How to use herbs
Fresh herbs have the ability to elevate a dish to the next level, livening it up with a hit of freshness before serving, or adding a delicious depth of flavour throughout cooking.
Herbs are so easy to grow; whether you live in the city or the country, the sixteenth floor or in a basement flat, it doesn’t matter! Just stick them in your garden, window-box, terracotta pot – even a bucket – and you’ll have a never-ending supply of your favourite flavour-boosts.
Herbs can be classed as being either woody herbs, like rosemary and thyme, and soft herbs, like basil, coriander and parsley. Woody herbs are tougher and are generally too powerful to be eaten raw. Instead, they’re usually cooked alongside whatever they’re intended to flavour and are often removed before serving. Soft herbs aren’t quite as strong as woody ones – they can be eaten raw in salads, or scattered over and stirred into cooked food. There are so many exciting and interesting herbs out there, so we’ve picked the most commonly used ones to guide you through.
Basil is central to Italian cooking and rightly so – with a sweet, slightly aniseed flavour, basil livens up pasta dishes and salads, forms the base of delicious pesto, and is great combined with eggs and ripe cherry tomatoes for a mega-tasty omelette. Basil is good friends with tomato, mozzarella, garlic, aubergines, artichokes, balsamic vinegar, seafood and even strawberries. Try it in this salsa spaghetti, on bruschetta with ripe tomatoes or paired with mint in these tasty arancini cakes.
As a member of the onion family, chives have a similar, yet more delicate flavour. Great for sprucing up salads, chives can add a hit of freshness to savoury dishes. Chives are common in French cooking, and taste best when paired with potatoes, eggs and cheese. Stir them through Swedish pytt y panna, use them to liven up a potato salad, or top off this gorgeous goat’s cheese tart or your morning eggs on toast with them.
Oregano is a soft herb that behaves like a hard one. With its strong flavour, it pairs well with red meats, slow-cooked veg, and sumptuous pasta dishes. It also features in a huge number of classic Italian recipes, and is a mainstay in Italian-American classics like spaghetti and meatballs.
Marjoram is oregano’s little brother. Look at their leaves to tell them apart: marjoram has thinner, more delicate leaves which are rounded rather than pointed. It’s used a lot in northern European cuisine and is great friends with beetroot, carrots, pork and baked fish. It’s perfect in salads, and is particularly good with goat’s cheese. Try tossing it through pasta with garlic and juicy tomatoes. Although it’s a strong herb, marjoram is just mild enough to be eaten raw.
With its bitter, fresh flavour, parsley is perhaps the ultimate garnish for rich dishes. Having it to hand in the kitchen will mean you’re never without the perfect finish to most recipes. Whether flat-leaf or curly, sprinkle some torn fresh parsley over roasted lamb, beef stroganoff, grilled fish, a spicy chorizo omelette, or a beautiful bubble and squeak breakfast. Make sure you save the stalks – you can use them to flavour stocks.
Mint is a surprisingly hardy herb that survives all year round if treated well. There are lots of different kinds, but the most common varieties are peppermint and spearmint. Fresh mint goes really well with fruit – try it in this super-fresh fruit salad or sprinkled on grilled pineapple, or use it to take a homemade mojito to the next level. Mint is great in savoury salads, stirred through mushy peas, served with fish or stirred through cooling yoghurt in this tasty Keralan curry.
Rosemary, along with thyme, is a woody herb. Its comparatively tough leaves are usually stripped from the stalks and used in dishes with longer cooking times (the stalks are also great for adding flavour to soups and stews, as long as you remember to take them out before serving!). Rosemary is often used with roast meats, as well as roasted potatoes, on breads like focaccia, and in slow-cooked stews and pies. You can even use rosemary stalks to skewer and grill vegetable or meat kebabs! Rosemary also pairs perfectly with gin, as shown in this delicious gin fizz recipe.
