Our Guide to Fresh Herbs

Fragrant, distinct, and abundant during warm months, these verdant sprigs have much more to offer than just a pop of freshness and color.

Published May 29, 2019.

One of the fastest, most economical ways to boost the flavor of food is to add fresh herbs. That’s long been the philosophy in cuisines around the world, particularly in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, where fresh herbs are an essential component at meals (often, whole sprigs are heaped onto platters and eaten like vegetables alongside richer dishes). Happily, there are more varieties than ever available at farmers’ markets and grocery stores. All the more reason to work them into your daily cooking repertoire.

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Two Basic Categories: Hearty and Delicate

We classify most herbs as either hearty or delicate. These adjectives refer not only to their textural qualities (leaves that are sturdy and tough versus delicate and tender) but also to the strength or volatility of their flavor compounds and how they behave when cooked; in general, volatile flavor compounds in hearty herbs are somewhat more heat-stable than those in delicate varieties. These categories also help clarify the best ways to prep, store, and cook most herbs.


Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Sage, Marjoram

Basil, Parsley, Cilantro, Dill, Mint, Chives, Tarragon

Eight Herbs You Should be Cooking With

We love the classic Simon and Garfunkel quartet of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme—not to mention other common favorites like basil (and Thai basil), chives, cilantro, and tarragon—but the herbs below are just as versatile and are worth snapping up if you come across them at the market or nursery.

How to Wash and Dry Herbs

After rinsing delicate herbs, thoroughly dry them by spinning them in a paper towel–lined salad spinner. (Hearty herbs don’t harbor much grit, but if they are dusty, you can give them a quick rinse.)

How to Measure Herbs

Press down slightly on herbs in the measuring cup to remove air pockets; do not pack them down firmly.

How to Chop and Mince Herbs Like a Pro

Running your knife over a loose pile is inefficient. Here’s a better way.


Gather leaves into tight pile and hold with your nonknife hand. Use rocking motion to slice thin. Turn sliced leaves 90 degrees and repeat.


Chop, then go over pile again by placing fingertips of your nonknife hand flat on top of knife spine and moving blade up and down with your knife hand while using knife tip as pivot.

The Best Ways to Store Herbs

Proper herb storage is all about controlling the leaves’ exposure to moisture. Hearty herbs are adapted to survive in dry weather by taking in moisture through their leaves, so it’s important to keep them dry. Delicate herbs take in and release a lot of water and therefore must be kept moist lest they wilt (but they should not touch liquid, which encourages rot).


CONVENTIONAL METHODS: HEARTY: Store in original packaging or open zipper-lock bag; refrigerate. DELICATE: Wrap in slightly damp paper towels, place in open zipper-lock bag, and refrigerate.
COLE & MASON FRESH HERB KEEPER: This slim rectangular container kept herbs fresh longer than the others we tested. It also features adjustable height, which makes it easy to add and remove herbs; a vented lid, which staves off condensation; and dividers, which keep the contents tidy and organized.

DIY Dried Herbs

Method: Place hearty herbs in a single layer between two paper towels on the microwave turntable and microwave on high power for 1 to 3 minutes. When the leaves turn brittle and fall easily from the stems (a sure sign of dryness), they’re done.

Herb Salad

Fragrant, distinct, and abundant during warm months, these verdant sprigs have much more to offer than just a pop of freshness and color.
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Fresh Herb Finishing Salts

Got leftover fresh herbs? Make these finishing salts.
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Parsley-Cucumber Salad with Feta, Pomegranate, and Walnuts

This crisp, refreshing salad makes a tasty stand-alone side dish and a worthy accompaniment to rich grilled meats.
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For a flavorful, fresh-tasting tabbouleh, we stopped pouring a key ingredient down the drain.
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