4 Ways to Use Leftover Herbs

4 Ways to Use Leftover Herbs Photos by Lindsey Johnson

Fresh herbs are a great way to add flavor, color, and nutrients to countless dishes. But what do you do when your recipe calls for a just couple of tablespoons, and you’ve still got a big bunch of herbs left over? Don’t throw them away or let them go bad in the fridge! Here are four simple ideas for using them up.

Freeze Herbs in Ice Cube Trays Chop up your leftover herbs and freeze them in ice cube trays! You’ll be surprised how well the color, flavor, and texture stays intact when preserving herbs this way.

Just press chopped herbs into ice cube tray cups to about 3/4 full, cover with either boiling water (this will blanch the herbs before freezing and help retain color and flavor) or olive oil, and then place in the freezer until frozen solid. At this point, you can pop the frozen cubes into a freezer bag for easy storage. Voila — herbs on the ready!

Frozen herbs can be used in the same proportion as fresh herbs, so if you packed 1 tablespoon of basil into an ice cube tray, you’ll have the equivalent of 1 tablespoon of basil to work with later. Herbs frozen in olive oil are great for adding at the beginning of a recipe when you’d be adding oil, whereas herbs frozen in water are best for adding in later stages of cooking. Try them both and see which method you prefer!

Herb-Infused Water That fancy infused water isn’t just for the spa! Just add a handful of fresh herbs to a glass, jug, or carafe, then fill with water and wait for the magic to happen! Herb-infused water should keep in the fridge for up to a week, and the flavor will develop over time.

You can keep it simple with just one herb, or mix and match a variety. Or use up a few leftover fruits and veggies while you’re at it! We especially love these combos:

  • Cucumber + mint
  • Strawberries + basil
  • Cilantro + lime
  • Rosemary + ginger

For an instant herbal infusion, place fresh herbs into the bottom of a glass or jar, muddle slightly with a wooden spoon to break down and release flavor, then fill your glass with sparkling water.

Homemade Pesto Pesto is an easy and delicious way to use up a lot of leftover herbs at once. For the most basic pesto, simply place about 2 cups of leftover basil leaves into the bowl of a food processor along with with a clove of garlic, half a cup or so of grated Parmesan cheese, a handful of toasted pine nuts, a drizzle of olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon. Whirl, drizzling in a little more olive oil if necessary, until you have a deliciously smooth sauce.

You’re not limited to using basil when it comes to pesto, though! We love pesto made with cilantro, mint, and parsley as well. You can get creative and make pesto from spinach, arugula, or even beets — just toss in a few of your leftover herbs for extra flavor.

Don’t put those ice cube trays away just yet! Pesto also freezes really well. Just fill the cubes 3/4 of the way full, place the filled tray in the freezer, freeze, then pop the cubes of frozen pesto into a freezer bag. Or you can use a muffin tin, too!

Dressing & Vinaigrette There’s no question that fresh herbs liven up a salad! Use up your leftover herbs by making flavor-filled salad dressings to use throughout the week.

Vinaigrettes, blended dressings, or herb-filled Ranch dressings come together quickly, and should last about a week in your fridge.

To make a quick vinaigrette, simply start with one part vinegar to three parts olive oil and add to a mason jar. Throw in whichever chopped herbs you like, along with a dash of salt and pepper, seal the jar, and shake. That’s all it takes for a gourmet-tasting herb vinaigrette.

Homemade salad dressings also make great gifts — so be sure to share the herb love with friends and family!

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About Katie

Katie is a university educated nutritionist and professional writer based in Stockholm, Sweden. She is a vegetarian of more than two decades, and is passionate about real food. Her blog The Muffin Myth is all about approachable nutrition.   Read more from Katie →

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Comments

  1. says

    Thank you for all the wonderful ideas! I hate throwing away herbs but it’s something I used to do somewhat regularly since it seemed like I’d buy some for a recipe and never use the leftovers in time.

  2. says

    I can’t stand raw parsley or coriander (cilantro), so if a recipe calls for a small bunch or a few leaves of either I normally omit them. Now I can happily have the full flavour in a recipe and I’ll whip up some pesto or salad dressing whilst I am in the kitchen!

    Thanks I think this is going to revolutionise my herb experience!

    Stephanie x

    • says

      Broth is another great way to use up leftover herbs and other kitchen scraps. I don’t have the freezer space for homemade broth, unfortunately, so I’m envious of those who do!

  3. says

    These are great! I froze extra basil last year in olive oil, but sometimes felt that this added too much oil to a recipe. I’ll try the boiling water method this year so that I’ll have some without oil.
    In addition to water, herbs also make a great addition to iced tea, juices, and lemonade!

    • says

      I think it would be great to have some in oil and some in water so you could choose which to use depending on your recipe. I love the idea of herb infused lemonade too!

  4. says

    We just started a small patio herb garden and have been finding new ways for herbs!! Have you heard of zhoug?? It’s similar to a chimichurri but spicy! It’s Middle Eastern and is fabulous with falafel or grilled veggies!

    • says

      You know, Zhoug was the first spice blend I ever bought! I’ve never made it from fresh herbs though, only dried (love it on popcorn!). I’ll have to look up a recipe and try making it with fresh herbs too. Great idea!

    • says

      Glad to have helped! I also have basil and mint growing on my balcony and I’ve got all kinds of idea to use them up before we go away on holiday and they all wilt.

  5. says

    My garden is overflowing with herbs, so these ideas will definitely come in handy! I am a pesto addict but never thought to freeze it. I think by the end of the season I’m going to have tons of frozen pesto cubes to use long after my herbs are done grown for the year. Thank for the tips :)

    • says

      I love freezing pesto! I find that it never quite freezes to totally solid, so even if it’s in a big block I can usually scrape off just a bit if that’s all I need. I love letting it melt over hot pasta or even eggs. Ice cubes are awesome though for single servings.

  6. says

    Great ideas! I haven’t tried the infused water yet but I’ve heard that it’s just lovely. So that’s on my list. I use the ice-cube method to freeze herbs, especially basil which I don’t think dries well. The trick, I’ve found, is not to let the herbs sit and assume that I’ll find some way of using them. Once I’ve used some for a recipe, it’s best if I just take care of them immediately. That way, they don’t go “off” before I can freeze them!

    • says

      That’s a great point. If you leave them in the fridge assuming you’ll eventually do something with them they never last. Such a good idea to just get down to preserving your leftover herbs right away.

  7. says

    Wow, this is such a helpful post! I seem to always have leftover herbs wilting in the fridge – no more! I’m going to try a cilantro pesto ASAP.

  8. says

    + Herb infused oil (not frozen) ! I keep a bottle of it around, and toss in some garlic + chili flakes. Everytime I have a little extra rosemary or thyme, I just stick it in the bottle :)

  9. says

    These are all fabulous ways to use herbs and methods that I have been using for a very long time, but let’s not forget the easiest of all. Just dry them! :) I live in high desert country so I keep a flat tray on the top shelf of the pantry. When I have extra herbs, I throw them on the tray and 3 to 4 days later, they’re dry and get transferred to a jar to be used during the winter once the herb garden freezes over. I’m headed out to pick some rosemary now to try that ginger rosemary infused water. That sounds wonderful! Thanks!

  10. says

    I am NOTORIOUS for throwing away herbs after only using a small amount of them. Love these tips! I really should start making herbal waters more often…they’ll brighten up my day AND empty out my crisper drawer!

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