I bet meal preparation would be a nightmare without herbs. These 12 popular fresh herbs and their shelf life opens your eyes to these staple items that you take for granted.
Thyme has been in use for centuries and was popular among ancient Romans and Greeks. In Egypt, it was included in embalming solution.
The use of thyme extends beyond culinary use. It is also used for ornamental and medicinal purposes.
Thyme is a native of the Mediterranean region but is grown worldwide. It is a hardy plant and can thrive in arid zones.
Thyme has narrow, small, fragrant leaves with woody stems.
You can count on thyme for its versatility. It pairs well with other herbs and is used in bouquet garni, as a marinade for meat or added in stews and vegetables.
Another Mediterranean native, rosemary is an ancient herb popularly used for culinary and holistic regimens.
An interesting fact about rosemary is that its Latin name translates to dew of the sea. Rosemary thrives well in most climatic zone and is a popular backyard plant.
It somehow resembles thyme, with narrow leaves and woody stems.
Highly valuable for its versatility, you can count on rosemary for many uses.
Culinary wise, it is a universally used herb in marinades, herbal tea, roast meat, fruit salads and baked products.
Rosemary is also touted as a strong natural insect repellant. It keeps them at bay, hence you do not have to rely on chemical laden products.
In beauty, rosemary is used in perfumes, scented candles and air fresheners.
In almost any garnished dish, parsley never fails to make an appearance. The name parsley stems from a Greek word petrose which means rock. This is because parsley can be found growing on rocks and walls.
It is believed that parsley originated from the Mediterranean region, where ancient Greeks and Romans used it for medicinal purposes as well as making wreaths.
The most common varieties are flat and curly leaved parsley.
Besides being used as a garnish, this vibrant, minty herb is popularly added to stews, sandwiches, salads, grilled meat, herbed butter and green smoothies.
Dill belongs to a group of aromatic crops such as celery, carrots and caraway. This herb has been in use for hundreds of years and is a native of southern Russia. Wild varieties were found in parts of west Asia, western Africa and Mediterranean regions.
Dill has feathery light leaves. Both dill seeds and leaves are used for culinary as well as medicinal purposes.
In cooking, dill imparts an aromatic flavor to marinades, grilled meat, salads, sauces and vegetable dishes.
Medicinally, dill is touted for its stomach soothing abilities, improving digestion and as a breath freshener.
This is one of the go-to herbs which blends well with most dishes. Basil is especially popular in Italian cuisines, where it’s a basic ingredient for pesto and tomato sauces. However, its use is widespread in all corners of the globe.
Different regions have different historical uses of basil. For instance, Egyptians used it in embalming bodies, Hindus revered basil as they considered it sacred whereas ancient Greeks and Romans associated basil with poverty and misfortune.
Basil gives off a pungent, sweet peppery taste. It works great on sauces, pesto, salads, cheese dishes, stuffing, meat, fish and egg dishes.
Sage is another popular herb with a rich history of uses among ancient French, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.
It comes in various species, most of them being natives of the Mediterranean region.
Sage has silvery, greenish-grey leaves and gives off a pungent, citrusy, pine-like flavor.
It pairs well with most meat dishes, is fantastic with bean stews, omelets, herbed butter, polenta and sauces. It is also commonly infused in cocktails, syrups and teas.
Mint comes in numerous species, the most common ones being peppermint, apple mint and spearmint.
It is purported to have come from the Mediterranean and Asian region. Presently, the U.S.A is attributed to contributing the highest percentage of both spear and peppermint.
This herb is renowned for its bad-breath remedial use. Nevertheless, its uses are far-reaching.
Mint is gladly used for culinary, ornamental, industrial as well as medicinal purposes.
Coriander and parsley are commonly confused due to their striking resemblance. They both have similar looking leaves in terms of color, size and shape. These two actually belong to the same family.
Coriander gives off a refreshing, lime-like aroma, though opponents swear by its soap-like taste. Coriander is also popularly known as cilantro.
It is one of the most readily available and cheapest herbs. Its culinary uses are extensive. Coriander works well as a garnish or when added to dishes.
