Herbs are the leaf part of a plant used in cooking. They are a great addition to any garden, offering instant flavor to culinary dishes and powerful health benefits. If you want to add flavor and color to any dish or drink, consider growing culinary herbs in your backyard.
They’re inexpensive, versatile, and easy to grow. The most important thing to know about different herb types is how and when to use them. And we’ve developed a comprehensive guide to answer just that.
This guide focuses on the characteristics, culinary applications, and medicinal uses of herbs. Let’s explore!
Table of Contents
- Types of Herbs
- What are Culinary Herbs?
- The Difference Between Herbs and Spices
- The Difference Between Fresh and Dried Herbs
- How to Clean Fresh Herbs
- How to Cook With Herbs
- Storing Fresh Herbs
- Average Lifespan of Herbs
- Why Do Fresh Herbs Go Bad?
- How to Dry and Store Fresh Herbs
- Drying Fresh Herbs
- Storing Dried Herbs
- Tips for Using Dried Herbs
Types of Herbs
Parsley is one of the most common herbs in the world. This culinary herb is native to the Mediterranean region and is a hardy plant with dense green foliage. It has triangular leaves with serrated edges and yellow-green flowers. Parsley can grow well in a wide range of climates and adapt to life in partial shade or full sun.
Culinary Uses: Parsley has aromatic leaves that add flavor to various dishes, including stir-fries, salads, pasta, soups, vegetables, and sauces. You can also use parsley as a garnish for almost any dish.
This tropical herb is native to Africa and Asia, where temperatures are mild. It is one of the most widely cultivated culinary herbs, with numerous varieties available to suit different types of cuisines.
Basil is a low-maintenance herb that grows quickly and thrives in full sun. It produces small and dainty flowers, which can range in color from white to purple. Harvest fresh basil leaves for immediate use during the growing season, or dry your basil leaves in a dark place and transfer them into an airtight container. Dried basil leaves can last for many months and have multiple culinary uses and health benefits.
Culinary Uses: You can use fresh or dried basil to enhance the flavor of your meals. The most common use of basil is for making tomato sauce, pesto, or vinegar. You can also sprinkled basil over salads and sliced tomatoes.
You’ll find yarrow all over the world in fields, waste places, pastures, and meadows. It is common throughout Asia, Europe, and North America. This is a wonderful ancient herb and is one of the best herbal remedies for fever. It also enhances the medicinal actions of other herbs and deepens their fragrance and flavor.
Culinary Uses: You can use young yarrow leaves in salads, soups, and stews.
This culinary herb is little known and under-used. English Mace belongs to the Achillea genus and has numerous medicinal properties. Its leaves are bright green, narrow, and very deeply serrated. Also, mace is free from pests and diseases.
Culinary Uses: The leaves have a mild, warm, aromatic flavor that combines well with other herbs and ingredients. Use chopped leaves to stuff chicken, flavor soups, stews, and sprinkle on pasta, potato salads, and rice.
Oregano is a woody perennial and is native to the Mediterranean region. It has small, heart-shaped, aromatic, pale green leaves. This herb needs a sunny garden site and well-drained, dry soil. Alternatively, you can plant this herb in containers.
Most people will recognize the flavor of oregano from the Italian recipe of Margherita pizza. If you want to grow herbs in your garden, then oregano is an easy one to grow.
Culinary Uses: Oregano aids in digestion and acts as an antiseptic and a preservative. It combines well with pizza, meat, tomato dishes, vegetables, and milk-based desserts.
Jerusalem sage originates from the Mediterranean region and is widely cultivated as a garden plant. It’s a hardy perennial with yellow flowers and grey leaves. Jerusalem sage is easy to grow in a large container with soil-based compost. It’s a drought-loving plant that requires minimal water to thrive.
Culinary and Other Uses: Use the dried sage leaves in stews and casseroles. Also, the attractive and aromatic leaves are a great addition to a potpourri.
Thyme is a woody evergreen herb of the mint family. It is popular for use as a culinary herb and as an ornamental plant. It has pink flowers in summer and bright green leaves with an odd celery scent. It grows well in rock gardens and thrives in dry sandy soils.
Culinary Uses: You can use thyme leaves to flavor meat dishes, such as pork and chicken. It also tastes great when paired with vegetables and is one of the main flavorings used to make stuffing.
Dill is a fragrant herb with fluffy, feather-like foliage. It is widely cultivated for use in Eastern European cuisine. The herb is native to Africa and thrives in full sun. It cannot tolerate drought and requires moisture-rich soil for optimal growth.
