Friday, August 28, 2015

Herbs 101

Herbs are plants that have several uses including culinary, medicinal, spiritual and for the production of perfumes. Herbs are the leafy green parts of a plant (either fresh or dried). They differ from spices (usually dried) which are from other parts of a plant --  either seeds, berries, bark, roots or fruits.

Culinary herbs are different from vegetables as they are used in small amounts to add flavor to foods not for substance. They can be both perennials and annuals in the form of plants, shrubs and trees. Some plants provide both herbs and spices like cilantro and coriander and dill and dill seed. 

Below are several common herbs and many you will see in your CSA shares. For a full list of culinary herbs and spices go here. For some fun facts about herbs and spices go here. For a visual guide of fresh herbs from Epicurious go here.


Basil is part of the mint family. It is native to India and has been cultivated there for over 5,000 years. It plays a role in Italian cuisine and a part in the Southeast Asian cuisines of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Taiwan. Depending on the species the taste can range from anise to lemon. There are several varietals of basil. Italian foods typically utilize sweet basil. Thai Basil, lemon basil and holy basil are used more for Asian dishes. For information on some of the more common varieties of basil go here. The word basil comes from the Greek word basileus meaning king. Basil is considered sacred in the Hindu culture. For more history and interesting facts about basil go here  and here. For more information about basil go here.


Chervil is a delicate annual herb and is sometimes called French parsley. It is is indeed related to parsley and carrots. It is commonly used to season mild flavored dishes and is part of the mixture of French herbs called Fine Herbes. Chervil is native to Caucasus and was spread by the Romans throughout Europe. Chervil is used widely in France to season poultry, seafood, spring vegetables, soups and sauces. It has a faint flavor of licorice. There are two main varieties of chervil, one is plain and the other is curly. Did you know some chervil has edible roots? They were enjoyed by the early Greeks and Romans as well as in England in the 14th and 17th century. Chervil is also called the “poor man’s tarragon” as they have similar flavor profiles. For more interesting information about chervil go here. Check out this interesting story about chervil on NPR.


Chives are part of the Allium genus that includes onions, garlic, scallions, shallots and leeks. It is a perennial that is abundant in Europe, Asia and North America. Chives are a bulb forming plant. In culinary use the Scapes (flowering stem) and the unopened flower of the plant are diced and used for an ingredient for fish, potatoes, soup and other dishes. There is more than one variety of chive including Garlic Chives, Giant Siberian Chives and Siberian Garlic Chives.  For more detail on Chive varieties click here. Chives have been grown in Europe since the Middle Ages and usage dates back 5000 years. Did you know that chives have an insect repelling property that can be utilized in a garden to control pests? It is also believed that dried bunches of chives hung around the house will ward off evil. For more fun facts about chives go here and for more about chives go here.


Cilantro is the Spanish word for coriander and is a common term in North America for coriander leaves due to their extensive use in Mexican cooking. It is also called Chinese parsley and is an annual herb that is part of the Apiaceae family. This family includes anise, caraway, carrots, celery and parsley. Coriander is native to regions spanning from Southern Europe, Northern Africa and Southwest Asia. There are 39 varieties of coriander and for more information go here. About a half liter of coriander seeds was recovered from the tomb of Tutankhamen lending proof that it was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians. Coriander was brought to the British Colonies of North America in 1670 and was one of the first spices/herbs cultivated by the settlers. All parts of the plant are edible. The fresh leaves and dried seeds are used in the cuisine of South Asia, SE Asia, India, the Middle East, Caucasian, Central Asian, Mediterranean, Tex-Mex, Latin, American, Brazilian, Portuguese, Chinese, African and Scandinavian. For some fun facts about cilantro go here. And for a more in depth herb profile go here.


Dill is an annual herb in the celery family - Apiaceae. It is a Germanic word of unknown origin. Dill weed and dill seed is a widely used herb in Europe and Central Asia to add flavor to many foods including Gralax and other fish dishes, soups like Borscht and as we know, the classic pickle. It is best fresh and looses its flavor quickly when dried. Dill is extremely popular in Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Estonia. Finland and Sweden but is widely used around the world. For more information about different varieties go here. Did you know that Greek athletes used a tonic made of dill to improve the tones of their muscles?  For more fun facts check out this article from For more information about dill go here here.


