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February 11, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 2 Faves: 4

Herbs 101: An In-Depth Guide to Herbs and 22 Herb-Packed Recipes to Use Them In!

By Erin Froehlich More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Gastronomics Blog Series

dill in my gardenI was at the grocery store doing my produce shopping the other day when a bunch of dill caught my eye. Typically, the only time I ever purchased it was when I was planning to make my family's favorite cucumber salad, but I was in the mood for a culinary challenge so I picked it up just the same. At home, I found that my tuna and egg salads loved fresh dill as much they did the chopped pickle I usually added and I was so encouraged by the result, I found myself pulling the herb out first and planning meals around it. Among the favorites are a lemon dill herbed-rice, a homemade garden cream cheese for our bagels, and a really indulgent midnight snack of melted brie on baguette slices topped with fresh chopped dill and a little black lumpfish caviar on top.  herb guide

The exercise got me thinking - usually, when we think of herbs, they are an afterthought in developing a dish. They’re the supporting cast behind a star protein and a co-starring carb meant to make our meats, grains, and veggies shine a little brighter. However,while they play that part beautifully, sadly, they rarely get their own much-deserved chance in the spotlight - truly a shame considering all herbs can boast.

For one, most herbs are extremely beneficial for our health and packed with cancer-fighting phytonutrients (including the antioxidant sort we always hear about), vitamins, and minerals. In fact, many culinary herbs can double as medicinal tonics as well and there are now multiple studies indicating a diet rich in herbs as an effective means of preventing disease. But even besides all their health chops, herbs deliver big flavors with near to no calories or fat – a dieter’s dream!

“That’s all well and good,” you might be thinking, “but how on earth do I actually use them?” If you’re in that boat, never fear – I've got you covered. Here’s a crash course in 11 delightful herbs that even the most amateur chef should know and love.


Basil

Basil

This fragrant herb, which takes its name from the old Greek word for “royal,” has been considered noble and sacred for centuries – and with its health benefits and bright flavor, it’s no wonder! To get the most out of this herb, buy it fresh. Much of basil’s distinctive taste is lost in the drying process.

Flavor Profile: Sweet, Spicy, Minty, Peppery, Licorice-Like

Cuisine: Italian, Southeast Asian

Flavor Pairs Well With: Tomato, Bell Peppers, Strawberry, Lemon, Artichoke, Eggplant, Most Meats

Health Benefits: Among its many benefits, basil boasts antibacterial properties and acts as a soothing agent to upset stomachs. It’s high in Vitamin K and Manganese; a good source of Omega-3; helps to stimulate the immune system and blocks the metabolic pathways linked to cancer.

 Basil Pesto

 Strawberry Basil Salad

Time Tested:

Basil Pesto from Two Peas & Their Pod

New Spin:

Strawberry Basil Salad from Sunny Vegan


Mint

Mint

Mint comes in a multitude of varieties.  Due to its higher menthol concentration, peppermint has a stronger taste than spearmint, which is sweeter and less intense. As their names suggest, others like apple mint, or chocolate mint, or pineapple mint have added flavor characteristics.

Flavor Profile: Strong, Refreshing, Cooling

Cuisine: Thai, Middle Eastern, North African, English

Flavor Pairs Well With: Cucumber, Citrus Fruits, Mango, Peas, Lamb, Chocolate

Health Benefits: Has anti-microbial properties; relieves upset stomachs; helps keep airways open for easier breathing; offers Vitamin A, manganese and Vitamin C; stimulates detox and thus helps prevent tumors; has soothing properties and is thus used in many anti-stress teas and “sleepytime” teas.

 Mint -Chocolate Fudge Pie

 Green Cucumber Mint Gazpacho

Time Tested:

Mint-Chocolate Fudge Pie from Chocolate Covered Katie

New Spin:

Green Cucumber & Mint Gazpacho from BBC Food

Parsley

Parsley

Probably the most under-appreciated herb on this list, parsley is good for much more than garnishing plates or freshening breath. It’s a nutritional powerhouse with a long and rich history and, like basil, it was considered sacred by the ancient Greeks.  Parsley is usually available in curled (as shown above) and flat leaf varieties. When buying flat leaf parsley, make sure to double-check the label – it’s often confused with its near-identical twin, cilantro!

Flavor Profile: Peppery, Fresh, Clean, Light. It’s often included alongside dishes to help cleanse the palate.

Cuisine: Mediterranean

Flavor Pairs Well With: Eggs, Cream, Cheese, Potatoes

Health Benefits: Has high levels of vitamins A, C, iron, and folate; packed with carcinogen-fighting phytochemicals; known to improve digestion and high in odor-absorbing chlorophyll, meaning it can improve your breath.

