do this because I prefer to use them fresh within the same week I bring them home. But perhaps you’ve got a bounty (so jealous) and you can’t use all of it up in a week.
1. Make pesto and freeze.
This tip is not just for basil, friends. You can make a “pesto” out of many different herbs. For example, I have a recipe for carrot green pesto which calls for parsley and not basil. When you’re looking to make pesto, you need a few staple ingredients:
A fragrant, leafy herb (think: basil, parsley, cilantro).
Fresh lemon juice.
Nuts (like: pine nuts, walnuts, cashews)
Parm or nutritional yeast (AKA nooch)
And optionally, you can mix in some greens you might need to use up. Like turnip, radish or carrot greens.
This is a bit off-tangent to pesto, but I wanted to mention it. If you’re looking to use a ton of parsley and/or other greens, consider making chermoula and serving it as a dip with some fresh bread. It’s SO GOOD.
2. Store in olive oil and freeze.
This is not something I typically do. I usually end up making pesto or chermoula. But if you want to preserve that specific herb, you can blend it with olive oil. Then you can store it in ice-cube sized portions and pop those out whenever you need.
Here’s how I would do this without plastic wrap/plastic ziploc bags: Put the blended herb mixture into your ice cube tray (I have a stainless steel one that I love – that’s another post). Once frozen, remove from freezer and let sit for a bit until you can pop the ice cubes out. Remove from ice cube tray and put into a glass jar. Pop back into the freezer.
This works especially well with sage and rosemary (and fresh thyme, too). Take a bundle of fresh herbs on their stems, tie with kitchen twine (or a rubber band, or a twist-tie). Hang upside down in a place that doesn’t have a lot of moisture (so like, anywhere except your bathroom lol). I hang my herbs from a nail in my kitchen wall, near my stove.
The herbs should dry within a few weeks. Once they are completely dry, you can remove them from their stems and store them in a glass jar. I keep mine in the fridge to prevent any mold growth. They will last for at least a year this way.
When you’re ready to use them, break them apart with your fingertips and sprinkle over your food. Use them as you would a dried herb you bought from the store 🙂
Regrowing herbs in water (what I’ve learned so far)
So I like experimenting with things in my kitchen. This is not for everyone, so I’ll save you the trials and tribulations part and skip straight to the results. Here’s what I’ve found thus far…
You can regrow and continue to use some herbs and other vegetables when you store them in a glass jar with water, like flowers. Some good options for regrowing are:
Green onions: Save about 2 inches of the green onion (from the root up) in water and the green parts will grow back. See below for how my green onions look after about a week. The shorter ends are where I cut the greens off the first time around.
Leeks (okay, I admit these are not exactly herbs, persay): But, the green part of leeks will grow back if you let them sit in a cup or water. You can use the green parts for soups or vegetable broths. See below for a “shelfie” photo I took during wintertime with some herbs and leeks. Wanted to document the phenomenon 🙂
The growth looks tiny in this picture but I promise you they grew back to their normal height within a couple weeks.
Basil: Now, basil won’t grow new leaves, but if you put a bunch of basil (trimmed at the base) into water, it will sprout roots and keep very fresh for at least a week. In fact, you won’t see any root action until you’re past the one-week mark of storage. I am not a basil expert, but I’ve heard that once the roots appear, you can pot it into actual soil. Let me know in the comments if this is something you’ve tried!
Next up: Urban foraging?
We take frequent walks in our neighborhood.
Nick has started to point out the massive amounts of rosemary people have growing in their yards over here. It’s out of control, and it smells so good. As such, he’s determined that I should never.ever buy rosemary again. Instead, I should bring an inconspicuous pair of scissors the next time we walk and harvest a few sprigs.
TBD if we’ll actually do this but it’s a very economical (AKA CHEAP) idea 😀
Do you have any herb storage tips not listed in this post? Are you growing your own? What’s your favorite herb/season? Let me know in the comments!