When it comes to fresh versus dried herbs, there’s really no contest. That’s because both ingredients help turn basic recipes into winning dishes, but the secret is knowing when to use them. Here’s our guide to maximizing herbs in every season.
Cooking With Fresh Herbs
Naturally, fresh herbs are more perishable than dried, so when you’re making your weekly shopping rounds, try to use your herbs earlier in the week. Look for bunches with vibrant color, strong aromas, and leaves that aren’t bruised or discolored.
How to store fresh herbs
Once you get home, wrap herb bunches in a slightly damp paper towel, then place them in a reusable plastic bag and store them in the warmest part of your fridge (often inside the doors, or on the top shelf). For the freshest flavor, use them up within a week. More delicate herbs, like basil and cilantro, may need to be used faster than sturdier herbs like sage and rosemary.
How to freeze fresh herbs
Freezing fresh herbs is an easy way to prolong flavor well into the winter months. After all, doesn’t the thought of fresh basil pesto in the middle of bitter February sound like a great way to recreate some summer memories? We’re on it.
- Step 1: Wash herbs and pat them dry with paper towels. Spread herbs in a single layer on a half sheet pan and place in the freezer.
- Step 2: Place frozen herbs into labeled, sealed containers or plastic bags and freeze until ready to use. Be sure to push out all the air before sealing.
Herbs that freeze well include basil, chives, dill, lemongrass, mint, oregano, sage, tarragon, and thyme.
Popular Herbs for Cooking
Brush up on some of the best herbs to use in both sweet and savory dishes (plus some unique pairing ideas).
Basil is a classic Italian herb (and global favorite) found in pestos, salads, and even desserts. Pair it with strawberries or stone fruit and a drizzle of balsamic for a real Mediterranean spin. And there are other varieties—infused in curries and soups, Thai basil will whisk you away to Southeast Asia.
When in doubt, just add chives. As a gorgeous garnish, chives add a mild onion flavor to soups, pastas, and salads, or scattered over dips. Chives pair well with other herbs like tarragon and parsley, but don’t forget to give them a chance to shine on their own, too.
Cilantro is a popular herb around the world. From Latin American dishes to Indian dal’s or Thai-inspired curries, you’ll never be at a loss for ways to use it.
Bring mint to the herb party! It’s always a friend to zucchini, cucumbers, and pretty much any cocktail. For extra flavor, rub the leaves between your fingers to release the oils.
Parsley’s basically the little black dress of cooking—it goes with just about everything. For a pop of green to finish a dish, parsley’s a classic go-to, but you can also count on it flavoring recipes like morning omelettes, pasta with lemon and butter, or salmon cakes.
Aromatic sage is popular in the fall and winter, when it pairs beautifully with seasonal veggies like pumpkin and squash, or meat like seared pork chops. The leaves pack a punch, so a little goes a long way.
Rosemary is a winter herb that thrives in cooler weather, which is why it’s often used in rich meals like roasts, stews, and sauces, and especially for the holidays.
Fresh Herb Recipes
Bookmark these herb-forward recipes you’ll make on repeat in every season.
Bruschetta’s a staple during summer, when tomatoes are in season. But when you have a winter craving, just grab a can! Basil leaves add freshness, garlic packs a punch, and salt ties all the flavors together. Stir into scrambled eggs, a light quinoa salad, or spoon over crunchy slices of bread.
Put a Mediterranean spin on your first meal of the day with sweet cherry tomatoes, grassy olive oil, fresh basil, and tender zucchini.
Switch up classic basil pesto with a nutty version that’s worth a try. Just whirl up nutty cheese, pistachios, plus mint and basil for a versatile condiment that works with polenta, pasta, or eggs.
Date night goes dairy-free with a cream cheese alternative that’s made from cashews and seasoned with chives, shallots, nutritional yeast, and parsley.
App alert! Here’s an easy app to whip up before the party starts. Woody rosemary, lemon zest, garlic powder, cayenne, and a touch of ginger livens up every bite.
It’s time to get heavy-handed—with herbs that is. Generous handfuls of cilantro and parsley (four cups in total!) make this dish gorgeously green and bursting with flavor alongside turmeric, cumin, custardy eggs, pancetta, and leeks.
