Herbs (Fresh Culinary)
Recommendations for Maintaining Postharvest Quality
Maturity & Quality
Fresh culinary herbs are variable in botanical origin and in their postharvest properties. This summary is useful for the following fresh herbs: basil, chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, epazote, mache, marjoram, mint, mitsuba, oregano, parsley, sage, shiso, tarragon and thyme.
Many culinary herbs are harvested as soft or semi-woody leafy stems (dill, oregano, tarragon, basil, mint), and the herb can also include immature or mature flowers. Some herbs are harvested as developing leaves (mache) or intact plants (cilantro, parsley).
Quality characteristics are largely visual and include appearance of freshness, uniformity of size, form and color, and lack of defects (damaged or yellowed leaves, decay, insect damage, wilting). Characteristic aroma is essential for culinary herb quality, and generally essential oils and aroma decrease during storage.
Maturity & Quality Photos
Temperature & Controlled Atmosphere
For most herbs, storage at 0°C (32°F) is required to optimize quality and storage life. Expected shelf-life is 3 weeks at 0°C (32°F) and 2 weeks at 5°C (41°F). See table for specific data on different fresh herbs. Basil and shiso are chilling sensitive and should be stored above 10°C (50°F). Depending on water loss, a shelf-life of 1 to 2 weeks can be expected for basil and shiso. Herbs may be cooled by hydrocooling before packaging or room cooling after packaging. Some herbs such as cilantro and parsley are iced, and some herbs may be vacuum cooled. Because of the small quantities marketed, water loss can be a serious cause of quality loss, especially in the large-leaved herbs such as basil and cilantro.
Freezing Injury. Freeze damage in fresh herbs will appear as darkened translucent or water-soaked areas which will deteriorate rapidly after thawing. Freeze damage can occur on dill stored at -0.7°C (30.7°F), on chives at -0.9°C (30.4°F), and on parsley at -1.1°C (30.0°F).
The respiration rates of fresh culinary herbs vary considerably, but values during the first five days from harvest are:
To calculate heat production, multiply ml CO2/kg·hr by 440 to get BTU/ton/day or by 122 to get kcal/metric ton-day.
Ethylene production rates vary among the fresh culinary herbs and are generally higher than rates for leafy green vegetable:
Responses to Ethylene
The main symptoms of ethylene exposure are yellowing, epinasty (stem curvature) and leaf abscission. Some herbs (marjoram, mint, parsley, organo) are very sensitive to ethylene exposure, while others (sage, thyme, basil, rosemary) are minimally affected or do not respond at all. As with other products, storage at low temperature reduces the detrimental effects of ethylene, (see table in Optimum Temperature and Relative Humidity.
Some benefit to shelf-life can be obtained with low O2 (1-5%) and high CO2 (5-15%) atmospheres at moderate temperatures 5-10°C (41-50°F). Low O2 atmospheres will reduce respiration rates and reduce the detrimental effects of ethylene. High CO2 atmospheres maintain green color and reduce decay in many herbs (such as parsley and cilantro), but are not beneficial for basil.
Temperature & Controlled Atmosphere Photos
Title: Chilling Injury of Basil (Genovese) - Temperature and Time
Photo Credit: Marita Cantwell, UC Davis
Physiological and Physical Disorders
Chilling Injury Score
Development of chilling injury on sweet Italian basil stored at different temperatures. A score of 3 was considered the limit for commercial acceptability (A score of 0 = no injury, 8 = severe injury).
Use of Materials
The UC Postharvest Technology Center grants users permission to download textual pages (including PDF files) from this World Wide Web site for personal use or to reproduce them for educational purposes, but credit lines and copyright notices within the pages must not be removed or modified.
Except for these specified uses, no part of the textual materials available on the UC Postharvest Technology Center Web site may be copied, downloaded, stored in a retrieval system, further transmitted or otherwise reproduced, stored, disseminated, transferred or used, in any form or by any means, except as permitted herein or with the University of California's prior written agreement. Request permission from UC Postharvest Technology Center. Distribution for commercial purposes is prohibited.
Links to any of these UC Postharvest Technology Center pages are permitted, but no endorsement of the linking site or products mentioned in the linking page is intended or implied by such a link.
How to Cite
Author(s) names. Initial publication or update date (located at the top). Title. Link to the specific Produce Fact Sheet webpage (Accessed date)
Example: Cantwell, M. and T. Suslow. 2002. Lettuce, Crisphead: Recommendations for Maintaining Postharvest Quality.