The word is herb derived was from the Latin herba meaning “grass”. Herbs are leaves and sometimes stems of a group of aromatic, non-woody plants used in cooking and can also be used medicinally.
Culinary herbs are used to impart aromatic quality to food either individually or in a mixture. The flavor comes from the oil stored in the leaves , which is released when the herb is crushed, chopped or heated. Particular herb suit different styles of cooking and every cuisines has its favourite herbs – the Middle East favour oregano, mint and dill; Thai cuisine uses coriander and lemon grass; in Italy basil, parsley and oregano are commonly used and in France tarragon, chervil and fennel.
The types of herbs used may also vary according to the season. Obviously you can use herbs at any time but the type of recipe they suit is often applicable for that time of year.
- Typical summer herbs are basil, dill, mint, oregano and parsley
- Spring herbs are chives, sorrel and chervil.
- Winter Herbs are sage, rosemary and thyme.
Most herbs are best when fresh. You can buy them cut or grow in pots on the windowsill or in the garden. If fresh herbs are unavailable, use dried but these are often more concentrated in flavor and you only need to use half or less of the quantity specified for fresh herbs.
Cooking with Herbs
- Chop herbs with scissors, a flat knife or mezzaluna. Chop bunches of more robust herbs like parsley in the food processor.
- Fine herbs such as tarragon or chives can be left large, shredded or snipped. Basil should be torn.
- Coarse herbs such as rosemary and parsley benefit from fine chopping.
- Flavor vinaigrette or mayonnaise by finely chopping or pounding the herbs in a mortar and pestle, then add the rest of the ingredients.
- Herbs such as basil, coriander and sage discolour if chopped too early.
- Where leaves of mint or basil can be steeped in water to make ‘tea”. Crush them gently in your hand first to release the aromatic oils.
Licorice flavored leaves used in salads, a popular herb used to flavor fish and vegetables especially in Eastern Europe cuisine.
There are several types of basil, all of which have a different flavor. Genoa or sweet basil is the best known, it has a spicy smell and is used extensively in Italian cooking.Greek basil has smaller leaves and a pungent flavor.
Thai or holy basil complements Thai and Southeast Asian dishes. Basil should be torn not chopped and added to hot food at the last moment to preserve the flavor, it doesn't dry well.
Delicate, lacy, pale-green leaves that deteriorate quickly and should be added to hot dishes just before serving. Use in salads or with creamy dishes. It has a subtle parsley flavor with a hint of aniseed. It goes particularly well with fish.
The leaves, stem ad root can all be used and each has its own purpose. The roots are used when a strong coriander flavor is needed and the leaves are added at the end of the cooking, both as a flavoring and a garnish. It goes well with chili, lime juice and meat dishes.
Dill has feather leaves that have a strong aniseed flavor. It goes well with fish, chicken, creamy sauces in salads and as a garnish for vegetables. Chop it and add at the end of the cooking.
Traditionally used in British cooking to go with lamb as mint sauce and on potatoes. Mint also goes well in salads and with steamed fish. There are lots of types of mint, including apple mint, peppermint and spearmint.
Available as flat-leaf or curly leaf parsley. Flat-leaf parsley tends to be stronger in flavor but the two can be used interchangeably. Parsley can be used as an ingredient as well as a decoration .
A strong flavored herb that needs to be used judiciously.If using in food, chop very finely. If using as a flavoring, use sprigs and remove before serving. Goes well with roast lamb and pork and in breads.
Sage leaves are traditionally used with onion to stuff goose and in Italian cuisine to flavor butter served with pasta, as well as in pork veal and liver dishes. The whole leaves can be deep-fried and used in garnish . Use sparingly as the flavor can be strong.
Tarragon has a hint of aniseed to its flavor and is used in many classic French dishes. It makes good aromatic sauces for poultry and can be used to flavor vinegar.
There are many varieties and all have small eaves that can be used as a flavor in casseroles and soups. Thyme give a rich aromatic flavor to slow-cooked food and roasts.
Not a member of the mint family. The leaves are served as a garnish for laksa, beef pho and with spring rolls and dipping sauce. It can be used in salads to give a spicy flavor.
Tips in storing herbs
- Herbs that are sold in plastic boxes or cellophane bags keep them well.
- Put loose herbs into plastic bags and store in the vegetable crisper of the fridge.
- Herbs with more robust leaves will keep longer than more fragile ones.
- Big bunches of mint, parsley and coriander will keep in a jug of water for a few days.
- Preserve fresh herbs by setting springs into ice cubes.
What herbs do you use in your cooking?
Jesséle on July 09, 2013:
Thank you.I must save this for later.
Spices on September 06, 2011:
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Balinese from Ireland on April 05, 2011:
i love herb and always grow most the herb ;)
MM Del Rosario (author) from NSW, Australia on May 23, 2010:
i always look forward in your visit. Yes, herbs are now in as they are good for your health and diet.
Barbara from Stepping past clutter on May 02, 2010:
I love this. I have always wanted to know more about herbs- or profess to want to anyway. You have provided me with a cheat sheet. Thanks!
hometips from Plymouth, MN, United States on May 02, 2010:
Thanks. I need to keep a hard copy of this.
billyaustindillon on May 02, 2010:
A great run through of all the herbs I should have in my garden!