Cooking With Fresh Herbs

Harvesting your own herbs adds flavor to any dish and is good for you.

Every Sunday, we cook and prepare for the week; grilling, simmering, chopping, and harvesting. Everyone has an opinion, lots of banter, and despite our best efforts the kitchen ends up in a mess.

It is my favorite time of the week!

Throughout the day as we are meal prepping for Sunday Supper and the week ahead our creativity is fueled by what is ready to harvest from our patio garden. Do we have enough Italian Parsley to make a chimichurri sauce, is the basil ready to make a pesto for pizza, how much lemon verbena do we have for the salad vinaigrette and is the lemon thyme ready to wrap around the grilled shrimp. We let the herb harvest lead the way on what we will cook for the week ahead.

Cooking with fresh herbs offers numerous benefits, enhancing flavor and nutritional value in dishes. Fresh herbs provide a vibrant and potent flavor compared to dried herbs, which can significantly elevate the taste and aroma of food. This is supported by research showing that fresh herbs contain higher levels of essential oils and aromatic compounds, which are often diminished during drying processes (Chun et al., 2006). Plus, there are so many more nutritional benefits to cooking with herbs you harvest.  Fresh herbs are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Studies have shown that they possess significant amounts of polyphenols and flavonoids, which contribute to their antioxidant properties (Jiang, 2019). For example, parsley is known to be high in vitamin C and K, while basil is rich in vitamin A and magnesium (Justesen & Knuthsen, 2001).

Here are some practical tips and techniques to effectively use fresh herbs in the kitchen:

Harvesting Your Herbs

Harvesting fresh herbs in the morning ensures the highest quality in terms of flavor, aroma, and nutritional content, making it the best practice for culinary use. A morning harvest will maximize the essential oils because essential oils accumulate overnight and are concentrated in the morning. Harvesting your herbs in the morning can help retain the nutritional value of the herbs. Vitamins and antioxidants such as vitamin C and polyphenols, are more stable and abundant when herbs are harvested before the heat of the day can degrade them.


Washing and Storing: Rinse fresh herbs under cool running water and pat them dry with a paper towel. Store them in the refrigerator, either in a plastic bag with some air holes or wrapped in a damp paper towel to keep them fresh longer (Minton & Maddox, 2010).

Chopping and Slicing: Use a sharp knife or herb scissors to finely chop or slice herbs. This helps to release their essential oils and maximize flavor. Be gentle to avoid bruising the leaves.

Cooking Methods

Raw or Fresh Use: Many herbs, like basil, parsley, cilantro, and dill, are best used fresh and added at the end of cooking or as a garnish to maintain their vibrant flavor and delicate texture (Jiang, 2019).

Infusing Flavors: Hardier herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage can be added earlier in the cooking process. They are great for infusing flavors into soups, stews, and roasts. Remove the stems before serving if they are woody.

Heat Sensitivity: Herbs like basil and mint are sensitive to heat and should be added toward the end of cooking to preserve their flavor and aroma (Dug-Sang et al., 2006).

Combining With Ingredients

Herb Blends: Create herb blends like herbes de Provence or Italian seasoning by mixing several herbs. This can be useful for seasoning meats, vegetables, and sauces (Norris & Dahl, 2013).

Marinades and Dressings: Fresh herbs can be blended into marinades and salad dressings to add a burst of flavor. For example, mix chopped cilantro with lime juice and olive oil for a zesty marinade.

Preservation Techniques

Freezing: To preserve herbs for longer periods, chop them and freeze them in ice cube trays with a little water or olive oil. Once frozen, transfer the cubes to a freezer bag. This method is great for herbs like basil, parsley, and dill.

Herb Butters: Blend softened butter with finely chopped herbs and freeze or refrigerate. Herb butters are perfect for topping grilled meats, vegetables, or bread.

Culinary Pairings

Meats and Poultry: Rosemary, thyme, and sage pair well with meats and poultry, adding depth and savory notes to the dishes.

Vegetables: Dill, parsley, and chives complement a wide range of vegetables, enhancing their natural flavors.

Beverages and Desserts: Mint and basil can be used in drinks and desserts for a refreshing twist.

Harvesting and Cooking for Your Mental Well-being

Harvesting and cooking with fresh herbs can significantly enhance mental well-being by connecting you with nature and promoting mindfulness. The act of gardening provides a therapeutic escape, reducing stress and anxiety. Fresh herbs, rich in aroma and flavor, elevate the sensory experience of cooking, turning meal preparation into a calming ritual. Consuming dishes seasoned with herbs like basil, mint, and rosemary not only boosts flavor but also offers health benefits, including improved mood and cognitive function. Overall, integrating fresh herbs into your lifestyle fosters a holistic approach to mental health, combining the joys of nature, culinary creativity, and nutritional benefits.

The Joy of Cooking, the original cookbook bible of American home cuisines by Irma Rombauer has been a pillar of home cookbooks since first published in 1936. Today we can be inspired by chefs like Jamie Oliver, Chef Cynthia Louise, Martha Stewart, Ina Garten, Scott Letier, and Samin Nosrat. All have mastered the art of cooking with fresh herbs and many use herbs right from their own garden.

One of our favorite herb recipes is fresh Chimichurri Sauce. Click below to make this easy recipe now.