Marjoram is part of the Origanum marjorana species of the the Origanum Genus which includes oregano. Marjoram is a cold sensitive perennial herb with pine and citrus flavors. The name is Old French, majorane and it is native to Cyprus and Southern Turkey. It is cultivated for its tender leaves, either fresh or dry. There are three main varieties. Pot Marjoram which is hardy and is used in Greek cuisine as it grows wild there. Sweet or Knotted Marjoram which is used abundantly in French cuisine and Wild Marjoram which is also known as Oregano. It is used in two herb well known combinations Herbes de Provence and Za'atar. For culinary purposes it is often used in Mediterranean cooking. Some common culinary uses are to season soups, stews, dressings and sauces. Marjoram can also be steamed to produce an essential oil. It has several chemical components including borneol, camphor and pinene. To the Greeks and Romans marjoram was known as a symbol of happiness. And marjoram oil relaxes and soothes muscles after exercise. For more fun facts go here.


Mint is a mostly perennial herb (menthe or from Greek mintha) and is a genus of the plant family Lamiaceae which includes basil, rosemary, sage and savory to name a few. It has wide distribution across Europe, Africa, Australia and North America. Mint likes to thrive near pools of water, lakes, rivers and cool moist spaces. The most popular varieties of mint are peppermint, spearmint and apple mint. Here is a link to other available varieties. For culinary purposes fresh mint is preferred over dried. The leaves have a warm, aromatic and sweet flavor with a cool aftertaste. They are used in teas, beverages (think Mint Julep and Mojito), jellies, syrups, candies and ice cream. In the cuisine of the Middle East, mint is often paired with lamb. Mint essential oil and menthol are used widely in breath fresheners, drinks, antiseptic mouth rinses, toothpaste, chewing gum, desserts and candies. Mint was originally used as a medicinal herb to treat stomach and chest pain. In Greek mythology, Minthe is a nymph that is transformed into a mint plant. For more fun facts go here.


Oregano is a perennial herb whose scientific name is Origanum vulgar. It is a genus of the mint family. Oregano is native to West and Southwestern Eurasia and the Mediterranean region and prefers a hot and dry climate. Oregano is related to Marjoram and is often referred to as Wild Marjoram. There are several varieties of Oregano including Mexican Oregano which is actually a member of the Lemon Verbana family. To learn more go to this article comparing Mediterranean Oregano to Mexican from The Kitchn. To learn about other varietals go here. Depending on the variety the taste can be spicy and sweet. An important culinary herb, it can be used dry or fresh. Oregano is a staple of Italian American cooking. It became popular when the US soldiers returned home from WWII and brought the herb back calling it the "pizza herb." It's also widely used in the Mediterranean basin, Philippines and Latin America. Did you know good quality oregano can make your tongue go numb? And also to intensify the flavor of dried oregano, crush it in your hands first. For more fun facts go here.


Parsley is a biennial or annual depending on the climate and is a member of the Apiaceae family which includes celery and carrots. It is indigenous to the central Mediterranean region (South Italy, Algeria and Tunsia). It has been cultivated for over 2,000 years. The Greeks believed parsley to be sacred. It adorned the winners of athletic competitions as well as decorated tombs. There are two main groups of parsley grown and used as herbs - curly and flat leaf or Italian. Read this short article from The Kitchn that explains the differences. To learn more about a few other varietals of parsley go here. Parsley is used widely in the cuisine of Europe, the Middle East, Brazil and America. It is also frequently used as a garnish for potato, rice, fish and meat dishes to name a few. Persillade is a mixture of parsley and garlic used in French cooking. Gremolata is a mixture of parsley, garlic and lemon zest with is used to season traditional Italian dishes like Osso Buco. Did you know the ancient Romans used parsley to cure a hangover? To learn more fun facts about parsley go here.


Rosemary (Latin for "dew of the sea") is a woody, perennial herb which is part of the mint family Lamiaceae. The plant itself has fragrant evergreen and needle-like leaves that have an aromatic but bitter and astringent taste. Rosemary is native to the dry rocky regions of the Mediterranean and Asia. Rosemary has a long history steeped in the myths and traditions of several civilizations. There is a particularly strong association between the plant and the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. There are several varieties of rosemary. To learn more go here. Fresh and dried leaves are used in traditional Italian cuisine. It is wonderful with roasted meats and vegetables as well as with Barbecued foods. Rosemary can also be use to infuse oils. It is one to the five herbs that make up the French Bouquet Garni which is used to flavor fresh stocks, soups and stews. According to Greek legend the goddess Aphrodite was draped in rosemary as she ascended from the sea as the offspring of Uranus. And in the Middle Ages Rosemary was associated with wedding ceremonies. The bride would wear a headpiece and the groom and wedding guests would wear a sprig of rosemary. For more fun facts about rosemary go hereFor more general information about rosemary go here.


