Herbs are a wonderful way to add fresh flavor to meals, but what do you do with the stems that are left over after you remove the leaves? As it turns out, there are many creative uses for leftover herb stems that will reduce waste and get the most out of your fresh herb purchases.
Make Flavored Vinegars and Oils
One of the easiest ways to use up herb stems is to make your own flavored vinegars and oils. Simply place the stems from herbs like parsley, dill, basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, and chives into a clean glass jar. Pour in vinegar or oil until the stems are fully submerged. Allow to infuse for 2-4 weeks, tasting periodically until the desired flavor intensity is reached. Strain and store in the refrigerator. These herb-infused vinegars and oils are perfect for vinaigrettes, marinades, dipping sauces, and more.
Tips for Infusing Vinegars and Oils:
- Use a neutral-tasting vinegar like white wine, champagne, or rice vinegar. Avoid balsamic as it will overpower the herb flavor.
- Olive, grapeseed, sunflower, and avocado oils have mild flavors that won’t compete with the herbs.
- Make sure stems are fully submerged to prevent mold growth. Top off with more vinegar/oil if needed.
- Swirl or shake the jar every few days to distribute the herb flavor.
- Taste after 1 week, then weekly until desired strength is reached.
Make Fragrant Sugar
Dried herb stems can be used to make fragrant sugars perfect for sweetening teas, baked goods, and more. Simply add chopped herb stems to a jar of sugar, seal, and let sit for 1-2 weeks. The sugar will absorb the aromatic oils from the herbs. Try basil, mint, rosemary, lavender, lemon verbena, or lemon balm stems. Use the infused sugar anywhere you want a subtle herbal flavor.
How to Make Herb Sugars:
- Chop leftover herb stems into small pieces first to increase surface area.
- Use a ratio of about 1 part chopped herb stems to 4 parts sugar.
- Combine in an airtight container and shake or stir to distribute.
- Let sit for 1-2 weeks, shaking occasionally, until fragrant.
- Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove stems before use.
Make Herbal Ice Cubes
Here’s a simple way to preserve the flavor of leftover herb stems: make herbal ice cubes! Simply place chopped herb stems in ice cube trays, cover with water, and freeze. Pop a stem-infused ice cube into soups, sauces, cocktails, and more as needed to add an extra dose of herbal flavor. Mint, basil, cilantro, and rosemary stems work especially well.
Herb Ice Cube Tips:
- Roughly chop stems to release flavors.
- One large stem can flavor 2-3 ice cubes.
- Top off ice cube tray with water, leaving a bit of space at the top.
- Freeze overnight until solid.
- Pop ice cubes into an airtight container or zip top bag for storage.
- Use within 2-3 months for maximum flavor.
Make Infused Honey
Like infused sugars and oils, you can also make herb-infused honey with leftover stems. Follow the same process as making infused sugar, combining chopped herb stems with honey in an airtight jar. Shake or stir periodically, allowing the mixture to infuse for 1-2 weeks. Taste test after the first week. Strain out the stems when the desired flavor is reached. Use the honey to sweeten teas, marinades, sauces, baked goods, and more.
Herb Honey Tips:
- Raw, organic honey works best for infusing.
- Popular herbs for infused honey are lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage, and mint.
- A ratio of 1 part chopped herb stems to 4 parts honey is recommended.
- Shake or stir the honey mixture daily to distribute the herb flavor.
- If honey starts to crystalize, place jar in warm water bath to liquify.
Make Herbal Bath Bundles
Relax in a hot bath with an herbal bath bundle made from leftover herb stems. Simply tie stems together with cotton string or place in a small muslin bag. Use herbs like lavender, rosemary, lemon balm, peppermint, and thyme for their relaxing aromas. Add the bundle to warm bath water and unwind! The warm water will slowly release the soothing herbal oils.
Bath Bundle Tips:
- Use 6-8 stems per bath bundle, chopped into smaller pieces.
- Hang or let bundle float in bath water while you soak.
- Make a larger batch and store bundles in an airtight container to have on hand.
- Pair soothing herbs like lavender with invigorating ones like rosemary.
- Let bundles air dry after use and reuse a few times before replacing.
Make Flavored Jelly
Pectin-rich herb stems like mint, lemon balm, sage, rosemary, and thyme can be used to make flavored jellies and preserves. Simply brew the chopped stems with water and a bit of lemon juice to extract their natural pectin. Strain and follow a standard jelly recipe, using the herbal infusion in place of plain water. The herb flavors will shine through beautifully in the finished jelly.
Herb Jelly Tips:
- Chop stems and simmer in 4 cups water with 1/4 cup lemon juice for 30 mins.
