What to do with extra fresh herbs

Herbs are awesome. They add tons of flavor to food and most of them have medicinal, therapeutic or aromatic properties, too. Growing herbs is a fantastic and frugal way to add beauty in your garden and flavor in your kitchen. One of the best things about growing herbs is how easy they are to grow and how prolific they can be. But it’s easy to end up with extra fresh herbs whether you grew them or just bought too many for a recipe. Even experienced cooks may find themselves struggling to use up leftover herbs. Here’s a few ways to use excess fresh herbs.

Want to know more? Here’s five herbs that are easy to grow AND use in the kitchen.

fresh herbs for couscous

Using Herbs

What To Do with Fresh Herbs

  • Make Herb Salt or sugar- this is one of the most versatile ways to preserve fresh herbs!  It’s fast and easy to process fresh herbs into flavorful herb salt that you can use in recipes or as a finishing touch. My recipe uses rosemary but it’s easy to sub in other fresh herbs to make salt. Chive salt is also really popular and very easy to make.
  • Infuse oil with fresh herbs – Herbs readily lend their flavor to oils. Once the oil is infused, you should use it immediately or store it in the freezer. Use herb oil in cooking, in salad dressing or as a dip for fresh bread.
  • Make Fresh Herb Butter – There’s nothing like a dollop of herb butter melting on a hot steak! Or use it to rub down the bird when making Roast Chicken. There are almost infinite, delicious combinations of herbs. Some of my favorites include thyme/rosemary, “poultry butter” with sage, thyme, and rosemary and fennel/dill (so good on salmon!). And you can Mold Butter into gorgeous shapes to complement your tablescape!

Both infused oil and butter can be frozen for longer term storage.

Using herbs doesn’t have to be complicated and the more you grow and use herbs, the more familiar you’ll become with their flavors, scents and properties. That will make using herbs easier and open up even more possibilities.

Citrus Cilantro Salt

Preserving Herbs

Finding ways to store herbs for later is my favorite thing to do with extra herbs. Nothing beats the flavor of homegrown herbs in the middle of winter! Here’s how to preserve fresh herbs.

Preserving herbs by drying  them.

Drying herbs is an old and venerable method of storage for use later. While dried herbs aren’t quite as flavorful as fresh herbs, they can retain much of their original flavor if dried and stored with care. A bonus of drying herbs is making up your own personal herb blends, like Italian or poultry seasoning. Rosemary, thyme, sage, dill, oregano, mint and tarragon are all very easy to dry and hold onto their flavor nicely.

Learn how to dry herbs and the best way to store dried herbs.

Freezing herbs to preserve them – What you should know about freezing herbs

Freezing herbs doesn’t get as much press as drying, but it’s a great way to quickly preserve their freshness. Basil, oregano, mint and parsley, in particular, are well-suited for the freezer and keep much more of their flavor than drying. Just pull the individual leaves off the stems and throw into a freezer bag or sealed container. This is an especially great trick in the middle of summer when basil grows rapidly and needs to be pinched back constantly. Just throw those extra leaves into the freezer bag and use them later. Note that the texture will suffer once thawed but, so this is best for herbs that will be mixed into other ingredients.

You can also freeze herbs in olive oil. Just chop the herbs up, put them in a freezer safe container, cover with oil and freeze. I use large silicone ice cube trays for this, so I can thaw small amounts of the herbs when I need them. Obviously you should only do this if you’ll be able to use the herbs and the oil in a future application.

You can shred or chop herbs before freezing them but it’s not necessary. To use frozen herbs, just add them to the recipe whole and frozen.

Drying and freezing herbs both preserve the herbs more or less intact for future use. When you’re wondering what to do with too many herbs, drying or freezing is a great solution, especially if you’re pressed for time.

What’s the best way to preserve herbs?

Whether you choose to dry, freeze or otherwise process extra herbs to use them up will depend on how you’re going to use them later.