This recipe has Thanksgiving showstopper written all over it, but it’s an impressive main course for any fall dinner party. A combo of honey and mustard gives the veg a golden crust and the bright green sauce made with parsley and cilantro adds the perfect finishing touch.
Elevate a humble can of fish by adding a dollop of mayo, mild shallots, bell peppers, and parsley. The creamy remoulade sauce finishes it off with flair.
This cocktail is the love child of Japanese matcha and Southern bourbon. The simple syrup can be made in advance so it’s ready to shake up whenever your guests arrive.
Even sans alcohol, this mocktail will still give you a boost thanks to energizing acerola powder, dark cherries, and a sprig of thyme.
The other white meat takes center stage with fragrant sage and garlic playing supporting roles in a rich pan sauce that’s basted over the top of each chop. Make it a meal with mashed potatoes, roasted squash, or quinoa salad served alongside.
Cooking With Dried Herbs
“Fresh is best” might ring true most of the time, but dried herbs have a lot to offer, especially when it comes to rubs, marinades, and seeing you through from winter to spring. Here are some of the benefits of cooking with dried herbs.
- Longer shelf life than fresh herbs
- Concentrated flavor
- Affordable way to enhance favorite recipes
Best Dried Herbs for Cooking
Let’s put your spice drawer to work with some of the best dried herbs to keep on hand.
Give simmered-all-day flavor (and a mellow sweetness) to stews, sauces, and beans by slipping a bay leaf or two into the pot.
Kaffir lime leaves
If fresh kaffir lime leaves aren’t available at a local Asian market, grab the next best thing. The dried leaves add distinctive Thai flavor to curries or soups.
For sweet endings, nothing beats the soothing scent and delicate flavor of lavender. Add to shortbread, scones, or ice cream, or pair it with citrus like lemon and orange.
Often considered better dried than fresh, oregano is widely used in Italian and Mexican cooking, especially with tomato dishes, meats, and sauces.
Dried rosemary is strong, so you don’t need a lot to add its rich pine flavor to soups, braises, beans, or meat dishes.
Tips for Cooking With Dried Herbs
Dried herbs pack a stronger, more condensed flavor, so if you’re substituting dried herbs in place of fresh, cut the amount in half, then adjust the seasoning according to taste. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs, start with 1 ½ teaspoons of dried.
And don’t forget to keep an eye on expiration dates. Wondering how to store dried herbs? Keep them sealed in a cool, dark place with the rest of your spices. And though they might last longer than their fresh counterparts, dried herbs do have a shelf life, and will lose their potency over time. Replace them at least once a year if you don’t run out before then.
DIY Herb Recipes
To go the DIY route, here’s are two easy recipes for popular spice blends you can use on everything from chicken to veggies. For both blends, leave the herbs whole or grind them slightly in a mortar and pestle for a finer texture
DIY Herb de Provence
Stir all ingredients in a small bowl. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
DIY Dried Italian Herbs
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried marjoram
2 teaspoons dried sage
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
Stir all ingredients in a small bowl. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
Dried Herb Recipes
Off the rack is perfectly acceptable in the kitchen, so open your spice cabinet and let’s get cooking.
This one-pot meal hails from the South and is traditionally made with rice, the “holy trinity” of onions, celery, and green bell peppers, plus meat or sausage. This vegan version uses jackfruit instead of the latter , plus three bay leaves for soulful flavor.
The secret to a great Greek salad? It’s all about the dressing. This light vinaigrette is whisked up with capers, Dijon mustard, dried oregano, and garlic.
Basic chicken breasts get jazzed up with a scoop of creamy mac and cheese stuffed inside. The crunchy coating is extra flavorful thanks to butter, parmesan, and oregano.
Get your comfort food on, no boiling required! A basil infused sauce is tossed with GF noodles, oregano, garlic powder, and salty cheese before baking to bubbly perfection.
Everyone will gobble up this gluten-free holiday side dish that brings favorite fall flavors together. Dried herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage amp things up and meaty mushrooms make it hearty enough for carnivores to devour.
Compound ghee is little more than ghee with some flavor boosters like herbs and spices. For this French-inspired version, mix up the golden spread with a spice mix made with thyme, rosemary, oregano, and a pinch of lavender.