How do I keep fresh cut herbs in mint condition?

How can I stop coriander and parsley from wilting and turning to mush?

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Live plants are more sustainable than cut herbs you might have to bin.
Live plants are more sustainable than cut herbs. Photograph: Jacky Parker/Alamy Stock Photo

Please explain how to keep coriander and parsley fresh. I buy them in pristine condition and they start to wilt in a day or two in the fridge. I’ve tried putting them in a glass of water, but that creates a sludge at the base of the stalks. Not attractive.
Adil, London

The road to lovely leaves starts with what you’re buying, Adil; it all hinges on how long ago that coriander or parsley was cut before it took up residence in your kitchen. If you’re buying them from a supermarket, you just aren’t going to know.

“If you’re struggling with parsley, then you’re not getting it very fresh,” says Jane Scotter, who farms at Fern Verrow, a patch of 16 acres in Herefordshire – it supplies a number of restaurants, including Skye Gyngell’s London venue, Spring, and counts Nigel Slater as a fan. Parsley, Scotter says, is a herb that likes to be kept in water and out of sunlight: “The absolute ideal would be to put the stems into a bowl of water, put a plastic bag over the herbs and bowl, then put it in the fridge.” As soon as the water starts to turn murky, refresh it as you would a vase of flowers.

Jekka McVicar, the largest grower of culinary herbs in the UK, and author of A Pocketful of Herbs: An A-Z, wraps hers in damp kitchen towel and puts them in the salad drawer of the fridge. Nikki Duffy adds, in the River Cottage Handbook to Herbs, that wrapping herbs loosely in this way will “absorb any vestiges of moisture”, giving you a few days for soft herbs, and a week or so for woody ones (bay, thyme or rosemary, for example). If your weekend forecast includes copious herbs, food writer Gill Meller suggests that if you have space, to remove one of your drawers from the fridge, fill it partly with water, put the stalks of the herbs in, close and leave undisturbed: “The time between buying them and getting them home and in the fridge is crucial.”

When it comes to parsley, McVicar also finds an ally in her freezer: “If you have a glut, put them in a plastic bag and straight in the freezer. When you want your parsley, take it out, crush the bag immediately and you have chopped parsley.” Meller hangs bunches up for drying, blanches, purees and freezes in ice-cube trays, or turns a big bunch of parsley into soup: “It’s one of the most fantastic soups you could hope to eat with poached haddock or a poached egg.”

Coriander prefers a dry plastic bag in the fridge – or you could use a container. Fridges draw the moisture out of plants, but the plastic bag will “act like a barrier against the life-sucking air that’s in the fridge”, explains Scotter.

However, a better option is to invest in a live plant: “It is more sustainable than the cut herbs you will bin,” says McVicar. As soon as you get your pot home, stand it on a saucer of water and top up the saucer every morning. “They’ve been without their routine feed for however long they’ve been in the shop, so that first source of water is very important,” McVicar says. “You want to cut above the new shoots coming in, then, on the third day of watering, add some liquid seaweed – it’s like a tonic and gives the plant all of its minerals.” If you can put it outside and out of the midday sun, so much the better.

You could even go one step further and grow your own. As luck would have it, the best time to sow coriander seeds is at the end of August, so there’s no better time to hone those green fingers.

Do you have a culinary dilemma? Email [email protected]