Ingredient Intelligence

Don’t Toss Your Herb Stems! Do These 3 Things Instead.

updated May 1, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Buying a big, vibrant bunch of herbs is an act of hopeful enthusiasm: Everything you cook and garnish with these leaves will be more tasty, more colorful, and more earthy than everything else. You’ll pluck plump leaves from your parsley and cilantro for salads, pastas, and pasta. The tiny, tender leaves of thyme will make for better sauces and soups. Rosemary leaves will garnish robust roasts and pitcher cocktails. In the end you’ll be left with spindly stems, some with leaves intact, that’ll most likely end up in the compost bin.

You see, most recipes call for only the tender leaves of culinary herbs — you’re instructed to strip them from their host, leaving the stems behind — but both woody and tender herb stems have lots of flavor to add to your cooking. So, stop wasting the flavorful stems and ends of your herbs and try these three smart uses instead.

Credit: supriya

1. Infuse oils and vinegars with herby flavor.

Woody stems from rosemary, oregano, sage, and thyme don’t have as many uses as stems from soft herbs like cilantro and parsley, but where they shine is in flavoring oils and vinegars. Warm olive oil or white or red wine vinegar on the stovetop, toss a handful of woody stems in, cover, and let the mixture steep overnight. In the morning, remove the stems and then go use the oil and vinegar wherever you want a hit of herby flavor — in vinaigrettes, sauces, and quick pickles.

2. Make more flavorful soups and broths.

Both woody and soft herb stems can be used to enhances soups, stocks, and broths. Toss any and all into the pot while it simmers and the stems will bolster the flavor. It doesn’t matter if you’re making a simple tomato soup or homemade chicken stock. Just be sure to remove the stems at the end. You can also freeze the stems if you plan on making a pot of soup or broth in the future.

Credit: Celeste Noche

3. Chop tender stems and add them into (almost) everything.

For soft herbs like basil, parsley, dill, and cilantro, this is the move: Trim off any dead ends and then finely chop the stems. Fold them into pesto or chimichurri. Go ahead and toss them in your salads. Or add them to frittatas, quiches, veggie burgers, fritters, and even dips. You can use tender herb stems anywhere you’d use the leaves.

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Do you have a favorite use for kitchen scraps?