Cooking with Fresh Herbs

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Chives growing by a wall
Many herbs, such as chives, can easily be
grown in a container or garden.

Alice Henneman, MS, RD
University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension Educator

Joanne Kinsey, MS
Rutgers Cooperative Extension/Rutgers University
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator/Assistant Professor

Questions or comments? Contact Alice Henneman

Whether you plant them or pick them up at the grocery store or farmers’ market, adding fresh herbs is a quick way to transform ordinary meals into extraordinary meals.

Besides helping flavor foods when cutting back on salt, fat and sugar, herbs may offer additional benefits of their own. Researchers are finding many culinary herbs (both fresh and dried) have antioxidants that may help protect against such diseases as cancer and heart disease.

cutting herbs with a kitchen scissors
Quick Tip: Cutting fresh herbs with kitchen scissors is a fast way to add herbs to foods.

A snip of a fresh herb into a dish instantly kicks up the appearance a notch!

Unless directed otherwise by your recipe, add the more delicate herbs — basil, chives, cilantro, dill leaves, parsley, and mint — a minute or two before the end of cooking or sprinkle them on the food before it’s served. The less delicate herbs, such as oregano, rosemary, and thyme, can be added about the last 20 minutes of cooking.

Experience what a difference in appearance and flavor fresh herbs can make. Better yet … they do this without adding extra calories! For example, top a baked potato with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of chives or parsley.

Baked potato with and without chives
Top a baked potato with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of chives or parsley. Compare the potato without an herb topping and you can see the difference!

Substituting Fresh Herbs for Dried Herbs

A general guideline when using fresh herbs in a recipe is to use 3 times as much as you would use of a dried herb. When substituting, you’ll often be more successful substituting fresh herbs for dried herbs, rather than the other way around. For example, think potato salad with fresh versus dried parsley!

When to Pick or Purchase Herbs

Purchase herbs close to the time you plan to use them. When growing herbs in your own garden, the ideal time for picking is in the morning after the dew has dried but before the sun gets hot. This helps ensure the best flavor and storage quality.

How to Store Fresh Herbs

vase filled with herbs
Add a bit of color with herbal bouquets!

Fresh herbs can be stored in an open or a perforated plastic bag in your refrigerator crisper drawer for a few days. If you don’t have access to commercial perforated bags, use a sharp object to make several small holes in a regular plastic bag.

If you have more herbs than you can eat, enjoy herbal bouquets throughout your house. You can use either single herbs, combinations of herbs, or you can use the herbs as greenery mixed in with other flowers. To help preserve the aroma and color of your herb bouquets, place them out of direct sunlight.

Popular Fresh Herb and Food Combinations
BASIL a natural snipped in with tomatoes; terrific in fresh pesto; other possibilities include pasta sauce, peas, zucchini
CHIVES dips, potatoes, tomatoes
CILANTRO Mexican, Asian, and Caribbean cooking; salsas, tomatoes
DILL carrots, cottage cheese, fish, green beans, potatoes, tomatoes
MINT carrots, fruit salads, parsley, peas, tabbouleh, tea
OREGANO peppers, tomatoes
PARSLEY The curly leaf is the most common, but the flat-leaf or Italian parsley is more strongly flavored and often preferred for cooking. Naturals for parsley include potato salad, tabbouleh, egg salad sandwiches
ROSEMARY chicken, fish, lamb, pork, roasted potatoes, soups, stews, tomatoes
THYME eggs, lima beans, potatoes, poultry, summer squash, tomatoe

Learn More about Herbs