Here’s how to use frozen herbs

  • in sauces, soups or stews
  • for recipes that require large quantities, like pesto*
  • as an add-in for hearty, cooked dishes, like meatloaf
  • flavoring stock
  • infusing oil or vinegar – but be prepared to strain well

Ways to use dried herbs

  • sub for fresh herbs in most recipes, since it’s very easy to convert quantities between fresh and dried
  • seasoning to be added after cooking
  • a sprinkled topping for things like pizza or pasta
  • in canning recipes – often, dried herbs are safe to add but fresh are not
  • herbal tea – here’s three herbal tea recipes that are great with dried or fresh herbs!
  • any application in which the herbs need to be very finely cut
  • dry rubs or batters
  • infusing oil or vinegar
  • creating herb sugars or salts
  • making herb infused simple syrup

In general, drying herbs is more versatile and flexible than freezing herbs. But dill, chives and basil all seem to retain more flavor if frozen – so to some extent, the herb itself may dictate how you choose to preserve it.

*There may be some texture changes to pesto made with frozen basil. Freezing basil in olive oil can minimize this -and remember that pesto (sans cheese) freezes very well.

Other ways to use excess herbs

Preserving herbs by drying or freezing is a great, easy way to keep those herbs on hand. But there are a bunch of other ways to use up herbs. Most of these could technically count as ‘preserving’ herbs, since they all keep for months and are (mostly) shelf stable.

Make infused herb vinegar

This is one of the easiest ways to preserve AND use herbs while creating a long-lasting pantry staple. Simply place clean, fresh herbs in a mason jar and fill with the vinegar of your choice. Put the sealed jar away for a few weeks (or months) until the flavor is to your liking. Then strain out the herbs and use the flavored vinegar. One of my favorites is chive blossom vinegar, another is nasturtium vinegar.

Herb infused vinegar is a great addition to homemade vinaigrette 

Use extra herbs to make herbal extracts

Have you seen the price of high quality extracts? They’re definitely a premium item! But it’s very easy to make herbal extracts at home. Combine clean, fresh plant parts with alcohol. Allow the mixture to infuse until the extract has the desired flavor. Try infusing spearmint or peppermint into vodka to make mint extract. Lemon balm, lemon thyme and lemon verbena can all be used to make lemon extract. Create a wonderful licorice extract by infusing anise hyssop flowers with vodka.

You can use any alcohol but be sure the flavor will meld well with the herbs. Vodka is a popular choice simply because it doesn’t affect the flavor of the extract.

The higher the proof, the stronger the final extract will be.

For medicinal extracts (tinctures), the proof of the alcohol matters a great deal. For culinary herbal extracts, it’s not nearly as important. Just make sure you don’t oversteep your herbs if you’re using a higher proof spirit.

Create herbal remedies with extra herbs

Alcohol and glycerin both act as solvents to extract herbal compounds from fresh plant matter. The resulting tincture can be taken medicinally. Please consult a trained herbalist and do your own research on herbalism and herbal medicine before using tinctures. It’s very important to use the correct proportion of plant parts to solvent when creating tinctures for herbal medicine. It’s also critical to make sure you’re ingesting the proper dose.

Steep leftover herbs in oil to make balms and salves

It doesn’t take more than a couple of hours to steep herbs in oil for cooking purposes, so it’s fine to use fresh herbs for that. In order to fully extract the medicinal or aromatic properties of herbs for contact remedies, the herbs need to steep longer. To ensure the herbs don’t mold or cause harmful bacteria to develop, use only dried herbs.

Read through how to dry herbs and how to dry lavender, then use those methods to dry herbs, flowers and botanicals for your balms and salves. Popular herbs for topical remedies include lavender, calendula, rosemary, yarrow, comfrey and plantain.

I prefer to dry and steep each herb separately, then combine the infused herb oils when I build the balm or salve, but you can combine the herbs before steeping.

Use up fresh herbs by making essential oil

It’s very easy to freeze or dry herbs and requires almost no special equipment or knowledge. The same cannot be said for extruding essential oils from herbs. The process requires a specialized still and other equipment, which can be pricey. If you find yourself buying essential oils frequently, however, it may be worth the cost to grow herbs and extract the oil at home. It’s outside my area of expertise but I wanted to mention it as a possible way to use extra herbs while they’re fresh.

Want to know more about herbs and herbal medicine? Add some of these excellent herb books to your library

Ways to use up extra herbs

As you can see, too many herbs doesn’t ever need to be a problem again! In fact, you may find yourself wishing for more herbs now that you’ve seen all the delicious ways to use fresh herbs. Fortunately, it’s very easy to grow herbs, even if you live in a small space or don’t have time for a large garden.

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Resources to help you can grow, use and preserve herbs