Back to…Cooking School: Working with Fresh Herbs

Today in cooking school we’ll be looking at herbs and how to cut them. Fresh herbs can add bursts of flavor that no dried herb can emulate. At our house we grow them all summer long, picking off what we need for each dish, making pesto and preserving them for use during the winter.

I’ve noticed, though, that when working with fresh herbs, some people get stuck on how exactly to go about using them. It’s like you’ve handed them this plant that has no real instructions. Instead of working with the fruit or roots of the plant, they’re now focused on leaves, and they’ve probably never used them before.

So, let’s break it down. Let’s go over a few techniques for chopping herbs to add to your dishes, as well as how we can save any extra herbs for use later on.

All photos by Shaina

Washing herbs

Herbs are a plant, and like most plants, they’re exposed to nature with all its bugs and dirt. While I’m not afraid of bugs and dirt, I don’t need to be eating them or their byproducts. For this reason, I choose to submerge my herbs in cold water rather than just rinsing them off.

By dunking my herbs fully and giving them a good shake while in the water, I’m ensuring that I’m rinsing off all the nooks and crannies of the plant. If the herbs are tightly bound anywhere, be sure to pull leaves apart so that you’re exposing all of the surface areas.

Removing Stems

For many herbs, you’ll be removing stems. When working with herbs such as parsley, dill and sage, removing the main stem or stalk is the most important part. The smaller stems that the leaves are attached too are okay to leave a bit on here and there.

For herbs with woody stalks like rosemary and thyme you’ll want to strip the leaves at their base to avoid any bitter stems. However, don’t throw those stems away. Toss them into your vegetable broths or chicken and beef stock.

Chopping Herbs


A chiffonade makes thin ribbon strips of leafy herbs like basil or sage. Simple stack the herbs together into a pile, roll tightly and make thin slices with a sharp knife.


For herbs that don’t have large, broad leaves, remove any large stem pieces and place in a tight pile. Hold the pile down with one hand and chop using a hinge method, leading your knife through the pile. Pull the pile into another tight pile and chop again until the desired fineness is achieved.


Ice Cubes

Extra chopped herbs can easily be preserved by adding a teaspoon to ice cube trays, covering with a teaspoon of water and frozen. These frozen herb-sicles can be added to soups or dishes as they are heating for a fresh burst of flavor in winter months.

Rolled Packets

After rinsing and drying fresh herbs, stack them as evenly as possible into a pile. Roll tightly and place in the bottom of a freezer zip-top bag or reusable bag. Remove all air from the bag and seal tightly. Freeze. You can slice strips in the desired amount of the end of this roll to add to dishes once it is frozen.

I hope I’ve inspired you to not be afraid to reach for the fresh herbs instead of the dried when cooking if you didn’t already and to perhaps consider growing your own to preserve for use in the winter.

What recipes do you use fresh herbs in?

About Shaina

Shaina Olmanson is the home cook and photographer behind Food for My Family, where she shares recipes, tips, opinions and her philosophy on food as she wades through the process of feeding her family, her friends and anyone else who will let her. She strives to teach her four children how to eat well: seasonally, locally, organically, deliciously and balanced.

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  1. Mandi @ Organizing Your Way says

    Too funny — on my list to bug you about on Skype today: how to prepare my pathetic looking basil. LOL!

    Love the pictures in this post!

  2. Funny you should ask, I was just talking about herb preservation. I made sage ice cream!

  3. Love your post and tips! I use fresh herbs in so many recipes! I am loveing your back to basics theme!

  4. Great post. I’m going to try to freeze some basil this week. I hate to waste it. How long should you be able to keep herbs in the refrigerator? If I don’t wrap them in a paper towel immediately, they usually start to brown pretty quickly.

    • That’s pretty common, Janet. I don’t pick mine until I’m ready to use them. If I purchase fresh herbs, I always wrap in a paper towel so I can get a few days out of them.

  5. “herbsicles” 🙂

    I love the idea of having frozen cubes of herbs to plunk into winter soups and other dishes.

  6. I try to use fresh herbs as much as possible, depending on the season. In the summer it’s Basil and Cilantro, in the winter it’s Rosemary and flat leaf Parsley. But I was really unsure how to save them for winter, so thank you for the ice cube trick! Genius!

  7. This might be a really novice question, but here goes. I buy the little plants at the store, bring them home & then proceed to kill them. Is there a rule about how you should pick the herbs? When I pull the herb off, should I do it by the leaf or by the entire stalk (if that’s what you call it!). I LOVE fresh herbs, but can’t seem to quite figure it all out! Thanks for your wonderful ideas & basic approach! 🙂

    • Usually when you buy the plant you would use the whole thing. They won’t keep for that much longer than picked herbs, but they do stay fresh on the counter for an extra couple days or so.

  8. Great post! I wanted to get some herbs planted this Spring and never got to it. Maybe I can do a Fall planting.

  9. I’m actually teaching a class on “Preserving the Bounty” and I’ve been looking at different ways to preserve herbs. I freeze them in ice cubes, but I’ve never heard of this rolled packet method and I’m intrigued. I’ll have to try it and add it to my class’s agenda! Thanks.

  10. Alison @ Femita says

    I’ll take fresh herbs over dried herbs anytime. It brings your dishes to life and adds some extra oomph. Growing your own herbs can be a very relaxing and rewarding experience too. You don’t need a garden, I grow them in a pot on my balcony.

  11. Thanks for the great tips on how to chop herbs. I love freezing my pre-measured herbs in little ice cubes. Then we get to have free herbs all winter and it saves time chopping during those busy days.

  12. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the info on preserving the herbs. I have a little herb garden outside and last winter I tried to grow basil inside with no luck. Now I will use your ice cube tray idea and that will keep me “basil-full” until spring! Thanks again!

  13. Wow! Great minds think alike. I am doing my latest post on this as well! But I dare say, I don’t think the pictures will be nearly as nice! Very lovely my dear. Nice format too.

  14. Great tips. I love the ice cube storage idea.

  15. Pam @ Kitchen Cookware world says

    I like using fresh herbs whenever possible. I have tried freezing some herb with success! I have a basil plant that is overflowing with leaves, so I freeze some and make some pesto (without the cheese added) and freeze it. This is simply amazing class. I did not know, now I will be back for more.

  16. Wow, freezing herbs, never tried it. And I think I have seen a study once that it is the best just to tear the herbs, not to touch them with a knife, as this way all the good stuff will stay in the herbs!?

  17. Love herb tips

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