 Tabbouleh

 Deep-Fried Parsley

Time Tested:

Tabbouleh from Gimmie Some Oven

New Spin:

Fried Curled Parsley from Saveur

Tarragon

Tarragon

Though it was first cultivated in Siberia, tarragon has since become beloved in French cuisine. This sweet herb is the main flavor agent in béarnaise, a French sauce used primarily for steak. It’s also an ideal addition to a garden – its scent has pest-repelling properties!

Flavor Profile: Licorice-like, but more sweet than strong.

Cuisine: French

Flavor Pairs Well With: Chicken, Eggs, Seafood, Green Beans, Tomato, Squashes, Root Veggies, Apple, Citrus, Dressing or Sauces

Health Benefits:  Antibacterial. Antifungal.Relieves toothaches and sore gums. Stimulates appetite. Stress-relieving. Improves digestion. Rich in manganese, iron, calcium, vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C.

 Bearnaise

 Apple Tarragon Granita

Time Tested:

Bearnaise Sauce from BBC Foods

New Spin:

Apple and Tarragon Granita from Emeril Lagasse

Marjoram

Marjoram

Often confused with its close cousin, oregano, marjoram is sweeter and more delicate. Though this herb has many health benefits, it’s best to use it sparingly; when used in large quantities, its floral flavor can take over a dish.

Flavor Profile: Similar to oregano, but sweeter with lemony tang.

Cuisine: French, Middle Eastern, Mexican

Flavor Pairs Well With: Most Meats, Carrots, Potatoes, Spinach, Green Beans, Tomatoes, Squash, Zucchini, Dressing or Sauces

Health Benefits: Antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral. Rich in iron, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C. Improves digestion and calms digestive upsets.  Has heart-healthy antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

 Whole Grilled Shrimp with Lemon and Marjoram

 Za'atar and Feta Pizza

Time Tested:

Whole Grilled Shrimp with Lemon and Marjoram from Emeril Lagasse

New Spin:

Za’atar and Feta Pizza from The Purple Foodie

Cilantro

Cilantro

A culinary staple in many cultures, cilantro is an herb that inspires rapture in some and revulsion in others. ( I fall into the former category!) But cilantro haters of the world should take note: this unique herb packs quite the nutritional punch.

Flavor Profile: Distinctive, Earthy, Pungent, Slightly Citrus and Spice, Soap-Like to Some.

Cuisine:  Asian, Mexican, Indian

Flavor Pairs Well With:  Lime, Avocado, Lentils, Coconut, Spicy Foods, Sausage, Tomato, Curry, Fish

Health Benefits: Helps control blood sugar, cholesterol and free radical production; prevents salmonella poisoning; helps with detoxification and improves digestion.

 Scallion Cilantro Rice with Habeneros and Lime

 Cilantro Pesto

Time Tested:

Scallion Cilantro Rice with Habeneros and Lime from SkinnyTaste

New Spin:

Cilantro Pesto (from me!)

Dill

Dill

If your only taste of this herb has been in pickles, you’re in for a treat: dill is much more versatile than you might think! Long revered for both its clean flavor and its medicinal properties, it’s no wonder this tangy herb is a staple in kitchens the world over.

Flavor Profile: Sweet, clean, grassy, and a little tangy.

Cuisine: Scandinavian, Greek, Indian, Eastern European

Flavor Pairs Well With: Pickles, Potatoes, Fish, Green Beans, Creamy Sauces, Corn

Health Benefits: Good source of calcium, manganese, iron and fiber; antioxidant, anti-tumor, and antibacterial. Good for digestion and upset stomach.

 Dilly Cucumber Salad

 Lemon Dill Pistachio Sharing Cookie

Time Tested:

Dilly Cucumber Salad (from me!)

New Spin:

Lemon, Dill, Pistachio Sharing Cookie from Mother Earth Living

Thyme

Thyme

Thyme was once used as an embalming agent for Egyptian Pharaohs, but today, it can be used to liven up dishes from all over the world. Among its many benefits, culinary and otherwise, this sweet herb has long been beloved by practitioners of natural medicine as an aid to respiratory health.

Flavor Profile:  Sweet, piney and slightly tangy.

Cuisine: French, Middle Eastern, Greek, Italian, Spanish

Flavor Pairs Well With: Meat, Breads, Creamy Sauces, Potatoes, Root Vegetables, Tangy Fruits, Tomatoes

Health Benefits: Antiseptic, anti-fungal and antibacterial properties.One of the highest concentrations of antioxidants among herbs. High in vitamin K, iron, manganese, calcium and fiber. Contains tryptophan a mild sedative. Prevents age-related brain, kidney and heart degradation.

 Linguine with Lemon, Garlic and Thyme Mushrooms

 Tomato Thyme Ricotta Tart

Time Tested:

Linguine with Lemon, Garlic and Thyme Mushrooms from Nigella Lawson

New Spin:

Tomato, Ricotta and Thyme Tart from Donal Skehan

Oregano

oregano

Oregano has been used as a symbol of joy since ancient times, when it adorned the heads of Greek and Roman brides and grooms. These days, its status as joy-bringer comes mostly from the fact that it pairs well with many of our favorite foods. After all, who doesn’t like pizza and pasta?

