Need to know how to use fresh herbs before they go bad? We’ve got some ideas, including easy ways to preserve herbs and 21 ideas for fresh herb recipes you can make right now.
Fresh herbs are a precious commodity—at least they seem that way when you don’t have a garden and you have to pay $4 for a tiny plastic clamshell of basil. Or maybe you do have a set of windowsill pots that are producing faster than you expected. In either case, the intention is always to make the most of every little leaf. Yet things so often get out of hand.
Despite all our best plans, who among us hasn’t purchased a big green bouquet of cilantro or parsley only to have it wilt into a slimy black mass in the bottom of the crisper drawer? Or somehow let 80 percent of that expensive little bit of basil turn brittle and brown in the back of the fridge? Or even neglected the oregano growing ever taller in the yard until it’s too far gone for chimichurri?
It sucks to lose money, and no one wants to waste food, but it’s so easy to forget, or just not be sure what to do with that leftover green stuff lurking in the dark.
If you have more fresh herbs on your hands than you know what to do with, never fear. There are several ways to deal with them, whether you want to make them last a little longer or use up a whole bunch at once.
How to Preserve Herbs
If you can’t possibly finish all your fresh herbs before they go bad (see tips on the best way to store herbs to help with that), these are our two favorite ways to preserve them:
Drying fresh herbs is one route to a longer shelf life. You can do it in a dehydrator or even a microwave (though you risk burning them), but ideally, you’ll let them air dry. See our guide on how to dry herbs for complete instructions.
Herb Drying Rack, $30.99 from Amazon
An easy way to let your herbs hang out and air dry.
You can also freeze your fresh herbs by chopping them and mixing them with water (or olive oil) in an ice cube tray. Once they’re frozen, transfer the cubes to an air-tight bag or other container and store in the freezer til you need them. In addition to freezing single types of herbs, you can create blends like rosemary and thyme, parsley and basil, or cilantro and mint.
Related Reading: 11 Ice Cube Tray Hacks You Have to Try
Along the same lines, you can also stash your herbs with other veggie scraps in the freezer, for eventually making stock when you have enough ingredients saved up.
Spade to Fork Indoor Herb Garden Starter Kit, $26.96 from Amazon
Organic, non-GMO potting soil, peat pots, and seeds for sage, basil, cilantro, parsley, and thyme for starting your own herb garden indoors.
Related Reading: How to Grow an Herb Garden, Indoors or Out
How to Use Fresh Herbs Right Away
If you’d rather find a way to use up herbs while they’re fresh, here are 21 fantastic ideas for turning those sprigs into something much better than fodder for the compost.
1. Mix Them into Compound Butter
Chopping a few tablespoons of fresh herbs and mixing them into butter is a great way to make them last longer and in the process, add easy flavor to all sorts of things, from seared steak to roasted veggies (and bread and rolls, of course). Try our Orange-Parsley Compound Butter recipe, our Blue Cheese Chive Compound Butter recipe, or our Fall Herb Butter recipe to start, but branch out and make your own mixtures too depending on what you have on hand.
2. Stir Them into a Cheese Spread
A flurry of fresh herbs minced and mixed into any soft cheese—ricotta, feta, goat cheese, cream cheese—is a great base for an easy dip, a sandwich or crostini spread, or even a stuffing for chicken breasts or pork chops. Our Herbed Ricotta recipe (pictured above) features chives, parsley, and basil, but you can use whatever herbs you have; try our Whipped Feta Spread with fresh mint (but again, any herbs work!) and our Chèvre-Olive-Parsley Spread too.
3. Use Them to Flavor Roast Chicken
An obvious choice, but no less worthy, and you don’t have to stick to rosemary, sage, and thyme; stuff your chicken with Thai basil, mint, and cilantro for an Asian flavor, or tarragon for a French take. In any case, leave the sprigs and stems intact since you won’t be eating them anyway, just enjoying their herbaceous perfume. Get our Easy Roast Chicken recipe.
Related Reading: The Three Ingredient Thai Secret to the Best Meat You’ll Ever Eat
4. Mix Them into Salad
You can treat soft fresh herbs (like basil, parsley, cilantro, mint, tarragon, etc.) just like you would a salad green—if you don’t want an herb-only salad, you can (and should) still throw huge handfuls into your salad bowl. See our Ultimate Guide to Salad for more simple but effective tips and never have a bad, sad salad again. Don’t forget to add fresh herbs to grain salads too, like a classic Mediterranean tabbouleh.