Thyme is a short sturdy bush with long thin branches and tiny perfumed leaves. Like bay and rosemary, it’s a very popular ingredient in stews and stocks. It’s also delicious when roasted with meat or vegetables like squash, leeks or carrots, and is a great addition to slow-cooked stews. Thyme also pairs well with cheesy bakes, like mac ‘n’ cheese. Because of its strong flavour, it’s a good idea to use thyme sparingly.
Sage is another hardy herb, and will survive most weather conditions. It’s incredibly aromatic, and goes beautifully with deep flavours, but in a very different way to the sharp taste of parsley – its powerful flavour amplifies everything around it, instead of cutting through. Combine it with a proper plate of bangers and mash, slow-cooked onion and strong Cheddar cheese in Jamie’s English onion soup, or with lovely pork chops.
With a citrussy, light and sweet flavour, coriander is a great herb for garnishing finished dishes. It’s widely used in Latin American and Mexican cooking, from chopping it up into guacamole or fresh salsa, to stirring it through ceviche or pairing it with chilli, avocado and eggs in this South Amerian-style brunch. It’s also a brilliant herb for adding beautiful fresh flavour to Asian cooking and is often paired with mint – try it in Asian curries, salads, soups and broths. When crushed in a pestle and mortar, the stalks have even more flavour than the leaves and are a key ingredient in curry pastes.
Dill looks similar to fennel but has a slightly different flavour. It’s used all over eastern Europe, from Scandinavia down to Greece, and most famously in gravadlax. A fragrant herb, dill is delicious with fish, and in particular smoked salmon, as well as in salads, with potato, eggs and carrots.
Sorrel is a brilliant seasonal English herb. With a lemony sourness, sorrel is best used in cooked dishes. It’s great friends with eggs, fish and goat’s cheese, and a great herb to liven up potato and grain salads.
Tarragon is a delicate plant with long, floppy, green leaves. It has a flavour quite like aniseed and goes really well with chicken, eggs, tomatoes and potatoes. It’s also great chopped into salads.
Chervil is similar to tarragon but its flavour isn’t quite as strong. It has very delicate leaves and is good in salads and lightly flavoured creamy soups. Chefs love to use chervil leaves for garnishing food because they make just about anything look beautiful!
HOW TO STORE YOUR HERBS
Although they’re best when fresh, you will definitely find yourself needing to store your lovely herbs at some point. There are a number of ways to do this:
- Dry woody herbs at home by bunching them up. Do this by making bunches about the diameter of an OK-sign made with your thumb and forefinger. Bind with a tight roll of string, and hang them upside down in a warm, dry place. Once they’re dry, make sure not to bash around too much, as the leaves will fall off easily.
- Soft herbs are best stored in the freezer. Pick the leaves, rinse, and chop finely before drying on a tea towel and storing in freezer bags. Press out as much air as you can before laying them on top of one another in the freezer (make sure you label each bag). They will last a few months and can be used straight from frozen.
- You can also combine your herbs into lovely flavoured oils and salts, which make for store-cupboard secret weapons or lovely homemade gifts. To make oils, simply push a few stems into a bottleful of quality extra virgin olive oil. For salts, spread your herbs in a single layer over a baking tray and dehydrate in a very low oven – keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t lose their colour – then cool and crush into salt grains.
Pick your herbs for storing when the leaves look their best and freshest – at that point the sun will have penetrated them well, and they will release all their oils when used.
For more guidance on fresh herbs, watch this masterclass from the lovely Georgina Hayden from Jamie’s food team.
How to Use Herbes de Provence
As its name suggests, herbes de Provence hails from the South of France the fragrant blend gathers up herbs that grow in abundance in Provence.
While the dominant flavors are usually thyme and rosemary, the blend usually includes other herbs, such as fennel, bay leaf, chervil, savory, basil, and marjoram. These days, lavender often makes its way into the mix, even though it’s not historically part of the blend.
Fresh versus Dried Herbes de Provence?