Dill has the strongest flavor when used as a fresh herb. Alternatively, you can dry or freeze dill to preserve it for future use.
Culinary Uses: It has a strong flavor and is suitable for fish dishes, egg dishes, and white sauces. You can also add dill to cream cheese, salads, and soups for extra flavor.
Rosemary is an herb that originated in the Mediterranean area and is popular throughout the world. It has needle-shaped aromatic leaves and pale blue flowers. Rosemary plant thrives in sandy and poor soils, making it ideal for rock gardens or infertile areas where other herbs will struggle to grow. This herb has many culinary uses and can also help purify the air. Also, it is drought tolerant with minimal water needs for fast growth.
Culinary and Other Uses: Use rosemary to flavor meat and vegetable dishes, or make sachets to scent your clothing drawers, or drop in your bathtub for a relaxing experience.
Chives are green herbs with a mild onion-like flavor. They belong to the same family as garlic and onions and have a similar taste and scent.
Chives have vibrant mid-green foliage and feathery flowers. If you want to grow chives in your garden, position them in a bright spot with a good amount of sunshine. They require gritty and well-drained soil with a moderate amount of moisture. They grow well in rock gardens, herb gardens, and containers.
Culinary Uses: Add chives at the end of the cooking, or the flavor will disappear. They are delicious when freshly picked and used as a garnish. You can also use chives to enhance the flavor of omelets, salads, scrambled eggs, soups. These herbs are popular in French cuisine and can be mashed into soft cheeses or sprinkled on grilled meats. The flowers are also edible and are a wonderful addition to salads and cold dishes.
This upright woody perennial is popular as a culinary herb and widely used in French cuisine. It has medicinal properties and can help relieve stress and anxiety. It can also heal oral issues, reduce tooth pain, and prevent bad breath.
The plant has fine and narrow foliage, with soft yellow flowers that appear towards the end of summer. Tarragon is an easy herb to grow across a wide range of climates. It is drought tolerant, making it suitable for growing in dry and hot regions. It grows best in poor quality and infertile soil.
Culinary Uses: It has a strong anise flavor and is suitable for seafood, vegetable, stews, soups, chicken, and salads.
Some mint varieties are popular as culinary herbs, and others have medicinal uses. This perennial plant has a sweet flavor and bright green leaves. It has a chemical agent called menthol that makes your mouth feel cool.
Culinary Uses: There are many uses for mint in cooking with fish, meat, yogurt, and fruit. Mint is also commonly used in beverages like mint tea and dishes like Vietnamese pho and Indian chutneys.
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is a tart, citrusy herb with bright green leaves. The leaves resemble flat-leaf parsley and grow on long stems. This herb is a member of the parsley family and is commonly used in Mexican and Middle Eastern cuisine. Many people use the seeds of the cilantro plant to make coriander spice, which has a very different flavor from cilantro. Also, the roots of the plant are edible and used in some dishes.
Culinary Uses: Cilantro is frequently used in salsa in Mexican cuisine and scattered on Indian dishes. You can also add fresh cilantro to spicy Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese dishes.
Chamomile has a rich history for both cultural and culinary use. The herb is easy to grow in most climates and grows wild in Europe, North America, and many other countries. It has sweet-smelling, finely divided, thick foliage. This herb is effective in treating mouth and throat infections and easing upset stomachs.
Culinary Uses: Chamomile contains aromatic oil that has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. People can take chamomile tea to promote appetite and strengthen the immune system.
This delicate herb has a subtle anise-like flavor and is a staple of French cuisine. People also use the leaves, roots, and flowers of chervil to make medicine.
Culinary Uses: Chervil is one of the key ingredients in the classic herb blend called fines herbes. Chervil is also a common ingredient in the classic Bearnaise sauce made with emulsification of butter and egg yolk with white wine vinegar, chervil, and tarragon.
Marjoram is a cold-sensitive herb of the mint family. This aromatic herb has grassy leaves and a citrus flavor. Some people extract essential oils from marjoram’s flowers and leaves. It has numerous health benefits and is commonly used for cough, runny nose, common cold, and other infections.
Culinary Uses: Marjoram is a great addition to poultry dishes, egg recipes, and herb butter. You can add fresh marjoram leaves to soups, sauces, and other cooked dishes for herbaceous flavor.
This floral herb of the mint family is best known for its fragrance. Most people use this herb to make perfumes and potpourri.