Sage, Salvia Officinalis, is a perennial evergreen with a woody stem and grayish leaves. It is a member of the Lamiaceae family. It is native to the Mediterranean region and has long been used for medicinal and culinary purposes. There are several culinary varieties of sage. To learn more go here. Sage has been used for several purposes since ancient times, to ward off evil, for snakebites and to increase the fertility in women to name a few. In ancient Rome it was known for its healing properties. Sage has a savory and slightly peppery flavor. It is used in many European cuisines, notably Italian, Balkan and Middle Eastern. In Italian cuisine it is essential for the dish Saltimbocca. In both British and American cooking it is used to make a savory stuffing to accompany a roast turkey or chicken on Christmas or Thanksgiving Day. Did you know sage was used as a meat preservative in ancient Greece and Rome because it has antibacterial properties? For more fun facts about sage go here

Summer Savory

In the Savory species there is summer and winter savory. Summer being an annual and Winter a perennial. Summer Savory is used more often than Winter as Winter has a more bitter and intense flavor. Winter Savory is primarily used for meats and beans. Summer Savory is a member of the mint family. It is native to Southeastern Europe and has been cultivated for over 2,000 years. It is often compared to Thyme and Marjoram. It is a key ingredient in the French herb mixes Herbs de Provence and Bouquet Garni. It also plays an important role in Bulgarian cuisine. Summer Savory can be used in omelettes, soups, stews, marinades and with meats, poultry and fish. It is a wonderful accompaniment to vegetables like cabbage, tomatoes, green peppers, asparagus  cauliflower, mixed greens and also to rice. It is often a key ingredient in sausages and stuffings. Did you know that in Medieval times it was used to enhance pies and cakes for a touch of spiciness? In the days of the ancient Egyptians, Summer Savory was stirred in as a powdered herb as an ingredient for love potions. For more fun facts go here and here.


Thyme (Genus Thymus) is a member of the mint family and related to Oregano. It is an evergreen herb that has culinary, medicinal and ornamental uses. Cultivated in hot, sunny locations, it is native to Asia, Southern Europe and the Mediterranean. It is also cultivated in North America. There are several varities of thyme. To read more about them go here. Thyme has been used since ancient times for many different uses. The ancient Egyptians used it as an embalming agent. The ancient Greeks used thyme in their bathes and burned it in their temples. The spread of thyme throughout Europe can most likely be attributed to the Romans who used it to purify their rooms and give aromatic flavor to cheeses and liqueurs. Thyme is a key ingredient in za'atar, bouquet garni and herbes de provence. It can be used both fresh or dried. Fresh thyme is sold in bunches of sprigs and one sprig is a single woody stem. Thyme matches well with beef, carrots, chicken, figs, fish, goat cheese, lamb, lentils, onions, peas, pork, potatoes, soups, tomatoes and venison. Did you know that since ancient times thyme has been associated with courage? The Greeks, Romans, Scottish Highlanders and the Knights of the Middle Ages all thought thyme brought strength and courage. For more fun facts about thyme go here and here.

To Store

Check out these helpful guides for storing various herbs from Sunset Magazine and Huffington Post. Also here is a great suggestion from The Kitchn on how to store and freeze fresh herbs in olive oil. Another way to preserve your herbs is to dry them. Check out these methods from hgtv gardens.

To Nourish

For a breakdown of nutritional information by herb go here and here.

To Prepare 

A general guideline when using fresh herbs in a recipe is 3 times as much as you would use of a dried herb. For a herb by herb guide on preparation go to this great site: Do it Delicious.

