Guide to Fresh Herbs
Usage and cooking tips for 11 common garden herbs.
Cooking with herbs is an easy way to infuse a recipe with flavor without increasing calories or fat. Not sure where to start? Try stirring a handful of basil some marjoram into your favorite tomato sauce or rubbing a chicken with a mixture of thyme and rosemary before you roast it. Herbs like cilantro and mint are excellent tossed in an Asian-inspired salad. Experiment with a few at a time until you find ones that you like.
Freezing Tips: Tender herbs, such as basil, chives, cilantro, dill, mint and parsley, are best suited to freezing. Blanching them first helps capture their fresh flavor. Drop into boiling water for several seconds, then with a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer to a bowl of ice water to chill for several seconds more. Blot dry with paper towels. Spread a single layer of the blanched herbs on a wax paper-lined baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic and freeze until solid, about 1 hour. Transfer to plastic storage bags. Blanched herbs can be frozen for up to 4 months and can be chopped while still frozen before using in soups, stews and sauces.
Use our descriptions below for help choosing which herbs to buy.
Basil: No other herb epitomizes the taste of summer like basil. Available in a number of varieties, this tender annual gives cooks attractive options to strew generously over tomato salads—try opal basil with maroon leaves, for instance. Thai basil’s anise tones enhance Thai and Vietnamese dishes. Dessert chefs will appreciate cinnamon basil and lemon basil, especially with peaches.
Cilantro: The pungent flavor and aroma of cilantro is popular in many ethnic cuisines, including Mexican and Vietnamese. The entire plant is edible: the dried seeds are sold whole or ground as coriander, the stems are as flavorful as the leaves and some Asian recipes even call for the roots. Heat can temper fresh cilantro’s flavor, so add it to a dish right before serving.
Lavender: Fresh or dried blossoms impart a delicate perfume to herb mixtures, such as herbes de Provence (for lamb, chicken and vegetables), or can infuse the milk destined for a custard or ice cream. Easy does it when using lavender—you want a subtle fragrance, not the memory of your grandmother’s attic. Dried lavender can be found in specialty and natural-foods stores.
Lemon Verbena: This herb captures the tangy scent of lemon without the tart flavor. Unfortunately, it is not commonly available at supermarkets, so look for it at farmers’ markets or grow your own. It imparts an exquisite flavor to custards, cream toppings or yogurt; add a finely chopped tablespoon to whipped cream and serve with sliced strawberries. Lemon verbena also makes a beautiful and fragrant garnish for white-wine spritzers or iced tea.