Sure, if you live in Provence where these herbs grow abundantly, you can pluck them fresh and chop them together for the blend. Yet dried herbes de Provence blends are more common, and make their way into cooking throughout France. In fact, because the hallmark of these herbs is their piney, perfumey aroma, the dried versions—which can be very aromatic indeed—work plenty of magic in recipes. Just be sure not to get overly enthusiastic: They can overpower a dish if used in abundance.
Generally, you’ll need to use more of the fresh herb blend than you would the dried herb blend, as drying the herbs concentrates their flavors. For every 1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence, use 2 teaspoons fresh.
How to Use Herbes de Provence
Herbes de Provence is classic in Provencal cooking—enjoy it in recipes for ratatouille, tapenade, stuffed vegetables, and beef daube.
To experiment with your own recipes, try the following ideas:
• Combine with olive oil and brush over chicken or fish before grilling or roasting.
• Use instead of Italian herbs in your next pizza or pasta sauce.
• Toss root vegetables with herbes de Provence and olive oil before roasting.
Also try it in my recipe, below.
Braised Chicken with Garlic, Lemon, and Herbes de Provence
Don’t shy away from all that garlic! As it braises, it mellows, becoming rich and sweet. When mashed, it also helps thicken the sauce. This recipe is from my e-cookbook, The Braiser Cookbook: Irresistible Recipes Created Just for Your Braiser.
1 3-1/2- to 4-pound chicken, cut up (or use 2-1/2 to 3-pounds chicken pieces)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled (about 20 cloves)
2 teaspoons dried herbes de Provence, crushed
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon fresh snipped parsley
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon peel
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the butter and olive oil in a 3-1/2-quart braiser or deep, ovengoing skillet with a lid over medium-high heat add the chicken and cook, turning often, about 10 to 15 minutes or until brown on all sides. Transfer chicken to a plate and drain off all but 1 tablespoon fat from pan.
2. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the garlic cloves and cook, stirring, until they’re starting to color (but not brown), about 2 minutes. Add the herbes de Provence, white wine and chicken broth to the pan bring to a boiling, scraping up the browned bits in the bottom of the pan.
3. Return chicken to braiser, skin side up. Cover the braiser, slide it into the oven, and bake for 20 minutes. Baste the chicken with the pan juices. Bake, uncovered until the chicken is tender and no longer pink (170°F for breasts, 180°F for thighs and drumsticks), 20 to 30 minutes more.
4. Remove chicken to a serving platter cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Set the braiser over medium-high heat. If it looks like there’s less than 1/2 cup pan juices in the pan, add enough additional wine to equal about 1/2 cup. Bring the pan juices to a boil while using a fork to mash the garlic cloves, whisking the pulp into the liquid as you work. Add the lemon juice. Whisk in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until incorporated.
5. Divide chicken among four serving plates and top each serving with some of the sauce. Sprinkle the parsley and lemon peel over all.
Herbes de Provence photo by emmrichard via Flickr.
Recipe photo by Richard Swearinger.
How to Use the Five Most Common Herbs
Don't let that bundle of parsley or chives waste away in your fridge. Put those common herbs to good use with these food and drink ideas.
Herbs give food a more complex flavor and also provide major health benefits, says herbalist Jennifer McGruther, the author of Vibrant Botanicals (Buy It, $22, amazon.com). "Most are a rich, dense source of micronutrients and antioxidants," she says.
And spring and summer are great times to enjoy them, as farmers markets are filled with the most common herbs and their varieties in these seasons. Fresh herbs aren&apost just for garnishes, either: Use them as fresh finishers scattered over your dishes toss them into sauces, dips, and pesto or bring some earthiness to fruity and chocolaty desserts. (Better yet, use them in these creative, herb-heavy recipes.)
Before you toss a handful into whatever dish your concocting, study this guide to the most common herbs to make sure you bring the best — and freshest — flavors to it.
