Should you buy fresh or dried herbs?

Should you buy fresh or dried herbs?

Yum!! Nothing livens up a lame dish like a dose of fresh herbs!

Many of us have a couple favorite herbs growing nearby, or would like to one day. But there also times when a recipe calls for some strange herb we don't have on hand.

So you look around at the grocery store and wonder, "Should I buy the fresh ones, or is it ok to get the dried version?"

Well, frustratingly, the answer is "it depends". 

Every herb, every plant really, contain compounds that have fragrance and taste. Some plants smell like grass and taste like wood, but then there are herbs! The lucky plants that have developed aromas and flavors that pique our human curiosities.

A few of those herbs keep their flavor compounds even after the plant has died and the leaves have dried up. Others, though, loose their flavor and scent rather quickly.

In general, the delicate leaves are best when fresh and the woodier herbs do well when dry. Of course there are exceptions, like the always pungent lavender whose flavor intensifies when dried.

Below is a handy dandy list of which herbs are worth buying fresh and which ones will serve you well in their dried forms. Scroll all the way to the bottom for my favorite online resources to store those delicate fresh herbs, should you have any left over.


Buy Fresh

Basil

  • spicy with hints of mint and licorice.
  • Buy fresh or grow it yourself.
  • Add it to dishes at the end to retain flavor.
  • Store fresh basil in a glass of water on the counter with a plastic produce bag covering the greenery.

Chives

  • Fresh and oniony.
  • Buy fresh or grow it yourself.
  • Add it to dishes at the end to retain flavor.
  • Easy to grow. Great for containers.

Cilantro

  • Earthy with a hint of mint and lemon.
  • Buy fresh or grow it yourself.
  • Add it to dishes at the end to retain flavor.
  • Cilantro seeds are known as coriander.

Dill

  • Warm and lemony with a sharp taste.
  • Buy dried or fresh.
  • Add it to dishes at the end to retain flavor.
  • Best used fresh.

Fennel, seeds and fronds

  • Sweet and licorice.
  • Buy fresh. Bulb is also edible.
  • Add it to dishes at the beginning or end.

Lemon Balm

  • Fresh and lemony.
  • Buy fresh or grow it yourself.
  • Add it to dishes at the beginning or end.

Mint

  • Sweet and pungent.
  • Buy fresh or grow it yourself.
  • Add it to dishes at the end, excellent fried in oil..
  • Can invade a garden. Grow in pots.

Parsley

  • Fresh and spicy.
  • Buy fresh or grow it yourself.
  • Add it to dishes any time.
  • Easy to grow. Can get up to 5 feet tall.
  • Parsley is eaten raw at the end of a meal to freshen breath.

Buy Dried (or fresh)

Bay Leaves

  • Sweet with a hint of spice.
  • Buy dried or fresh.
  • Add it to dishes at the beginning to infuse flavor.
  • Bay leaves come from the Bay Tree!

 

Lavender

  • Earthy and herbal.
  • Buy dried or fresh. Flavor and scent become stronger when dried.
  • Add it to dishes any time.
  • Can overpower other herbs and spices. Use sparingly.

Oregano

  • Peppery with a hint of bitterness.
  • Buy dried or fresh.
  • Add it to dishes at the beginning to infuse flavor.
  • Can overpower other herbs and spices. Use sparingly.
  • Can be invasive. Grow in pots.

Rosemary

  • Earthy with a hint of pine.
  • Buy dried or fresh.
  • Add it to dishes at the end, excellent fried in oil.
  • Can overpower other herbs and spices. Use sparingly.
  • Best grown in warm areas. Can grow several feet wide.

Sage

  • Warm and spicy with a hint of bitterness.
  • Buy dried or fresh.
  • Add it to dishes at the end to retain flavor, excellent fried in oil.
  • Grow in warm areas. Don't over water.

Tarragon

  • Lightly peppery with a hint of anise.
  • Buy dried or fresh.
  • Add it to dishes at the end to retain flavor.
  • Grow in cool areas.

Thyme

  • Warm and earthy.
  • Buy dried or fresh.
  • Add it to dishes at the beginning to infuse flavor. Excellent for long stews.
  • Grows well in containers

How to Store Delicate Herbs

As some point you'll find yourself with left over herbs from the grocery store, or an abundance from your garden. There are many clever ways to store the delicate herbs that don't have much flavor when dried. 

These are my absolute favorites!

Compound butter - Easy, quick, stores well, freezes well. Making compound butter is my favorite way to store leftover herbs. Chop up combinations of herbs or individual ones and whip them vigorously into softened butter. Store in the fridge or wrap in parchment paper and freeze.

Pesto - It's not just for basil! You can make pesto out of any kind of greenery and adjust the quantities of garlic, lemon, and parmesan that usually accompany basil pesto. Add any kind of nut or leave them out. Pesto stores and freezes well.

If butter or pesto aren't your jam, try these lovely concoctions from around the internet.

Herb paste by Herbal Academy of New England

Medicinal syrups by The Mountain Rose Blog

Frozen herbs in oil by The Kitchn

Herbed salts by Vegan Mother Hubbard

Frozen herb cigars by A Garden For The House

Herbed honey from Hello Natural


Need help starting your first herb garden?

Check out this incredible, comprehensive resource from Sproutabl: Herb Gardening 101.

Bonus! For those of us who like the idea of growing things but have rather dark brown thumbs (this girl!) these 10 mistakes new herb gardeners make by The Skinny Gourmet is spot on!


I teach people how to cook and eat real food with confidence so that you can have less stress, better health, and WAY more fun in the kitchen and in life.

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