5. Blend Them into Salad Dressing (and Dip)
A natural extension of adding herbs to your salad is adding them to your salad dressing, whether it’s a creamy Herbed Buttermilk Dressing recipe or a Parsley Vinaigrette (swap in whatever herb/s you have). But one of our favorites is the classic Green Goddess Dressing with 1/2 cup of parsley and 1/4 cup of tarragon. While it’s pretty perfect, it’s also open to experimentation; try using other herbs like cilantro, basil, or dill (but skip the super woody and super strong ones like rosemary and sage, which would be overwhelming). There’s a fine line between some salad dressings, spreads, and dips, so let a glut of herbs inspire quick, easy appetizers and sandwich spreads too. See our Garlic-Mint Yogurt Spread recipe for an example.
5. Add Them to Eggs
Herbs and eggs are a perfect pair, and again, you can use almost any type of herb you have. Try adding a generous handful to a classic rolled omelet, creamy scrambled eggs, a frittata, or a quiche. Or try something less familiar, like kuku (a baked Persian egg dish) or the delicate crepe-style herb egg omelet recipe above, adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Plenty.” The thin, pancake-like shape also hints at how easy (and delicious) it is to add fresh herbs to things like potato pancakes and Korean jeon too.
6. Make Them into a Marinade
Our Greek-inspired marinade uses 1/4 cup of fresh oregano plus a couple tablespoons of fresh thyme, but this is also a great template for making your own marinade with other herbs you need to use up (in which case, you might want to swap out the lemon juice and white wine too, for other citrus and various types of vinegar, depending on the flavor of your herbs). Use on poultry, pork, beef, seafood, or tofu before broiling, baking, or grilling (and save some on the side for dipping). Get our Oregano Marinade recipe.
7. Jazz Up Chicken or Tuna Salad
Fresh herbs add a lot more excitement to your standard chicken or tuna salad, and again, almost any kind of herb will work. Get our Tarragon Chicken Salad recipe or our Grown-Up Tuna Salad recipe with parsley for inspiration—and don’t be afraid to add more herbs than the recipe calls for.
8. Add Them to Stuffed Peppers
Whether you’re stuffing peppers with rice, grains, meat, cheese, or veggies (or any combination of the above), adding fresh herbs livens everything up. You can even let whatever particular herb you have in profusion dictate your stuffing: a surplus of cilantro can be combined with ground chicken, garlic, ginger, soy, and shallots, while an overabundance of oregano might suggest orzo, lemon juice, parmesan, and pine nuts. Get our Stuffed Peppers with Feta and Herbs recipe, and see more stuffed pepper recipes for other leads; stuffed tomatoes and zucchini boats readily welcome herbs too. By this same token, add fresh herbs to rice pilafs and couscous—basically, anything that you might stuff into a pepper, tomato, or zucchini when you don’t actually want to do the stuffing.
9. Fold Them into Lettuce Wraps
Fresh basil (regular or Thai basil), cilantro, and mint are great together, and you can eat them by the bunch when you make lettuce wraps; just pile on as many of the tasty trio as you want on top of your filling, then fold it all up in your lettuce leaf and enjoy. Try the Chicken Larb Cabbage Cups recipe pictured above too.
10. Shower Them on Roasted Veggies
A super easy way to incorporate more herbs is to toss them with roasted veggies (anywhere from a few tablespoons of fresh herbs to a full cup, and either a single type or multiple varieties mixed together). To get you started, check out our Roasted Baby Carrots with Herbed Mustard Butter recipe, or our Roasted Fingerling Potatoes recipe.
11. Make Pesto or Chimichurri
You knew this one was coming, but you don’t have to limit yourself to basil pesto (although is is undeniably delicious, especially in Pesto Pasta Salad). Try making our Cilantro-Almond Pesto recipe to use on sandwiches (from combos of cured meats and cheese to banh mis) or make a mint and cilantro pesto to stuff fish (see our Roasted Fish with Thai Pesto recipe). And don’t forget pesto-adjacent herb sauces like Argentine chimichurri, Moroccan chermoula, and Peruvian aji verde, all of which you should add to your rotation immediately!