Sparking catnip nightcap recipe for better sleep
Catnip tea ($23)
Herbal iced tea (optional)
Valerian tincture ($18) (optional)
Organic honey (optional)
1. Steep catnip tea in boiling hot water for 30 seconds
2. Swap the teabag to a glass of sparkling water and let steep for at least 10 minutes
3. Add your (regular or herbal tea) ice and optional valerian tincture and honey
For more healthy recipes and cooking ideas from our community, join Well+Good’s Cook With Us Facebook group.
22 Different Spices and Herbs and How to Use Them
Cooking with spices and herbs not only lessens the urge to shake the salt, but also enhances flavor and adds depth to a number of foods. From allspice to turmeric, discover 22 different spices and herbs and how to use them!
Seasonings are packed with nutrients and offer great health benefits, as most were previously and continue to be used in alternative medicine. From allspice to turmeric, discover 22 different spices and herbs and how to use them!
Allspice resembles the flavors of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and pepper. Used in its ground or whole form, allspice flavors both desserts and savory dishes, along with being a key ingredient in spiced cider and Jamaican jerk chicken .
Exuding a sweet and earthy aroma, basil is one of the most commonly used herbs in the kitchen. Also offering its flavorful appearance in pesto , the herb pairs well with a number of meat dishes, vegetables, and soups.
Cardamom is a spice described as strong and pungent, with light notes of lemon and mint. For the freshest flavor, purchase whole cardamom pods over ground to preserve the natural essential oils. Find over 30 cardamom recipes here .
4. Cayenne Pepper
Coming from a hot chili pepper, cayenne pepper offers spice to a number of dishes. From honey sesame fish tacos to Cajun pretzels, try one of these 15 amazing things you can make with cayenne pepper.
You may either love it or hate it, as evolving research suggests the genes you were born with can dictate the flavor you perceive from cilantro. While some attribute to the taste of soup, others who enjoy it describe it as a mild tasting parsley with a citrus zest. The delicate leaves should be consumed raw or added to the end of cooking, pairing well with Mexican dishes, fish, or soups and salads.
Described as woody and sweet, cinnamon is mostly known for its warm contribution in a number of spiced desserts and breakfast items, including this cinnamon apple pancake recipe . However, cinnamon can also serve double duty in savory dishes in braised dishes and soups further described here .
Kin to garlic, shallot, leek, and scallion, chives oftentimes get mistaken for green onions and scallions. Chives differ based on their extremely slender, hallow stalk though they similarly also garnish fresh green salads, baked potatoes, creamy potato salad, deviled eggs, and can be added into butters, vinegars, and sauces for added flavor depth.
Cloves offer an aromatic flavor to a number of dishes, including to enhance meats, curries, marinades, along with apples and pears. The spice is mostly known for its use in pumpkin pie, including bistroMD’s mini pies using simple ingredients to create a delicious gluten-free, heart healthy variation!
Either prepared with its whole or grounded form, cumin is a flowering plant with the seeds added to cuisines. The nutty flavor is widely used in curry recipes, as curry powder mostly consists of curry leafs, coriander, turmeric, and cumin. For a Thai twist on a Thanksgiving classic, give this pumpkin curry with shrimp recipe a try!
The feathering green leaves are commonly used in soups, stews, and for pickling hence “dill pickles.” Find eight flavorful recipes to use a bunch of dill here , including grilled carrots with lemon and dill, zucchini with yogurt-dill sauce, and golden quinoa salad with lemon, dill, and avocado!
From powdered garlic used to flavor this grilled chicken with roasted garlic velouté sauce to the whole garlic head in these roasted garlic hummus in cucumber cups , the pungent and strong flavors of garlic offer bold flavors to numerous dishes.
The root or stem of the ginger plant is often consumed fresh, dried, and in its oil or powdered form. The pungent and spicy flavor often compliments Chinese cuisine, recommended to cleanse the palate and used in herbal teas.
The refreshing herb is mostly attributed to mint chewing gum, though it pairs well with various flavors, including this chocolate mint smoothie and fizzy blueberry mint drink . Along with its value in numerous recipes, the herb also provides an extensive number of health benefits .
