Herbs

Herbs, spices and seasonings have a long history going back five thousand years. It's no mystery why — they add flavor without fat or calories. Our guide, from FoodFit founder and CEO Ellen Haas' book, Great Adventures in Food tells you what to look for and helps you decide which flavors best enhance your family favorites.

Don't miss our Spice Chart


  

Angelica
Anise
Basil
Bay Leaf
Chervil
Chives
Cilantro

Dill
Fennel
Fines Herbes
Lemongrass
Marjoram
Mint
Oregano

Parsley
Rosemary
Sage
Savory
Tarragon
Thyme


 

Angelica

Description:
An herb with sweet, pungent smell and flavor.

Look For:
Fresh leaves or candied stalks.

Best Uses:
Fresh leaves may be used in salads, custards and tart fruit dishes such as stewed rhubarb or gooseberries. Candied angelica is used as decoration on cakes and desserts.

Can I Grow At Home?
Yes.

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Anise

Description:
An herb that tastes reminiscent of licorice.

Look For:
Fresh leaves, dried seeds or ground powder.

Best Uses:
Adds distinct flavor to cakes, cookies, and breads. Good in beef stews, tomato-based sauces, and vegetable dishes. It's better to grind the seeds as needed rather than buy ground anise. Use a mortar and pestle.

Can I Grow At Home?
No.

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Basil

Description:
An herb with a generally sweet flavor and smell. There are many varieties which all taste different including purple (opal) basil, curly leaf basil and lemon basil. Dried basil does not have the same flavor as fresh, a mint taste predominates.

Look For:
Fresh leaves, dried or crushed.

Best Uses:
Marvelous in Mediterranean-style dishes such as tomato and pesto sauces, soups and salads, or with chicken or fish.

Can I Grow At Home?
Yes.

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Bay Leaf

Description:
An herb with dark green leaves and a pungent aroma.

Look For:
Fresh or whole dried leaves.

Best Uses:
Superb in beef stews, tomato sauces and other long-cooking dishes. Remove the leaves before serving. They're inedible.

Can I Grow At Home?
Yes.

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Chervil

Description:
An herb with feathery green leaves. Tastes slightly like licorice.

Look For:
Fresh leaves and ground powder.

Best Uses:
Sprinkle in green salads or vegetable dishes, or use with fish, and chicken. Chervil makes a great garnish. It is used much like parsley, however it's very delicate so avoid long cooking or high temperatures.

Can I Grow At Home?
Yes.

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Chives

Description:
A green herb that resembles grass and has a mild onion flavor.

Look For:
Fresh shoots, dried or frozen.

Best Uses:
Delightful in soups and sauces, fish and egg dishes and on baked potatoes. Long cooking diminishes their flavor, so it's best to add chives to a dish at the last minute. Fresh chives are often used as a garnish.

Can I Grow At Home?
Yes.

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Cilantro

Description:
A leafy, green herb that has a strong smell and a distinctive, refreshing taste.

Look For:
Fresh leaves. (Dried seeds are called coriander.)

Best Uses:
A popular addition to Mexican, South American, and Asian dishes. Great with ground meat, rice, and beans. Add fresh leaves at the last minute to fish, salads, salsas, and vegetables.

Can I Grow At Home?
Yes.

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Dill

Description:
An herb with feathery leaves and a delicate, tangy taste.

Look For:
Fresh and dried leaves and seeds.

Best Uses:
Dill flatters green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, and fish. It's best to add fresh leaves just before serving, cooking diminishes the flavor. Dill seeds are good in bread, braised cabbage, meat stews and for pickling.

Can I Grow At Home?
Yes.

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Fennel

Description:
An herb with a slight licorice flavor.

Look For:
Fresh stalks and whole dried seeds.

Best Uses:
Fresh chopped leaves are good in stuffing, sauces, soups, vegetables and seafood salads. Seeds are a unique addition to breads, sausages, spicy meat mixtures, and curries.

Can I Grow At Home?
Yes.

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Fines Herbes

Description:
A traditional French blend of four herbs: parsley, chive, chervil, and tarragon.

Look For:
Crumbled dry leaves or fresh leaves.

Best Uses:
Sprinkle on fish, poultry, eggs, and cheese for a special taste.

Can I Grow At Home?
Yes.

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Lemongrass

Description:
An herb with a sour lemon taste and fragrance.