- Strain through cheesecloth and measure herb infusion.
- Use infusion in place of water in jelly recipes.
- Add 3/4 cup sugar per 1 cup infusion. Boil 5 mins.
- Test gel set on chilled plates or use thermometer.
- Pour into sterilized jars and process 10 mins in a water bath canner.
Make Herb-Infused Butter
Compound butters are easy to make by blending fresh herb stems with softened butter. Try stems from parsley, dill, basil, sage, rosemary, and other herbs. Process in a food processor until finely chopped. Form into a log, wrap in parchment, and chill before slicing off pats to serve on seafood, chicken, bread, cooked vegetables and more.
Tips for Herb Butters:
- Use a ratio of 2 parts butter to 1 part chopped herb stems.
- Soften butter to room temperature before mixing.
- Add a pinch of salt and lemon zest for extra flavor.
- Mix in any fresh herb leaves for color if desired.
- Shape butter log on parchment and tightly roll up.
- Store refrigerated up to 2 weeks or freeze for longer storage.
Make Homemade Broths and Stocks
Don’t discard herb stems when making broths and stocks. Bundled stems from parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, and other herbs add wonderful flavor to homemade broths and stocks. Simply tie stems together with kitchen string and add the bundle to your broth or stock as it simmers. Remove the bundle before using the broth. The stems infuse the liquid with herbal flavor and aroma.
Tips for Herb Stem Broth:
- Use 6-8 stems per bundle, left whole or chopped.
- Tie stems together or place in a muslin bag for easy removal.
- Add herb stem bundles at the beginning of broth simmering time.
- Simmer broth for 1-2 hours for maximum herb flavor extraction.
- Remove herb bundles after simmering and before using broth.
Make Herbal Pesto
While basil is most common for pesto, you can also use more unique herbs like cilantro, parsley, dill, chives, and their leftover stems to make flavored pestos. Follow a standard pesto recipe, using chopped herb stems in place of basil. Use the pesto to top pastas, meats, fish, vegetables, breads, and more. The stems provide great flavor for very little cost.
Tips for Herb Stem Pesto:
- Use about 2 cups packed chopped herb stems.
- Roast the stems for 5-10 mins first to deepen flavor.
- Process stems with garlic, olive oil, nuts, lemon, and parmesan.
- Thin with pasta cooking water as needed to reach desired consistency.
- Toss with hot pasta right away to warm through.
- Top meats, fish, and veggies with a large dollop of the pesto.
Garnish Soups and Salads
One of the easiest ways to use up herb stems is to finely chop them and use them as a garnish. Their fresh, herbal flavor and aroma enhances soups, salads, grain bowls, pasta dishes, and more. Try using thin stems from parsley, cilantro, dill, fennel, thyme, rosemary, oregano, and chives. Just give them a rough chop and sprinkle on finished dishes.
- Finely chop stems or snip into thin strips with kitchen shears.
- Use stems from leafy herbs like parsley or cilantro.
- Start with just a teaspoon or two of chopped stems as garnish.
- Sprinkle over soups, grains, pastas, salads, bean dishes, etc.
- Mix stems from several herbs for a flavor medley garnish.
- Store any extra chopped stems in the fridge for 2-3 days.
Make A Flavored Simple Syrup
Simple syrup is used to sweeten many cocktails, desserts, and beverages. You can easily infuse simple syrup with herb stems to take it up a notch. Follow standard simple syrup recipes, but add chopped herb stems to the water as the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and let steep for 1 hour before straining and using. Mint, rosemary, basil, lavender, and sage all make excellent flavored syrups.
Herb Simple Syrup Tips:
- Use a ratio of 1 cup water + 1 cup sugar + 3-4 chopped herb stems.
- Allow herb stems to steep in the hot syrup for 1 hour after removing from heat.
- Strain out stems through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth.
- Store cooled simple syrup in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.
- Shake before using in cocktails, desserts, drinks, etc.
What to Do With Leftover Herb Stems
As you can see, herb stems have many uses beyond the kitchen as well. With a little creativity, you can reduce waste and get more value from the fresh herbs you buy. Making infused vinegars, oils, sugars, ice, and honey are all great ways to preserve that herbal flavor. You can also relax in an herbal bath or whip up an herbal jelly. Even simply chopping them to use as a flavorful garnish takes herb stems from scraps to tasty ingredients.
So next time you’re left with a pile of herb stems after using the leaves, don’t throw them out! Put these ideas to use instead and unlock their full potential. Transforming herb stems into exciting new ingredients will become a regular habit in no time. Get ready to make the most of your herbs!