Making Substitutions: Dried or Fresh Herbs?

Fresh and dried herbs

I confess, I am a bit of a beginner in the world of herbal medicine. I have only recently tried my hand at making lip balm or a healing comfrey salve (both turned out great, I might add.)  Where I do have loads of experience, however, is in the kitchen.  My partner and I still feed a houseful of family and friends a hearty dinner once a week for what we all hungrily call “drop-in,” and we are avid home cooks and bakers.  With an overwhelming garden, which includes big, happy, herb plants like sage, a dozen different kinds of mint, and rosemary, we also have a very intimidating bronze fennel that tends to grow 15 feet tall and has begat many babies throughout our garden, we are often reaching for herbs to make our dishes sing.

One of the questions that pops up again and again with those who are learning how to “eat their herbs” is how to make substitutions between dried and fresh herbs. What if you only have fresh?  What if it is the dead of winter and you have dried basil, but no fresh?  This doesn’t have to be complicated, but it helps to understand a few important points.

Dried herbs are generally more concentrated in their flavor, while fresh herbs taste, well, fresh, thanks to water content.  I have made my salsa recipe with dried cilantro and while it still tastes delicious, it is not exactly the same as salsa made with freshly picked and snipped cilantro.  Some dishes, like soups and stews, are perfect for substitutions and you may not really notice any flavor difference at all. You will want to use dried herbs up fairly quickly, however.  Those jars of dried herbs that have been tucked back in a corner of your cupboard for a decade are not going to give you a good, brilliant flavor.  This is one of the reasons we encourage folks to only purchase amounts that can be used in a few months to a year—freshly dried is better than old and stale!

Fresh Tyhme

The general substitution ratio is 1:3 or 1/3 dried to fresh.  This means that if your recipe calls for 3 Tablespoons of fresh basil, you can substitute 1 Tablespoon dried.  It’s easy when your amounts are so simple, but what happens when your recipe calls for ½ cup of fresh herbs? If you know that there are 8 Tablespoons in a ½ cup, then you can take a third of that and use a little less than 3 Tablespoons of dried herb as replacement.

It works in reverse too—if your recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of dried herb, and you’d really like to use some of your happy, fresh oregano, you’ll want 6 teaspoons or 2 Tablespoons (3 teaspoons to a Tablespoon.) If you just remember the ration of 1:3—dried to fresh, you will soon be making herbal substitutions like a pro!


All Purpose Garden Herb Mix

Here’s a go-to herb mix to practice with and one that has many herbs grown in the average garden—this adds great flavor whether used dried or fresh and is perfect for soups, stews, roasted vegetables, or as a dry rub for grilling!

2 Tbsp dried organic Rosemary or 6 Tbsp fresh Rosemary

2 Tbsp dried organic Basil or 6 Tbsp fresh Basil

1 ½ dried organic Sage or 4 ½ Tbsp fresh Sage

1 tsp dried organic Thyme or 1 Tbsp fresh Thyme

1 tsp dried organic Oregano or 1 Tbsp fresh Oregano

1 tsp ground organic Black Pepper

1 tsp Himalayan Pink Salt (feel free to substitute another salt, if you’d like)



2 Responses to “Making Substitutions: Dried or Fresh Herbs?”

  1. avatar QuiltMama says:

    Thank you for sharing this very helpful info! I know virtually nothing about herbs, but I would like to learn.

  2. […] Making Substitutions: Dried or Fresh Herbs? […]

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    Erin is the Marketing Director at Mountain Rose and studied herbalism, botany, and ethical wildcrafting at the Columbines School of Botanical Studies. She spends her days making botanical illustrations, playing in the garden, creating culinary gems, and formulating medicine in the magnificent Oregon Cascades.
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