Don’t trash herb stems

Ali Slagle

THE WASHINGTON POST – For all the freshness and brightness herbs add to a dish as garnish, it’s a shame we’re not using more of them.

What if we ate herbs by the handful instead of by the pinch?

Envision a salad where the ratio of herbs to greens gets re-engineered, where punchy parsley goes toe-to-toe with crunchy but admittedly less flavour-packed salad greens.

Then, things start to get a lot more interesting. The salad becomes more nuanced – no additional groceries required. But what if we took it even further? Often you’ll be asked in recipes to use herbs’ leaves and “tender stems”, especially when the leaves aren’t chopped.

This refers to the very thin stems that hold the parsley, cilantro and dill leaves onto the main, thicker stem. But those bigger stems are good all the way to the root.

Herbs and their stems salad. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

The leaves are considered soft herbs: They are so delicate, they unpleasantly wilt when touched by heat. They are what you use when you “garnish before serving”.

What you’ll find in the stems of those herbs is a concentrated burst of flavour and an entirely different texture than that of the leaves. A single herb can now act as two ingredients in one. The leaves are soft, while the stems, when chopped finely, add a crunch similar to celery. By using both, you get a variety of textures across a range of the herb’s flavours.

If you’re sceptical, give cilantro stems a chomp. You’ll see – and then will want to know what to throw them into. This salad is a rudimentary introduction to finely chopped herb stems – how they taste, how they chew and just how alive they make even the simplest salad of plain lettuces.

Try it and then go on and use them with abandon: Wherever you typically add a garnish of fresh herbs, keep chopping down the stem and add the crunchy bits, too.

Some stems, especially thicker ones and the parts closest to the root, may be bitter.

The only way to find out is to try a little before adding them to a dish. Herb stems have a home in many places beyond salads, or wherever else you garnish with herb leaves. Unlike the leaves, they’re sturdy enough to be sauteed with garlic and onions. When cooked, they lose their texture while imparting deeper herbal notes to the finished dish.

Add a bit of chopped raw stems, along with the leaves, right before serving, and it’s a triple whammy – all from one ingredient you probably already have.

Flavour perks aside, there also is a do-gooding quality here – stems are so often thrown out. And even if the leaves on your bunch of herbs are past their prime, you can still use the stems. Taste some stems from close to the leaves; if they are still crunchy, they’re good as gold.



One bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, cilantro or dill

Two cups baby lettuces

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Half lemon, or more as needed

One tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed


Pluck two cups of herb leaves from their stems, then finely chop the stems. Discard the roots and any tough stems.

In a large bowl, add the baby lettuces, then the herbs and stems. Season to taste with salt and pepper and toss gently with your hands to combine. Squeeze the lemon over the greens, catching the seeds in your other hand. Toss gently until coated. Drizzle with just enough olive oil to coat, about one tablespoon. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed: If the salad tastes flat, add more lemon and salt; if it’s too intense, add more oil.