When there is cinnamon, there is oftentimes the presence of nutmeg. Enjoy the flavorful power duo in this healthy cinnamon-spiced mashed sweet potatoes recipe !
Orega-NO? More like orega-YES! Oregano is commonly stocked in the pantry and offers an accelerated and fresh flavor to a wide variety of foods. Add oregano to sauces and dressings, salads, and poultry.
Chopped fresh or dried, parsley offers a fresh-spring like flavor to stocks, stews, and soups. The herb can also dress up a number of dips, complement various casseroles, along with these other 25 ways to use parsley .
The strong pine flavor of rosemary pairs well with eggs, potatoes, and steak. This herb beef sirloin skewers recipe are not only loaded with flavor, but with 29 grams of protein per serving!
Described “hay-like” and sweet, saffron also offers a vibrant yellow-orange to a number of cuisines. The use of saffron ranges from chorizo and shrimp paella to lemon buttermilk pie with saffron, all described here !
Touted as the sister of rosemary, sage is a perennial woody herb displaying gray-green leaves. Sage leaves mostly complement fish and poultry dishes, along with various vegetables and sausages.
Offering a distinctive flavor reminiscent of anise or licorice, the tarragon leaves are an edible herb pairing often with fruit, poultry, seafood, and sauces. Find more information on tarragon and various uses here .
Used in both its fresh and dried forms, thyme offers a subtle yet savory note to a number of soups, stews, and roasted dishes. In addition to rosemary in the skewer recipe provided above, thyme further compliments the meat.
Turmeric is a brightly colored yellow, orange-ish spice mostly known for its warm, bitter taste in curry dishes. The spice can also be added to egg scrambles and rice dishes, tossed with roasted veggies, or mixed into soups and even smoothies.
How to Use Extra Herbs
While fresh herbs can almost always be substituted for dried in recipes and are delicious as an additional garnish on recipes, oftentimes you will find that you have more fresh herbs than you can use in one dish. Here are some great ways to use up your leftover fresh herbs.
- Mix a handful of fresh oregano, mint, dill, or basil leaves into green salads, potato salad, or tuna salad.
- Make pesto out of basil, parsley, or mint, and use it as a topping for pasta, pizza, fish, chicken, sandwiches, or crackers. Pesto also freezes well, so you can enjoy some now and some later.
- Top pizza with fresh basil or oregano.
- Add fresh basil or oregano to sandwiches and wraps.
- Add herbs to almost any pasta dish, especially pasta salads. This Pasta Salad with Roasted Summer Vegetables and Fresh Mozzarella is a great choice.
- Sprinkle chopped fresh herbs in or on top of omelets or frittatas.
- Before or after roasting vegetables or potatoes, toss them with rosemary, thyme, dill, or oregano.
- Rub meat or fish with fresh herbs before baking or grilling it. This Grilled Salmon has you top the dish with a fresh herb pesto right after grilling.
- Add sprigs of fresh mint, rosemary, or sage to lemonade or iced tea.
- Use herbs as a garnish on a platter, or put bunches in small vases for table decorations.
- Bring a bunch to a friend or neighbor as a sweet summertime surprise.
Step 5: Bay Leaves.
Can be found fresh, but are more commonly sold dried. Fresh bay leaves have a more mild flavor. I would describe the flavor as similar to oregano, but more pungent.
Bay leaves are used most often in soups and stews, and normally used to flavor braised meats. Bay leaves can also be found in bouquet garni.
Bay leaves are an integral ingredient in Cuban and French cuisine. They're also excellent to use in bean soups. I always throw one in when I cook dried beans.
Just remember to remove the bay leaf when serving. They taste awful. Very bitter!
21 Ways to Use Up Fresh Herbs Before They Go Bad
Fresh herbs are a precious commodity—at least they seem that way when you don’t have a garden and you have to pay $4 for a tiny plastic clamshell of basil. Or maybe you do have a set of windowsill pots that are producing faster than you expected. In either case, the intention is always to make the most of every little leaf. Yet things so often get out of hand.