Culinary Uses: This herb is making a comeback in dishes like grilled pork chops, lavender roasted red potatoes, lavender jam, lavender ice cream, and lavender shortbread cookies.
Culantro is a cousin of cilantro, but they look nothing alike. Culantro is a unique and unusual kind of herb with long, serrated leaves that resemble lettuce. It is a perennial herb that has other names like Mexican coriander, long coriander, and shadow beni.
Although culantro is cultivated worldwide in temperate climates, it is native to South America, Central America, and Mexico. It has a stronger flavor and aroma than cilantro, so you only need a small amount for cooking.
Culinary Uses: Culantro is commonly used for marinating, seasoning, and garnishing purposes in the Caribbean, Indian, and Vietnamese cuisines. Some people also make culantro tea to treat flu and constipation.
What are Culinary Herbs?
Chefs and home cooks use fresh and dried herbs to make both sweet and savory dishes, ranging from light salads to rich sauces and herbal teas. In addition to their culinary uses, some herbs have valuable health benefits. These benefits include anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties.
The Difference Between Herbs and Spices
An herb is a leaf of the plant, such as sage, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and cilantro. Many people use fresh or dried herbs as a garnish. Spices come from non-leafy parts of the plant, including seeds, dried bark, roots, and twigs. And you can use spices to season or flavor a dish.
Here are some examples of spices:
- Cinnamon is the bark of a tree.
- Cardamom is a seed pod.
- Allspice is a dried berry.
- Cloves are dried flower buds.
The Difference Between Fresh and Dried Herbs
Most people prefer fresh herbs over dried herbs for culinary purposes, although there are many advantages to using dried herbs. While fresh herbs have a shorter lifespan, dried herbs can maintain their flavor for up to seven months when stored in an airtight container in a dark place.
You can use dried herbs throughout the cooking process because prolonged heat exposure can draw the flavors out of the herbs. Fresh herbs are used as a garnish. Finally, dried herbs contain a more concentrated flavor than fresh herbs.
How to Clean Fresh Herbs
How to Cook With Herbs
Storing Fresh Herbs
Wash and Dry Fresh Herbs
Always wash fresh herbs with cool water before using and storing. You can rinse the whole bunch under running water and lay it out on paper towels to dry. Alternatively, you can fill your salad spinner with cold water and swirl the herbs gently to remove any debris. Drain the water, set the herbs on a layer of paper towels, and pat dry with more paper towels to remove any excess moisture.
Store Soft Herbs in the Fridge
Treat soft herbs like a bouquet. Fill a glass with cold water, trim the ends of the stems, and then place the herbs in the glass. Change the water every alternate day to keep it fresh. You can leave the basil bouquet on the counter at room temperature because its leaves turn back if refrigerated. But, you’ll need to store all other herbs in the refrigerator and cover them with a plastic bag. This can help herbs retain moisture in the dry refrigerator environment and keep oxygen from browning the leaves. The herbs will last a week or two stored this way.
The Most Common Types of Soft Herbs
Store Hard Herbs in the Fridge
Hard herbs require a different approach. Instead of placing them in a glass of water, wrap them loosely in a damp towel. Store the herb bundle in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag in your crisper drawer. The damp paper towel keeps the herbs moist enough so that they don’t dry out, and the container or resealable plastic bag keeps oxygen out. The herbs can last up to ten days when stored this way.
The Most Common Types of Hard Herbs
Average Lifespan of Herbs
Here’s the average lifespan of herbs.
|Herb||Herb Classification||Average Lifespan|
|Chervil||Tender||1 ½ weeks|
Why Do Fresh Herbs Go Bad?
Many factors make herbs go bad. These include:
Excessive sunlight exposure can damage chlorophyll, causing your herbs to turn brown. This is especially true for thin, soft herbs like cilantro, parsley, or chervil. They will start to go bad within days when stored in a bright spot.
Excessive exposure to oxygen can damage soft herbs like basil or mint brown. Wrapped or covered herbs last longer than herbs exposed to excessive air in the fridge.
Excess moisture promotes decay and turns leaves slimy or moldy. You’ve probably noticed this if you’ve left your herbs inside the Ziploc plastic bag from the supermarket. On the other hand, lack of moisture can cause your herbs to dry out and reduce their potency.
