Let's talk about fresh herbs. They smell great, they make our food taste incredible, and they are a pain in the you-know-what to get off the stem. If you try to tell me you actually enjoy picking off each tiny leaf, methodically working your way to a full tablespoon, I'm going to call shenanigans.
Yes, fresh herbs make us work for our reward — no way around it. At the very least, we should be sure we're stripping and mincing our herbs in the most efficient way possible. Here's a look at some of the most common herbs we use in our cooking and how to tackle them like a pro.
Herbs with Woody Stems
Thyme, rosemary, oregano, tarragon, and marjoram are all herbs with fairly small leaves and tough, woody stems — which actually makes stripping off the leaves much easier! Pinch the stem near the top with the fingers of one hand, then run the fingers of your other hand down the length of the stem from top to bottom. This forces the leaves to break off from the stem right where they connect, leaving you with a naked stem in one hand and a pile of leaves on your cutting board.
If the stems are so tender that they snap, they're usually tender enough to eat. Just add these tender bits to the pile and chop them up along with the leaves.
Herbs with Soft Stems
Sage, mint, and basil are all herbs with relatively large leaves and softer stems. With these herbs, it's best to pick off individual leaves; pinch them off close to the stem. If the stems are very tender, you can use those as well, but I usually save the stems for making chicken and vegetable stocks. Once you have the leaves off the stem, roll them up and cut them into a thin chiffonade or roughly mince them before adding them to your recipe.
More Smart Tips for Working with Fresh Herbs
Thyme, rosemary, oregano, tarragon and marjoram are all herbs with fairly small leaves and tough, woody stems.
How To Strip Herbs off Their Stems
What You Need
How To Strip Leaves from Tough- or Woody-Stemmed Herbs
→ Use this method for herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano, tarragon, and marjoram.
- Pinch the stem near the top with the fingers of one hand.
- Swipe down the length of the stem with the fingers of the other hand from top to bottom. The leaves should break off where they meet the stem. If the stem snaps, it's probably tender enough to eat and can be minced along with the leaves.
- Mince or roughly chop the stripped herbs.
How To Strip Leaves from Soft-Stemmed Herbs
→ Use this method for herbs like sage, mint, and basil.
- Pinch individual leaves from the stems. Small clusters of leaves can be pinched off together.
- For thin strips (chiffonade): Stack the leaves on top of each other and roll them up. Slice across into thin strips.
- For minced herbs: Stack the leaves on top of each other and then roughly chop until minced as small as you like.
(Image credits: Leela Cyd)