To Try

Watermelon Basil Cocktail
Summer Panzanella
Caprese Salad with Fried Capers and Basil
Black Pepper and Honey Marinated Cantaloupe with Basil
Lemon Basil Potatoes
Pizza Margherita
Grilled Lemon Basil Chicken
Thai Basil Chicken
Basil Gelato
Herb Butter with Chervil
Fines Herbs Omelette
Herbed Haricots-Verts
New Potatoes with Shallots and Chervil
Lemon Sole Veronique
Potted Lobster Stew with Chervil
Shrimp Cocktail with Avocado and Chervil
Chicken with Chervil Sauce
Eggs in a Basket with Maple Bacon, Fontina and Chives
Chive Pancakes
Green Goddess Dressing
Egg Salad Sandwich with Chives
Black Peppercorn Popovers with Chives and Parmesan
Creamy Chive Potatoes
Spring Green Risotto
Japanese Pizza
Crispy Herbed Shrimp and Chive Aioli
Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish Chive Sauce
Grilled Sirloin with Lemon Chive Pesto
Cilantro Pesto
Avocado Salad with Chives
Coriander Chicken, Cilantro and Chard Stew
DIY Pickles
Cheese Dill Scones
Kuku Sabzi - Leek and Herb Frittata with Dill
Turkish Poached Egg with Dill & Yogurt
Cucumber Potato Salad with Dill
Mitzti's Chicken Fingers with Dill Dipping Sauce
Greek Mac & Cheese
Gravadlax - Swedish Cured Salmon
First Night Crab with Dill
Smoked Trout with Grilled Asparagus and Dill Sauce
Tomato Frittata with Fresh Marjoram
Roasted Beets with Sesame and Marjoram
Brussels Sprouts with Marjoram and Pine Nuts
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Fresh Marjoram
Italian Deli Sandwiches with Marjoram-Caper Dressing
Mini Chicken Pot Pies with Bacon and Marjoram
Chicken Breasts with Wild Mushrooms, Marjoram and Marsala
Apricot Salsa with Mint
Mint Sauce
Minted Cranberry Sauce
Mixed Berries and Mint with Berry Shrub
Lentil Soup with Caraway and Minted Yogurt
Asparagus Mint Slaw
Ricotta Crostini with Black Olives, Lemon Zest and Mint
Khinkali Qvelit - Cheese and Mint Stuffed Dumplings
Mint Julep Granita
Lime, Garlic and Oregano Mojo
Pistachio Oregano Pesto
Orange Radicchio Oregano Salad
Broiled Tomatoes with Feta and Fresh Oregano
Spicy Marinated Mozzarella with Oregano and Capers
Nancy Silverton's Tomato-Oregano Pizza
Grilled Yellow Squash and Zucchini Pasta Salad with Oregano
Morrocan Charmoula
Walnut Parsley Pesto
Eggplant and Parsley Dip
Cream of Parsley Soup
Jambon Persille - Ham and Parsley Terrine
Summer Polenta with Chimichurri and Tomatoes
Dried Cured Olives with Rosemary and Orange
Rosemary Foccacia
Olive Oil Braised Vegetables with Rosemary
Salmon Glazed with Rosemary and Lemon Infused Honey
Shrimp with Pancetta and Rosemary
Lemon and Rosemary Chicken
Marinated Flank Steak
Apple Lattice Rosemary Pie
Pine Nut Brittle with Rosemary
Fried Sage Leaves
Feta, Prosciutto and Sage Rolls
Bread and Butter Stuffing with Fresh Sage
Fettuccine with Brown Butter and Sage
Chicken Saltimbocca
Marinated Tomatoes with Lemon and Summer Savory
Beans with Garlic and Summer Savory
Warm Potato and Green Bean Salad with Summer Savory
Sausage Stuffing with Summer Savory
Grilled Country Ribs with Summer Savory Mustard Marinade
Creamy Black-Eyed Pea Soup with Cumin and Thyme
Roasted Parsnips with Fresh Thyme
Pappardelle with Mixed Mushrooms, Ricotta and Walnuts
Linguine with Lemon, Garlic, Thyme Mushrooms
Slow Baked Salmon with Lemon and Thyme
Garlic and Thyme Roasted Chicken with Crispy Drippings Croutons
Cider Pork Roast with Apple Thyme Gravy
Warm Berry Thyme Compote

To Use

Your favorite herbs stay fresh and flavorful for longer in this innovative keeper,the Cuisipro Herb Keeper designed to fit neatly in your refrigerator door. Stems are immersed in water for hydration that extends shelf-lfe beyond refrigeration alone, and the lift-out tray provides easy access to herbs. (Williams-Sonoma, $21) And ideal for cutting, chopping and mincing Herbs, this five blade RSVP Herb Scissor works great on Basil, Thyme, Dill, Parsley, Chives, Mint, and many more. (Amazon, $9.75)