Fresh herbs are great for adding color and flavor to dishes, but considering they are plants that have been yanked from their home in the soil, they are understandably on the brink of collapsing into a limp, messy shadow of their former selves. (How would you feel if the same were done to you?) While they will eventually meet their fate in a pesto, salad dressing or whatever dish you’re whipping up to satiate your hunger, there is one thing you can do to extend their life as much as possible: Wrap them in a towel. (Sounds comfy!)
The key to herb longevity is moisture control. Hearty herbs — those with woody stems, such as rosemary and thyme — are made to survive in dry weather and are best kept that way. Delicate herbs — those that are softer and more fragile as a whole, such as parsley and chives — “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),” Elizabeth Bomze writes in Cook’s Illustrated.
My method for storing fresh herbs is simple: Spread the herbs across a barely damp towel, roll into a bundle, place the bundle in a bag and store it in the refrigerator. I have had great success with this method for all types of herbs, where they will keep for at least a few days and sometimes even a week or more.
While delicate herbs may last a little bit longer when given the flower treatment — where they are placed in a glass, jar or quart container with an inch or so of water and sometimes refrigerated and covered, depending on the type — I prefer one method to rule them all. (Some prefer to store basil flower-style and uncovered at room temperature because it is particularly cold-sensitive, but as long as you keep it — and all herbs — away from the coolest regions of your fridge, they should be just fine.) Having just one storage method to remember keeps things as simple as possible. Plus, bags in a drawer take up less space than upright containers with bouquets of leaves and stems.
For my preferred method, the towel can be either paper or cloth. If there’s any residual moisture already present, such as from washing your herbs, I sometimes don’t even bother with initially moistening the towel. To help extend the vibrancy of the herbs, it’s a good idea to check on them every day or so to discard any that have gone bad and moisten the towel if it is completely dry.
Use either plastic or silicone zip-top bags, or you can recycle the grocery-store produce bags you brought the herbs home in. You want some air to be able to circulate so the herbs can breathe, so don’t worry about sealing the bags completely, but make sure none of the herbs are sticking out of the bag.