Look For:
Fresh and dried stalks.

Best Uses:
An important herb in Thai and Indonesian cooking. Lovely with seafood or in soups and vinaigrettes. Use fresh stalks whole or chopped. Bruise the stem to release flavor and make sure to discard the upper fibrous part. Soak dried stalks in hot water before use.

Can I Grow At Home?
Yes.

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Marjoram

Description:
An herb that tastes like oregano though slightly milder and sweeter.

Look For:
Fresh leaves, whole dried leaves and crumbled dried leaves.

Best Uses:
A versatile herb used in fish, meat, and poultry dishes. Fresh chopped marjoram can be added to salads. It's very delicate, so add fresh marjoram at the end of cooking.

Can I Grow At Home?
Yes.

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Mint

Description:
An herb with spicy-sweet leaves. There are 30 different kinds, peppermint and spearmint are the most popular.

Look For:
Fresh leaves and crumbled dried leaves.

Best Uses:
A delicious addition to desserts, fruit salads, lamb and vegetable dishes. Great in iced tea and jellies. Dried mint is often used in Middle Eastern dishes, especially for cheese pastry fillings, yogurt dressings and for stuffing tomatoes and bell peppers.

Can I Grow At Home?
Yes.

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Oregano

Description:
A wild variety of the herb marjoram that has a stronger, more pungent taste.

Look For:
Fresh leaves and crumbled dried leaves.

Best Uses:
A basic herb in Italian, Greek, and Mexican cooking. Marvelous in tomato sauces and meat, poultry, and seafood dishes as well as eggplant and bean dishes. Oregano is also good in oil and vinegar salad dressings.

Can I Grow At Home?
Yes.

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Parsley

Description:
An herb with a fresh, slightly peppery flavor. Two common varieties are Italian flat leaf and curly leaf.

Look For:
Fresh leaves and dried leaves.

Best Uses:
It's good in salads, dressings, soups, and goes well with poultry, meats, fish, and seafood. Flat leaf parsley is best for cooking, because it is more flavorful and stands up better to heat. Curly leaf parsley is less flavorful but makes an ideal garnish.

Can I Grow At Home?
Yes.

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Rosemary

Description:
An herb with a piney, lemony flavor and aroma.

Look For:
Fresh needlelike leaves and dried leaves.

Best Uses:
It's delicious with lamb, pork, veal, and beef and roasted potatoes and mushrooms. To release the flavor of dried leaves, crush them just before using. Use whole sprigs to infuse long-cooking dishes with flavor; remove before serving.

Can I Grow At Home?
Yes.

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Sage

Description:
An herb with a musty-mint flavor and aroma.

Look For:
Fresh leaves; whole dried and crumbled leaves, or ground.

Best Uses:
It's wonderful with pork and in poultry stuffing, sausages, dried bean soups and stews. Dried sage is more powerful than its fresh form and should be used sparingly.

Can I Grow At Home?
Yes

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Savory

Description:
An herb that has summer and winter varieties. Both have a strong, slightly peppery taste but the winter variety has a stronger, sharper and spicier flavor.

Look For:
Fresh leaves and crumbled dried leaves.

Best Uses:
It's a special touch in bean dishes and is also good with most meats, in stuffing, or in tomato and onion dishes.

Can I Grow At Home?
Yes.

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Tarragon

Description:
An herb with a licorice-like flavor and long, thin leaves.

Look For:
Fresh whole leaves and dried whole and crumbled leaves.

Best Uses:
A perky addition to salads, vinaigrettes, chicken, fish, shellfish, veal, and egg dishes. Gives energy to vegetables. Tarragon's flavor, although subtle, diffuses quickly through dishes and should be used sparingly.

Can I Grow At Home?
Yes.

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Thyme

Description:
An herb with tiny, light green leaves and a minty, lemony aroma and flavor.

Look For:
Fresh whole leaves and dried whole and crumbled leaves.

Best Uses:
It's wonderful in poultry, fish, and vegetable dishes and in slow cooked stews and soups. Its flavor blends well with many other herbs. Chopped fresh leaves are much more pungent than dried.

Can I Grow At Home?
Yes.

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   Source: Copyright 2000 by Ellen Haas.
From the book "Great Adventures in Food" By Ellen Haas.
Used with permission of St. Martin's Press, LLC.
 

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