When they are used wisely herbs can transform a simple or routine meal into so much more, adding depth and flavour as well as seasoning, zest or body. Additionally many herbs have beneficial health properties, for example in adding digestion or helping to fight colds. Herbs can also be used to preserve food or protects it from insects.
A large variety of herbs are available to buy either dried or fresh and many can be easily grown at home even if you only have a small space such as a patio or window box. Even a few simple pots of herbs growing on a kitchen windowsill can add greatly to everyday cooking when used correctly. Home grown herbs can also be preserved for using at a later date by drying or freezing.
If a recipe calls for fresh herbs and you only have dried, 1 tsp (5ml) of dried herbs is roughly equivalent to 1 tbsp (15ml) of fresh. Fresh herbs can be stored successfully in a refrigerator. They can also be preserved for later use by infusing in oil or vinegar or by freezing small amounts in water using ice cube trays. These little frozen herb cubes can then be added directly to foods when needed. Herb infused oils and vinegar can be used to add flavour to salads, roasted vegetables, marinates and any other food where either oil or vinegar is needed as an ingredient. If preserved in decorative bottles the preserved herbs can also make attractive and useful gifts for friends and family who also enjoy cooking. Fresh herbs can also be preserved by drying them in a dehydrator or oven set to a low heat.
Suggested Uses for Popular Culinary Herbs
Angelica – This herb has a strong clean flavour. It can be used to make syrup to be used in summer drinks, fruit salads and ice cream. Angelica leaves can be cooked along with acidic fruits to reduce the tartness and lessen the need for sugar to be added. Angelica can also be crystallized and used to decorate cakes.
Basil – Often found in Mediterranean recipes, fresh basil has a sweet almost clove like taste and goes very well with tomatoes in hot and cold dishes. Basil also pairs well with courgettes, marrows, mushrooms, garlic and beans and is often used to make pesto.
Bay – Use bay alongside parsley and thyme to make a bouquet garni. This can then be used to flavour a wide range of dishes such as soups and stews. Bay leaves can be added to marinates, stock, stuffing and curries. Remove whole leaves from food before serving.
Chervil – This herb is common in French cooking and has a delicate flavour. It can be used in place of parsley and should be added towards the end of cooking as the subtle flavour is easily lost. Chop the fresh leaf and add to omelettes, salads, dressings and chicken dishes.
Chives – Chopped chives are delicious sprinkled on soups, salads, chicken, potatoes, cooked vegetables and egg dishes. They can be used instead of onions in hamburgers for a milder flavour and can be mixed with yoghurt for dips or used to flavour soft cheeses.
Coriander – These leaves are commonly used in curries and Indian chutneys especially when tomatoes are being used. Coriander has an earthy and pungent flavour that works well in salads, vegetable and poultry dishes.
Dill – Whole dill seeds or crushed leaves can be added to potato salads, pickles, soups, apple pies and fish. Finely chopped leaves can also be mixed with butter to create herb butter.
Fennel – Fennel has an aniseed flavour and is also beneficial to digestion. Tender fresh stems can be eaten in salads and the leaves pair well with oily fish. Fennel seeds can be added to bread and savoury biscuits or crackers. Fennel bulb is also eaten raw or cooked as a vegetable.
Garlic – This well-known herb has a great variety of uses and can be eaten raw or cooked, in salads, soups, stews, roasted meats and vegetables as well as many others. Fresh or dried garlic can be used to make a delicious herb butter which can then be used to make the popular dish of garlic bread or spread on to meat or fish that is to be grilled. Sliced cloves can be inserted into cuts in meat for roasting or whole cloves can be roasted and eaten as their flavour will become much less pungent and sweeter during the cooking.
Juniper – Juniper berries are often used to flavour game dishes or in marinates for pork. They can also be used to flavour sauces and vegetables such as cabbage.
Lemon Balm - The refreshing lemon flavoured leaves can be used to make a herbal tea or eaten raw in salads. Finely chopped leaves can be added to mayonnaise to impart flavour or frozen in ice cubes to be added to drinks.
Lovage – Young lovage leaves and stems can be steamed and eaten as a vegetable. It is best to use lovage sparingly at first as its potent flavour may take some getting used to.
Mint – There are many varieties of mint available today including spearmint, peppermint, apple mint and even chocolate mint. Mint is a great companion to chocolate and is commonly used to add flavour to new potatoes, peas and lamb dishes. Mint is an excellent aid to digestion and many people use this refreshing herb to make tea.
Oregano – Oregano has a similar flavour to marjoram but is a little stronger. Oregano is a good herb for pizzas, pasta and other tomato dishes. It can be used in place of marjoram but less will be needed.
Marjoram – Use this herb for vegetable soups, pasta, fish, game, beef or game recipes. Tomatoes, peppers and courgettes are greatly enhanced by combining with marjoram.
Parsley – The mild flavour of parsley makes it a popular and useful herb to have in the kitchen. It can be combined with thyme and bay to create a bouquet garni. Use in salads, sandwiches, soups, sauces and egg dishes. Whole raw sprigs are often used as garnishes.
Rosemary – Rosemary aids the digestion of fats and is traditionally cooked with lamb, often combined with garlic. Whole leaves are often removed before cooking as they can be tough and placing them in a muslin bag can make this easier. Rosemary can be added to bread before baking and goes well with pigeon, sausages and stuffing.
Sage – A strongly flavoured and pungent herb that complements strong flavoured foods well. Sage is good for flavouring cheese dishes and in omelettes, savoury scones, and bread and tomato dishes.
Sorrel – A sharp flavoured zesty herb that can liven up bland dishes or sauces. Sorrel is a good partner to many types of fish including trout, salmon and tuna. The young tender leaves can be eaten raw in salads.
Tarragon – Used in Béarnaise and hollandaise sauces, soups and fish dishes. Tarragon is especially good in stuffing for roast chickens.
Thyme – Thyme stimulates the appetite and aids digestion of fatty foods. Fresh this herb can be very pungent so should be used carefully, adding in small amounts. Use with meat, shellfish, poultry and game and lemon varieties of thyme combine well with fish and poultry dishes.
© 2014 Claire
Claire (author) from Lincolnshire, UK on October 06, 2015:
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on October 05, 2015:
Awesome selection of herbs here. I like the photos and you explained in detail.
Claire (author) from Lincolnshire, UK on June 19, 2014:
Thank you. I have a little herb garden outside my kitchen door and love the smell of them. The lemon balm is lovely and I have a new one this year, chocolate mint which I hope will make a nice herbal tea.
Shelley Watson on June 19, 2014:
Such wonderful things herbs, love their aroma and what they infuse into each dish. Love the tip about freezing them in ice cubes for later use. Pinning!