Extreme temperatures will cause your herbs to spoil or lose flavor faster than they should. The best way to store soft and hard herbs is in the fridge, except for basil and thin-leafed mint. The wrong temperature can make thin-leafed herbs go brown and decay faster. Also, storing herbs at extremely cold temperatures may cause cell damage and turn herbs mushy.
How to Dry and Store Fresh Herbs
The herbs from your home garden are best when used fresh, but you can’t use them all in one season. Dried herbs from your home garden are the next best thing to fresh herbs. Air drying is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to dry garden herbs. This slow drying process can also retain the essential oils of the garden herbs, which helps to maintain their crispness and flavor.
The Best Herbs for Drying
Air drying is ideal for herbs that have low moisture content. These include bay, dill, summer savory, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, and thyme. To retain the optimal flavor of these herbs, you’ll need to let them dry naturally or use a food dehydrator. A microwave or an oven may seem like a convenient option, but they can cook the herbs and diminish the oil content and flavor. Use these kitchen appliances only as a last resort.
If you want to preserve culinary herbs with a high moisture content or succulent leaves, such as basil, mint, chives, and tarragon, you can try air drying them with a dehydrator. You can also freeze herbs for the best flavor retention. It’s very easy to do and even quicker than air drying.
Drying Fresh Herbs
Gather your herbs to place them in a paper bag.
Remove Lower Leaves
Remove any leaves along the bottom inch of the stem. You can use these leaves fresh or leave them to dry separately.
Remove Diseased Leaves
Remove any diseased leaves from the herbs. Brown leaves and leaves spotted by plant disease are not suitable for drying.
Shake the branches to remove any insects. There are always tiny bugs that you can’t see, so get rid of as many as you can.
Bundle Stems Together
Bundle the stems together and tie them as a bunch. You can either use a rubber or string band. If you want to dry herbs with high moisture content, make small bundles so that they get plenty of air to lose circulation between the branches and do not rot.
Place Herb Bundle Upside Down
Place your herb bundle upside down into the paper bag. You can also include the loose leaves you removed from the bottom of the stems if you like.
Cut Holes in the Bag
Cut or punch holes in a paper bag, then label each bag with the name of the herb you are drying.
Secure the bag and make sure the herbs are not stuffed inside the bag.
Hang Upside Down
Hang your bag upside down in a warm, dry, and airy room.
Monitor After A Week
Check in about a week to see how things are progressing. Keep regularly checking until your herbs are dry and ready to store.
Storing Dried Herbs
Here’s what you need to do once you’ve completed the drying process:
Store Herbs in Airtight Containers
Store your dried herbs in airtight containers. Small canning jars work nicely. Zippered plastic bags will also work. The herbs will retain intense flavor if you store the leaves whole and crush them when you are ready to use them.
Label and Date Containers
Make sure you label your dried herb containers so that you know when they were stored or purchased. Dried culinary herbs are best used within a year. As herbs lose their color, they are also losing their aroma and flavor.
Discard Any Moldy Herbs
Discard dried herbs that show signs of mold. It will only spread.
Place Containers in a Cool, Dry Spot
Place containers in a cool and dry place away from direct sunlight. You can buy amber-colored canning jars designed to block sunlight. Alternatively, you can store dried herbs in sealed jars in a dry and dark spice cabinet.
Tips for Using Dried Herbs
Loosen the Leaves
Begin using herbs once the drying and storage process is complete. When you want to use herbs in cooking, simply pull out a stem and crumble the leaves into the cooking pot. You can loosen the leaves by running your hands down the stem.
The Ratio for Dried vs. Fresh Herbs
Use a teaspoon of crumbled dried leaves in place of a tablespoon of fresh herbs. In other words, if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary and you have dried on hand, use 1 teaspoon dried rosemary. Or if a recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of dried basil, use 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil. You can also use a combination of both for intense flavor.
Watch Expiration Dates
Most dried herbs begin to lose potency and flavor after six months. If they don’t smell strong and flavorful when you sniff, discard them and get a new bottle. Buy a small bottle of herbs you don’t often use so that you don’t waste them.
Release Volatile Oils
Before adding herbs to the food, crush the leaves between your fingers. This helps release oils and increases the herb’s aroma and flavor.
Crockpot Cooking Tips
When cooking in the crockpot, add dried herbs at the end of cooking time. Long and slow cooking times can reduce the herb’s potency. Alternatively, you can add herbs at the beginning of cooking time and add more at the end to suit your taste.
Make Homemade Seasonings
Dried herbs can be combined to make homemade seasoning mixes. Use your favorite dried herbs to create personalized blends.