The Garden Muse — Have excess fresh herbs?

Published 11:45 am Saturday, June 18, 2022

Have you ever purchased fresh herbs to use in a special recipe and found yourself wondering what to do with the excess left on hand? It certainly is a quandary that many a home cook has found themselves in at one time or another. I have often been told by far too many people in conversation that they will usually stray from trying recipes that require fresh herbs, because they always have an abundance of leftover herb that they do not know what to do with and fret over disposing of. I find this fact sad and aim to remedy this situation for as many folks as possible. Especially nowadays when more folks are spending time in their kitchens fixing meals and the steady clime in prices at the grocery store.

First off, I would like to share that growing your own fresh herbs is super easy, not to mention the most economical. Most culinary herbs do very well in pots and do not require a lot of attention or amendments. If you are fortunate to have a friend who grows herbs don’t be shy to ask for a snip when needed, most gardeners are more than happy to share the fruits of their labor.

Even the most novice of home cooks can utilize excess fresh herbs with little time & effort involved. A few of the simplest of uses for mint, basil, and lemon grass is to infuse them into your drinking water. They will add a subtle flavor and you can mix and match to your tastebuds delight.

Parsley, basil, dill, cilantro, and chives are all delicious added to a fresh green leafy salad. Or incorporated into a salad dressing for some extra pizzaz.

Fresh herbs can be frozen in ice cubes for later use in beverages. Rosemary, sage, thyme, and oregano can be chopped with stems removed, frozen into ice cubes and incorporated later into soups, chili etc. as seasoning.

I have even elevated a few already prepared food dishes with left over fresh herbs like canned soups, mashed potatoes, frozen mac n cheese, the possibilities are limitless…

A few ideas for those who enjoy spending a little more time utilizing spare herbs are to dry them, infuse them into a simple syrup, make some compound butter and infused oils.

Infused herbs in simple syrup; Carefully stirring bring equal parts sugar & water to a boil with your herb of choice (Do not leave pot unattended.) When all the sugar has dissolved remove from heat and strain out the herbs. Store refrigerated in a sealed container, Add to cocktails, tea, or carbonated water of choice. My favorite herbs to infuse into a simple syrup include basil, mint, rosemary, and lavender.

Compound Butter: Simply add butter and herbs (diced) to a food processor and combine. I also like to add some garlic for an extra punch of flavor. Roll into a log and wrap in plastic wrap then store in the refrigerator. Compound herb butter can be used as a spread on bread or crackers or slice desired amount from the log while cooking to add to fish, roasted vegetables or adding to warm gravies & sauces. Parsley, basil, dill, cilantro, and chives all are great herbs to incorporate into compound butter.

Infused Herb Oil is quite simple to make. Simply warm oil of choice and herbs in a saucepan over low heat being mindful of smoke points of different oils. Once warmed strain through a sieve and store in the refrigerator. I like to use olive oil and make my own salad dressings. My herbs of choice to infuse into oil are basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme.

When incorporated into the diet, fresh herbs add a wealth of protective polyphenols to the meal. They are also one of the simplest ways to elevate a dish.

Dawn Conrad is a Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Herbal enthusiast, Writer and Fiber Artist. She can be contacted at dawn@mygardenmuse.com.