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Guide to Fresh Herbs

Usage and cooking tips for 11 common garden herbs.
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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.

Marjoram: Similar in flavor and appearance to oregano, marjoram is popular in many Mediterranean cuisines. Its slightly sweet flavor goes particularly well with meats and vegetables.

Oregano: A member of the mint family, oregano is related to both marjoram and thyme. Mediterranean oregano has a more mild flavor than its Mexican counterpart. Use it to season spaghetti and pizza sauces, or add a pinch to your favorite chili recipe for another flavor dimension.

Rosemary: With a distinctive piney aroma and a hint of lemon, this sturdy herb is highly appreciated in Italian cooking to flavor grilled and roasted pork, lamb and chicken, hearty pasta sauces and soups. Infuse a syrup for lemonade or lemon sorbet with sprigs of rosemary.

Sage: The distinctive flavor of sage has long been popular in the Mediterranean for both culinary and medicinal purposes. The long, oval, silver-green leaves have a slightly bitter, musty flavor. It’s commonly used to flavor meats and dishes that accompany meat, like stuffing.

Spearmint & Peppermint: These hardy perennials have a reputation for taking over gardens, but considering their culinary uses, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. The herb you buy in the supermarket is most likely spearmint. Also known as common mint or garden mint, this is the most practical variety for both sweet and savory dishes. Peppermint contains more menthol and is used primarily in candies, teas and sweets. Numerous varietals include gems like apple mint, orange mint, pineapple mint and chocolate mint. All make delightful flavorings and garnishes for desserts.

Tarragon: Long flat tender leaves identify tarragon. The French have perhaps most heartily embraced its bright licorice-like flavor, making it a star ingredient, along with chervil, parsley and chives, in the seasoning mixture fines herbes, as well as in traditional sauces, such as sauce béarnaise. To make the most of its particular flavor, add tarragon near the end of cooking.

Thyme: Best known as a background flavoring for stews and soups, thyme is one of the most versatile herbs. Although typically paired with savory robust flavors, such as red meat, poultry and root vegetables, it is also good with apples and pears. Try infusing hot apple cider with thyme sprigs. In summer, lemon thyme is excellent with fish, zucchini and corn and is delicious with raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.

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