10 Ways to Use Leftover Herbs
Fresh herbs are a wonderfully delicious way to add flavor, color, and nutrition to any meal. From the tang of fresh parsley sprinkled on pasta to the richness of basil in pesto, herbs are a kitchen staple for any home cook.
What do you do with leftover fresh herbs when a recipe calls for a tablespoon and you bought a large bunch? For many people, it’s unclear how to store and repurpose leftover herbs to maximize freshness and longevity.
There are numerous ways to use and store herbs to prevent waste and spice up your weekly recipes. Next time you have an herb surplus, try these kitchen hacks to save time and money while reducing food waste and bringing extra flavor to your meals.
1. Freeze Herbs Into Ice Cubes
Best herbs for freezing: thyme, sage, oregano, mint, and rosemary.
The freezer is your best friend when you’re not sure what to do with leftover herbs. You can freeze any type of fresh herb, but it’s especially useful for hearty herbs like thyme, sage, oregano, mint, and rosemary.
There are a few different ways to freeze herbs depending on the intensity of flavor you desire and portions:
Olive oil: Remove tough stems and chop up leftover herbs as though you’re about to use them in a recipe. Measure out one tablespoon of herbs and press these into each opening in an empty ice cube tray. Cover each scoop of herbs with olive oil then transfer to the freezer. For extra ease, label the quantity in each cube (e.g. “1 tbsp basil”) so you know you’re adding just the right amount. If you use olive oil to cook regularly, this is a great way to combine herbs with cooking fat in one simple cube. You can also blend about ¼ cup of olive oil with what leftover fresh herbs you have and pour into an ice cube tray, similar to a pesto consistency.
Water: Follow the same steps to prepare herbs as you would with olive oil, but pour water over each scoop of herbs, instead, so they freeze into ice cubes. This is best as the base for soups where the excess water won’t water dilute the flavor of what you’re cooking.
Roll: Herbs with flatter leaves can be pressed together and then rolled into a resealable freezer bag for quick storage. Remove the leaves from the stems, put them in a bag, and squeeze out excess air. Seal the bag and wrap a rubber band around it to save space in your freezer. This is a great option if you prefer to chop herbs right before cooking or want to keep leaves whole.
After cubes are completely frozen, you can store them in a container or freezer bag for ready-to-cook flavor packets.
Freezing herbs is a significant time-saving kitchen hack because you can make portions that are the perfect size for cooking one meal. All you have to do is open your freezer and add your pre-prepared herbs to your meal.
2. Homemade Pesto
Best herbs for pesto: basil, parsley, mint, dill, and cilantro.
A creamy basil pesto is a crowd favorite, simple to prepare, and the perfect way to use extra herbs when you’re not sure what to do with leftover herbs.
Whether you want to make a classic basil pesto, or explore new flavors, making a fresh herb pesto is a quick way to use up leftover herbs and add extra green to a well-balanced meal. Basil, parsley, mint, dill, and cilantro are ideal for pesto and can be used as a dipping sauce for meat, or a creamy addition to a big bowl of pasta.
Avocado and basil pesto pasta and grilled chicken with arugula pesto and asparagus are both great ways to incorporate pesto into delicious and healthy meals.
3. Infused Water
Best herbs for infused water: mint, basil, or lemongrass.
On a warm summer day, nothing is more refreshing than an icy glass of water. Add a few sprigs of fresh mint, basil, or lemongrass to create a beautiful beverage that hydrates and satisfies the taste buds.
Fill up a pitcher of water with ice, add a few sprigs of herbs, and let chill for at least half an hour to allow the flavors to macerate. If you’re looking for something with a kick, try preparing a blueberry lime mint fizz.
4. Herb Butter
Best herbs for herb butter: parsley, chives, basil, and rosemary.
Herb butter is simply butter with additional ingredients added for extra flavor. It’s perfect for spreading on a fresh baguette or adding to a sauce–and it’s remarkably easy to make with extra herbs.
Start by dicing up herbs and garlic, then add to a food processor with butter to further combine. Roll into a log and store in plastic wrap in the refrigerator until chilled (around 3 hours). Use the entire log at the dinner table or slice off the desired amount for extra flavor when roasting vegetables or making sauces.
5. Make a Salad
Best herbs for salads: parsley, basil, dill, cilantro, and chives.
Wondering what to do with leftover fresh herbs? Leafy herbs like parsley are a similar texture to other salad greens and are a quick way to bulk up different salads, like caprese stuffed avocado. Pair with a simple oil and vinegar dressing, tomatoes, and your favorite soft cheese, for an easy lunch or dinner dish.
6. Infuse Oil
Best herbs for infused oil: basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme.
Infused oil may seem fancy, but it’s incredibly simple to prepare with just a few ingredients you probably have on hand. To make an infused oil, you can use a neutral-flavored oil or infuse extra virgin olive oil, which is perfect to add to fresh salads.
Start by heating the oil and herbs over low heat in a saucepan, being mindful of smoke points of different types of oils. Turn off the heat and strain the oil through a sieve and store in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
7. Make Salad Dressing
Best herbs for salad dressing: all herbs.
You can purchase salad dressings at the store, but making your own takes just a few minutes, is a fraction of the price, and gives you complete control over what goes into your food. Store-bought dressings often have added sugars and preservatives, which aren’t useful when focusing on a clean eating meal plan.
To make a quick dressing, combine the following ingredients in a mason jar or small bowl:
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup of lemon juice or vinegar of choice
- ½ cup fresh herbs
- Salt and pepper, or other spices of your choice
Whisk briskly in a bowl or shake in a mason jar until well-combined. Drizzle over salad and store extra in the refrigerator.
8. Chimichurri Sauce
Best herbs for chimichurri sauce: cilantro.
If you haven’t heard of chimichurri sauce, let us share with you this delicious Argentinian condiment that’s used as readily as ketchup in the United States. Its base is simply cilantro, cumin, garlic, and lemon combined with olive oil. As a sauce that’s traditionally used on beef, chimichurri isn’t blended smoothly like a pesto, giving it a more rustic appearance that’s delicious for any savory dish, like chimichurri chicken with potatoes and brussel sprouts.
9. Dry Herbs
Best herbs to dry: rosemary, sage, thyme, lavender, and oregano.
Dried herbs are not only a tasty addition to food but can also make for beautiful décor. If you have extra herbs, bundle them together, tie with twine, and hang upside down in a cool, dry area of your home. Dry out for at least a few days before crumbling into a container or directly into prepared dishes.
10. Herb Simple Syrup
Best herbs for simple syrup: basil, mint, rosemary, and lavender.
When you’re not sure what to do with leftover herbs, you can’t go wrong with a delicious mixed drink. Herbaceous cocktails are pretty to look at and offer a unique, fresh twist on many traditional mixed drinks. Whether you just add a sprig of thyme to the glass, or make a simple syrup, using herbs isn’t just for cooking.
Many mixed drinks use a simple syrup, which is a mixture of equal parts sugar and water. Infuse with herbs, and you have a sweet and savory addition to your bar cart.
To make a simple syrup, bring equal parts sugar and water to a boil with herbs until the sugar completely dissolves, stirring as it heats. Remove from heat and strain the herbs out of the syrup. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for a quick splash in cocktails, coffee, tea, or carbonated water.
Finding unique ways to use fresh herbs is about more than flavor. It can also help reduce kitchen waste and save money. Extend the life of fresh herbs by freezing, drying, or infusing them so that you can enhance your meals throughout the week.
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