Despite all our best plans, who among us hasn’t purchased a big green bouquet of cilantro or parsley only to have it wilt into a slimy black mass in the bottom of the crisper drawer? Or somehow let 80 percent of that expensive little bit of basil turn brittle and brown in the back of the fridge? Or even neglected the oregano growing ever taller in the yard until it’s too far gone for chimichurri?
It sucks to lose money, and no one wants to waste food, but it’s so easy to forget, or just not be sure what to do with that leftover green stuff lurking in the dark.
If you have more fresh herbs on your hands than you know what to do with, never fear. There are several ways to deal with them, whether you want to make them last a little longer or use up a whole bunch at once.
12 Fresh Homemade Pasta Recipes
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Eric Akis: How to preserve fresh herbs
If you have an herb garden, or buy fresh herbs, these things are often true: You’ll have leftover herbs after using some for a recipe. Or, you’ll have so many herbs growing in your garden you only use a fraction of them during the growing season.
That, in turn, must explain why readers frequently ask me how to preserve herbs. I’ve not written about that topic for many years, so here’s a refresher course.
In all methods below, if the herbs you have are clean, there’s, obviously, no need to wash them again before preserving them, as some of there natural oils may be lost during the process. However, if the herbs are dusty or dirty, dip and gently swirl bundles of them in cold water to clean them. Shake off the excess water and then, before using, hang them until dry, or dry on a kitchen towel.
Freezing: Freezing herbs helps to preserve their vibrant colour. One method is to set herb sprigs in a single layer on parchment paper-lined sheet. Now freeze them solid, transfer to a freezer bag or container, and keep frozen. When you want to use some, take out what you need, chop or crumble it, and add to the dish you are making.
You can also chop herbs before freezing them, individually, or in combination with other herbs. Once chopped, set in a bowl, moisten with a bit of stock or olive oil, and then spoon into an ice cube tray and freeze. Once frozen, unmould and place the frozen herb cubes in freezer bags or containers and keep frozen until needed for a soup, stew, salad or other dish.
Oven drying: Preheat oven to 185 F to 200 F. Set herbs sprigs, or leaves of fresh herbs, in a single layer on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Place in the oven, with oven door held slightly ajar with a kitchen spoon. Gently heat herbs until completely dry, about 25 to 30 minutes or more, depending on the type. Let herbs cool, and then crumble, crush or grind and store in a sealed jar alongside your other dried herbs.
Microwave drying: This method is good for quickly drying herbs. Set a piece of paper towel on a microwave-safe plate. Set a single layer of herbs sprigs or leaves on the paper towel. Set another piece of paper towel on top of the herbs. Microwave herbs on high one minute. Check herbs and if not completely dry, continue heating in 20-second intervals, until they are. During the process, watch the herbs closely, as you don’t to scorch them. Let herbs cool, and then crumble, crush or grind and store in a sealed jar alongside your other dried herbs.
Hang drying: Gather herbs into bundles and tie stems together. Place each bundle into a brown paper lunch bag with the stems extending out of the open end. Poke some small holes in each bag for ventilation. Tie and hang the bags, stems side up, in a dark, dry, room-temperature or slightly warmer place. After one or two weeks or more, when the herbs are completely, take them out of the bags. Now remove the leaves from the stems, crumble, crush or grind them, and store in a sealed jar alongside your other dried herbs. Or simply pack the dried herbs, while still on the stem, in tight-sealing bags and remove and process the leaves from them just before needed.
Food dehydrator: If you have a food dehydrator, or were thinking of buying one, it too, of course, can be used to dry herbs. Read the machine manual for directions.
Salting: In a sterilized, dry, 125 or 250 millilitre jar, layer chopped fresh herbs, such as thyme, sage and rosemary, with coarse sea salt or kosher salt, ensuring the top and bottom layers are salt. Store jar in your pantry. Overtime, the salt will draw moisture from the herbs, preserving them. Use this herb-flavoured salt to season steaks and roasts.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.