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May 4, 2007 10:49 AM

Keeping Herbs Fresh Tips?

I love fresh cilantro and basil. I pick up a bunch of each almost every shopping trip. But, I can't find a great way to keep them from wilting.

My questions:
1. How long should they last?
2. How do you store them? (I've tried in the fridge, out of the fridge, in air-tight bags, in breathable paper towels... )
3. Are they easy to grow at home?


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  1. I keep basil growing on my counter year-round, and it couldn't be easier to maintain. In the summer months I plant additional herbs outside (I live in New England, so year round isn't an option). I have never grown cilantro, but have grown other herbs inside successfully. However, I have found that it is eaier to keep them growing well if you start from plants, rather than trying to grow them from seeds.

    When I do need to purchase herbs, I have had luck storing them two different ways. The first is to stand them up in a small glass of water so they stay hydrated. Alternately, I find they last a reasonalbe amount of time if you wrap them in a damp paper towel and then put then in an airtight bag. In either case I think the shelf life ends up being somewhere around a week.

    Good luck!

    1. Keep them in glass jars in the fridge and they will keep for weeks.

      I use the quart Hellman's mayo jars, but any glass jar ... NOT plastic ... will do. Don't pack too tightly. The pack shouldn't be so tight the leaves get bruised.

      Some basil ... but from farmers markets ... usually will keep in a glass of water on the counter or in the fridge. trim a bit off the stems to allow water to be absorbed better. Thre have been some bunches that have grown roots and kept all summer .. but again ... only just picked from the farmers market.

      1. My supermarket almost always has basil and other herb plants in the produce department. If you keep the basil watered and cut it carefully (I cut off the tips and the biggest leaves, leaving the stub of the stem attached so it branches out) it should have several good weeks even in the dead of winter. Eventually it will get kind of floppy and weak-flavored, so plan on renewing it once a month or so.

        In the summer at the farmers market I get huge bunches which I treat like flowers, cutting off the ends of the stems and putting it in water on the counter; it often roots like this and stays strong for quite awhile. I have sometimes but not always had supermarket cut basil last like this in winter but on the whole have better luck with the plants. I do not put it in the fridge, as I find it turns brown that way.

        Parsley doesn't last long enough to be an issue; I cut from a bunch which is in a plastic bag in the fridge for about a week. The little packs of thyme, sage, rosemary etc. I have had the best luck just letting them dry out and using them like really fresh dried herbs; they keep their scent and flavor for several weeks if kept in the dark (I store the little plastic clamshell boxes in a paper bag on the pantry shelf away from heat). I can't tell you about cilantro because I never use it, but judging by the look of it I'd treat it like parsley.

        1. Thanks for the tips. My latest bunch of cilantro has lasted 4 days so far! I forgot to cut the ends off - will do next time - I washed the bunch, placed in a glass jar with a few inches of water and put in the fridge. I seem to be on the right track. Thanks for your help!

          7 Replies
          1. re: jennifer810

            No, no ... no water ... don't wash ... open glass jar ... insert cilantro ... screw on lid ... put in fridge ... remove over the next few weeks as need. The jar will fog up. Don't worry about it.

            1. re: rworange

              I tried this and it doesn't work for me.... especially for basil. What am I missing?

              1. re: sheiladeedee

                What happened? Did it slime out or turn brown?

                Two things that could go wrong ... washing before putting in the jar ... packing too tightly. It also has to be glass. Plastic won't work though the lid is ok.

                Other than that I can't think of why it wouldn't work. I kept cilantro for two months last time I bought it ... however, the method that jennifer mentioned is a good one too.

                1. re: rworange

                  Do you have to dry off the herbs before putting them in the jar? If so, how well do you have to dry them?

                  1. re: lizzy

                    I never have. I always buy herbs from a farmers market so by time they get home they are dry. Don't buy the supermarket version that get watered down unless desparate. I guess I'd just pat them dry with paper towels and leave out on the counter a while.

                    1. re: rworange

                      Eight months of the year the supermarket is all that is available here in New England. The parsley is watered by those moister things in the produce counter; the basil is packed in those plastic clamshell boxes and is not wet. It is not as good as summer basil from the farmers market, but then, fresh basil in the winter is such a miracle that I don't quibble; I just buy what I'll use in a day or two and don't worry too much if it doesn't last beyond that.

                  2. re: rworange

                    I used glass and a bunch of basil that was nice and dry. It turned limp and brown like it was touched by frost. I have much better luck keeping it in a glass of water on the counter or repotting the plants that my market usually has available.

            2. Different herbs call for different storage.

              Basil is definitely the most difficult. I trim the stem (like you would trim flowers), then stand it in a coffee cup with a very small amount of water on the bottom (otherwise the stem rots). Put a lose plastic bag over the top (not airtight) and keep in fridge away from direct vent blowing. You can sometimes get almost a week out of it.

              Most other herbs do well wrapped loosely in dry papertowels, and in a palstic bag. Not tightly sealed, but not totally open either.