Flavor Profile:  Strong, Sweet, Spicy.

Cuisine: Italian, Greek, Mexican

Flavor Pairs Well With: Tomato, Beef, Peppers, Dressing, Olives, Capers, Chicken, Fish

Health Benefits: Oregano is high in vitamin K, manganese, irons, fiber and calcium.Oregano boasts more antioxidants per gram than any other herb. It also contains a small amount of tryptophan which acts as a mild sedative in the body.

 Snapper with Lemon and Oregano Sauce

 Creamy Oregano Pea Pasta

Time Tested:

Snapper with Lemon and Oregano Sauce from World Yums

New Spin:

Creamy Oregano Pea Pasta from Kitchen Thymes

Sage

Sage

You’d be wise to include this powerful herb (2001’s “Herb of the Year,” no less) in your culinary repertoire. As its name suggests, it has a reputation as a powerful brain booster – specifically in the area of memory. So next time you’re looking for something unique to spice up your latest recipe, keep sage in mind.

Flavor Profile:  Earthy. Very strong, Peppery, Almost Pine-Like.

Cuisine: European, Italian, Turkish and Middle Eastern

Flavor Pairs Well With: Squash, Pumpkin, Peach, Berries, Citrus, Sausage, Rich Stuffing, Cheese, and Creamy Sauces

Health Benefits: Favonoids, phenolic acid and enzymes – a trifecta of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory power!

 Basic Apple and Sage Stuffing

 Blackberry Sage Tea Ice Cream

Time Tested:

Basic Apple and Sage Stuffing Recipe from Chow

New Spin:

Black BerrySage Tea Ice Cream from Phoo-d

Rosemary

Rosemary

Would rosemary by any other name smell as sweet? There’s no way to be sure, but one thing we can know: this Mediterranean herb is both delicious and great for your health! Prized in centuries past for its medicinal and cosmetic uses, it has become renowned in recent years for its therapeutic value.

Flavor Profile: Strong, Floral, Pine-like.

Cuisine: Mediterranean

Flavor Pairs Well With: Meat, Potatoes, Bread, Apples, Pineapple

Health Benefits:  Rich in flavanoids, rosemary has anti-inflammatory which help protect the heart and antioxidant properties than prevent tumor growth. Rosemary also has aromatherapeutic benefits. Studies show the smell improves attention and memory.

 Roasted Rosemary Potatoes

 Apple Cider, Rosemary Ice Pops

Time Tested:

 Roasted Rosemary Potatoes from Do It Delicious

New Spin:

Apple Cider and Rosemary Ice Pops from Bon Appetit

Do you have a favorite herb or even better - a favorite  herb recipe? I'd love to hear about it!

Writing Credit:

Laura Hogg: The Joyful Fox

Sources:

University of Rhode Island: Growing, Harvesting and Using Culinary Herbs: Facts Sheets

Epicurious: A Visual Guide to Fresh Herbs

Whole Living: Pantry Primer

Mother Earth Living

HerbWisdom.com

World's Healthiest Foods.com

RECIPE/PHOTO CREDITS:

Two Peas & Their Pod: Basil Pesto

Sunny Vegan: Strawberry Basil Salad

Chocolate Covered Katie: Mint-Chocolate Fudge Pie

BBC Food: Green Cucumber & Mint Gazpacho

Gimmie Some Oven: Tabbouleh

Saveur: Fried Curled Parsley

BBC Food: Bearnaise Sauce

Emeril Lagasse: Apple and Tarragon Granita

Emeril Lagasse: Whole Grilled Shrimp with Lemon and Marjoram

The Purple Foodie: Za’atar and Feta Pizza

SkinnyTaste: Scallion Cilantro Rice with Habeneros and Lime

Smart Living Network: Cilantro Pesto

Smart Living Network: Dilly Cucumber Salad

Mother Earth Living: Lemon, Dill, Pistachio Sharing Cookie

Nigella Lawson: Linguine with Lemon, Garlic and Thyme Mushrooms

Donal Skehan: Tomato, Ricotta and Thyme Tart

World Yums: Snapper with Lemon and Oregano Sauce

Kitchen Thymes: Creamy Oregano Pea Pasta

Chow: Basic Apple and Sage Stuffing Recipe

Phoo-d: Black Berry Sage Tea Ice Cream

Do It Delicious: Roasted Rosemary Potatoes from Do It Delicious

Bon Appetit: Apple Cider and Rosemary Ice Pops

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2 Comments

  • LOVE this blog. You're exactly right about herbs -- medicinal and delicious. It doesn't get better than that, yet they are so easily forgotten.

  • Thanks, Christina! Glad you enjoyed it.

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