Ever rummaged through the refrigerator and discovered an unidentifiable green sludge, oozing strange juices from its plastic bag in the back corner? If you’re lucky you may still be able to identify it’s origins. A bunch of wilted parsley. Blackened basil. Rosemary stiff enough to poke someone’s eye out. Or the worst – slimy coriander. Welcome to the serial herb killer club (yes, the herb is already ‘dead’ but your still wasting it’s life). These killers are unassuming beings, hovering over the herb section of the supermarket, innocently selecting a bunch of mint and going on their way. Poor mint – it doesn’t know what’s going to hit it. Abandonment and neglect, shoved aside to make way for the tomatoes. Left to a slow, grisly demise at the very back of the refrigerator. Because that one tablespoon the recipe called for results in a whole lotta left over mint. These people are so reserved, so normal in their actions that unless you’re a reformed serial herb killer yourself, it’s unlikely you’ll spot them. And to be honest no one’s going to arrest you for forgetting about the packet of basil you bought for pizza three weeks ago – what incentive do you have to reform your murderous (i.e. wasteful) ways? A fair bit actually.
The first few times you purchased fresh herbs you probably would have flinched at the price. “$2.95 for a bunch of parsley? That’s extortionate!” Don’t remember? Pushed that fact from your mind? I’ll forgive you on both accounts. You see, the first step to becoming a herb ‘killer’ is to numb yourself to their ridiculously high supermarket prices. You may choose to avert your eyes from the price tag, pretend it doesn’t exist. Or you might justify its purchase. You say you’ll take it home, place the roots/stalks in a cup of cold water and cover the leaves with a plastic bag to extend it’s storage life. What you forget to take into account is that a) your fridge is too small or too full to accommodate your nifty freshness-extending contraption, or b) that that particular cup is required for far more important jobs. Such as your early morning cuppa, or middle of the night hot-chocolate. Or both. Alternatively, you reason that the herb’s actually a bargain for $2.95 as the bunch is really big. If it’s there, you’ll use it all up easy peasy! Yeah right. After a few days basil flavoured everything becomes a bit tiresome. So to sum this point up: fresh herbs from the supermarket are expensive. Unless you meal plan very carefully, you are literally turning money into sludge. Sludge that has to be cleaned up at some point.
Point two: herbs from the supermarket are often swathed in excessive amounts of plastic. When you add up all the times you’ve bought parsley/oregano/chives etc. that’s a lot of un-recyclable packaging. It would be slightly more excusable if you knew you would actually use the entire packet of herbs, however we all know that’s rarely true. It’s easy to keep going down the ecological footprint train of thought, so I’ll limit myself to just pointing out that an awful lot of energy is used picking/packaging/transporting the bunch of herbs that you might only use two tablespoons of before it’s relegated to the back of the fridge.
Point three aka the alternative. What’s that you say? Stop using herbs? No way! Herbs have the ability to completely transform a dish. Cooking (and vegetarian cooking in particular) would be dull without them. I’ve a better idea – plant your own. It would be wrong to stridently point out the many faults with purchasing supermarket herbs without providing a solution, and a decent one at that. So here it is. Go buy yourself a bag of potting mix, a few cheap tubs, punnets of the herbs of your choice (this item at least is kind of vital) and scour the shed for the trowel that’s lurking around somewhere. It’s time to get your hands dirty. We’re going gardening. No excuses if you live in an apartment – find a nice sunny windowsill to prop your pots on, and you’ll be good to go. The initial ‘set up’ will obviously cost you more than nipping to the supermarket for a bunch of mint, but it will be far more economical, environmentally friendly and rewarding (not to mention less wasteful) in the long term. Mint in particular grows like a bunch of rabbits in heat, so you’ll definitely get bang for your buck with that one. There will always be one punnet that for whatever reason refuses to take root (for me it’s always the coriander and flat leaf parsley…any ideas why?), but that’s akin to cooking in a way, isn’t it? Experimentation is half the fun. We-ell most of the time.
No rushing to the shop for coriander and then resigning yourself to purchasing an already limp bunch, no outrageous fees, no excess packaging, no skimping on flavour, and most importantly no nasty green sludge in the back of your refrigerator. Reform your serial herb killer ways and plant some of your own. You’ll be doing your bit for the environment, saving money and the time spent cleaning out the fridge. What more could you ask for in one small pot of herbs?