How to Handle Herbs

Fresh vs. dried
Out of fresh herbs? Try substituting dried herbs. In general, substitute one teaspoon of dried herbs for one tablespoon of fresh herbs and vice versa (or a one-to-three ratio). But let taste be your guide. Packaged dried herbs start out with a stronger taste than fresh herbs, but lose their pungency as they age. So if you’ve recently purchased the container, you might want to use a light hand, or add a bit more if the herb is older. (Source:

For maximum flavor, add dried herbs earlier in the cooking process and allow to simmer for fuller flavor. Fresh herbs should be added toward the end of cooking. The volatile oils in fresh herbs will evaporate if cooked too long. For the brightest flavor, add fresh herbs after removing from the heat and just before serving.

Preserving techniques
Freezing is one of the easiest methods to preserve herbs: Spread the herbs loosely onto a cookie sheet to freeze. When frozen, transfer to a large plastic bag and seal. To use, add frozen herbs to cooked dishes or allow to thaw and then add to fresh dishes.

Drying is the traditional method of herb preservation. Clean leaves and remove any dead or damaged foliage. Tie the stems into small bundles with twine or string and hang them upside down in a warm, dry, airy place out of the sun. Be sure to make small, loose bundles and allow for good air circulation around each bunch.

Microwave drying is a quick and easy method to dry small amounts of herbs. Lay a single layer of clean, dry leaves between dry paper towels and place them in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes on high power. Drying will vary with the moisture content of the herb and the wattage of the microwave oven. Let the leaves cool. If they are not brittle, reheat for 30 seconds and retest. Repeat as needed. Thick leaved herbs may need to be air dried for several days before microwaving.

Herbs are sufficiently dry when they are brittle and crumble easily. When the leaves are dry, separate from stems and package in airtight containers. Store herbs in a cool, dry place away from sunlight, moisture and heat.

(Source: North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, North Carolina State University)

Quick herb tips

  • For a refreshing twist on plain water, add a sprig of fresh rosemary and lemon wedges, or combine fresh mint with lime slices.
  • Instead of the usual basting brush, use bundled fresh herbs to apply marinades, oils and sauces on roasted meats and vegetables.
  • Create compound butters; combine softened butter with your favorite fresh herbs. Roll into a log and store in the freezer. Slice off pats to top grilled meats, brush on breads or add to sauces and gravies.
  • For a quick vinaigrette, whisk together ¼ cup olive oil with 2 tablespoons vinegar (red or white wine, balsamic, cider or white). Add 3 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, etc.) and salt and pepper to taste. Use to dress greens, potatoes or other vegetables. For a tangier, thicker consistency, add 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard. For a citrus flavor, replace vinegar with lemon, lime or orange juice.