Also known as wild marjoram, oregano plant is another Mediterranean native. Its name is a connotation of two Greek words, “onos” which means mountain and “ganos” – joy.
It is usually used in its dried form, although fresh form is also a favorite for many.
Oregano has a pungent, sweet, warm taste and is popular in Italian cuisines, especially pizza.
It also pairs well with basil and works flavorful wonders on meat, grilled vegetables and sauces.
These herbs are closely related to the onion family. The reed-like leaves of this perennial herb are normally used for culinary purposes, although the pinkish-purple flowers make an eye-catching garnish.
Chives are natives to Europe and Asia and have been in use for thousands of years.
Chives impart a subtle onion flavor to dishes and make a perfect team with seafood. You can also use them on vinaigrettes, cream cheese, potato dishes or to garnish cream based soups.
Tarragon became popularized in the 16th Century across Europe. This shrubby herb is a native of western Asia as well as Russia.
It is a popular component in French cuisine. There are three major varieties – French, Mexican and Russian. French variety has a deeper flavor, similar to anise or licorice.
Tarragon easily overpowers other dishes. Use it sparingly on meat dishes, sauces, seafood and vegetables like asparagus.
Marjoram and oregano are usually thought to be one and the same thing. They belong to the Origanum specie, but botanically different. They also have different flavors.
Marjoram gives off a pine-citrusy sweet flavor. It is popular in Mediterranean and European cuisines.
Most sausage recipes in Europe include marjoram. It also works well on marinades, stuffing, soups and salads.
How to Select Fresh Herbs
Keep these pointers in mind when choosing fresh herbs:
- Look for firm, intact leaves and stems.
- Avoid wilted leaves as the herbs will decay faster.
- Buy moderate portions that are just enough to use.
Shelf Life of Fresh Herbs
Due to their state, fresh herbs have a short lifespan. As such, use as soon as possible or refrigerate unused ones.
Before refrigerating, follow the storage tips described below and your herbs will serve you for a few weeks.
Hard herbs like rosemary stay longer. Fresh herbs have a safe storage period of 1-3 weeks. Herbs like chives and mint can last up to 10 days.
Coriander, parsley and dill last for 1 week or less. Rosemary, thyme, tarragon and basil can keep well for 2 – 3 weeks.
How to Store Fresh Herbs: 6 Simple Ways
Besides shelf life, knowing how to handle and store these 12 popular fresh herbs is essential.
- Use the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator to store fresh herbs. You can adjust the humidity levels of the crispers which make them ideal for storing fresh produce.
- Wrap fresh herbs loosely in paper towels. The towels absorb condensation hence keep the herbs from becoming slimy. Place the wrapped herbs in Ziploc bags or re-sealable containers before storage. This works well for hard, woody herbs like rosemary, thyme, marjoram or oregano.
- Sort out the herbs before storage. Remove any wilted leaves that can spread decay on the rest of the leaves.
- For tender herbs like parsley and coriander, chop off a bit of the stems diagonally and place them in narrow jars containing about an inch of water. Cover the leaves with cling wrap and store in the refrigerator. Alternatively you can keep them on your counter top. Keep changing the water to retain freshness.
- Wash and dry before storage. This removes any soil or dirt that enhances decay. Dry using a salad spinner or simply place the herbs on a clean towel and leave in the open until well dried.
- Preserve the herbs in oil. This is an ancient technique used to prolong the shelf life of food items. Oil creates a protective coat on the herbs thus preventing contaminants which hasten decay. Store the preserved herbs in a cool, dry area away from heat or sunlight.
How to Tell If Fresh Herbs Have Gone Bad: 3 Spoilage Indicators
Look out for the following three things:
- Mold growth
- Discolored leaves – exposure to too much sunlight causes the leaves to yellow. Oxygen and cold temperature causes browning of leaves. Additionally, overstayed herbs will start changing color and become darker.
- Slimy, brittle or shriveled leaves and stems
You may be used to one or two herbs. I trust that this guide on 12 popular fresh herbs and their shelf life helps you embrace the use of more!