12. Use Them to Marinate Mozzarella
Want an easy, elegant bite for a party appetizer, or just something to munch on Monday night? Marinate mozzarella balls with a few tablespoons of fresh herbs, olive oil, capers, and garlic and you have the perfect thing to pass with prosciutto and crackers at your next get-together, or just to nibble on at the kitchen counter. Add them to salads and pasta dishes too (warm or cold). Get our Herb Marinated Bocconcini recipe.
13. Enliven an Aioli
Whether you make everything from scratch or start with a store-bought mayo, stirring in fresh herbs takes your aioli up a notch (or several). Our Fall Herb Aioli recipe features fresh thyme and sage and is great for dipping raw veggies, sweet potato chips, or spreading on sandwiches and wraps.
Related Reading: How to Make Your Own Mayo
14. Add Them to Avocado
Cilantro often shows up in guacamole, but you can try adding other herbs to avocado too; we pair it with parsley and chives in this sandwich spread that’s particularly great on a BLT, but would also work wonderfully on a turkey burger, chicken club, or roasted veggie sandwich. Get our Herbed Avocado Spread recipe.
15. Mix Them into Meatloaf, Meatballs, and Burgers
Gently mix a bunch of fresh minced herbs into ground meat (chicken, turkey, pork, lamb, or beef) and make it into meatballs, meatloaf, or burgers. Do the same with salmon burgers and veggie burgers too; everything benefits from fresh herbs. Try rosemary and parsley in our Pork and Apple Burger recipe, mint and chives in our Mushroom Turkey Burger recipe, cilantro and parsley in our Falafel Burger recipe, and fresh sage in our Breakfast Turkey Burger recipe, just for starters.
16. Infuse Simple Syrup
If you want the flavor of fresh herbs without the actual bits of plant matter floating around in your drink or flecking your dessert, simmer them with sugar and water to make an infused syrup. Our Mint Syrup recipe is great for mojitos, for instance (or brushing over chocolate pound cake or adding to unsweetened iced tea), but you can make interesting syrups with more savory herbs like basil, tarragon, or rosemary too. Try them in your lemonade, cocktails, and mocktails too.
17. Incorporate Them into Spaetzle
If you’ve never made German spaetzle, you’re in for a treat. The chewy little dough dumplings are traditionally boiled then browned in butter, and our Fresh Herbed Spaetzle recipe works 1/4 cup of soft herbs into the dough itself. You can do the same thing when making homemade pasta (from fettuccine to gnocchi), but if you’re looking for less of a commitment, dump generous handfuls of fresh herbs into your pasta salad, potato salad, and risotto, where they’re equally welcome.
18. Bake Them into Bread, Biscuits, Muffins, and Scones
If you’re making a savory quick bread or biscuits, mix minced fresh herbs into the batter for extra savor. For instance, try stirring fresh oregano into our Savory Summer Squash Quick Bread recipe; add dill or tarragon to our Lemon Chive Biscuit recipe; or try our Mozzarella Basil Scone recipe, shown above.
19. Use Them to Top Homemade Crackers
If you want to level up your cheese plate or dip tray, making homemade crackers is a great way to do it. Our Homemade Herb Crackers recipe does require working with yeast, but isn’t exactly high maintenance. It’s baked in one free-form slab and then simply broken into smaller pieces—and you can use whatever fresh herbs you have. These are great toppers for tomato soup too.
20. Make Persian Butter Bean Stew (Baghali Ghatogh)
If you’re dealing with dill, it’s tempting to go in a Scandinavian direction and pair it with creamy potatoes, cucumbers, and/or salmon, but we suggest looking to Iran and making this vegetarian Persian stew, which can take pounds of fresh dill, perfect if your garden grew a little out of control this summer. Get the Persian Butter Bean Stew recipe.
21. Go for Green Shakshuka
Usually bright red with tomatoes and peppers, shakshuka can also go green. If you have a lot of parsley left over, turn it into this verdant brunch dish that’s just as good for a homey supper. Get the Green Shakshuka recipe.
Related Video: How to Use Fresh Herbs in Cocktails
Header image courtesy of istetiana / Getty Images