Herbs have a wide variety of uses in cooking. When they are used correctly, herbs have the power to make even the most boring recipes taste sophisticated and exciting. In addition to that, you may be surprised to know that the large majority of herbs commonly used in cooking may also boast an array of health benefits.
Important note: We are not sharing this post in an attempt to give medical advice. We are not medical professionals and are not qualified to say how any of these herbs may or may not impact your health. The information that we’ve provided here could be subject to error. Before proceeding with using any new herb, always consult with a medical professional to determine whether or not it’s safe for you to do so.
The History of Using Herbs in Cooking
The use of plants and herbs in cooking is nothing new. Ancient paintings of herbs can be found in caves throughout France that are estimated to date all of the way back to the year 2500 B.C. Cultures all across the globe have had strong relationships with herbs and have been taking advantage of their many uses in cooking for thousands of years.
In centuries past, it was not as easy to experiment with different herbs and spices as it is today. There were trade routes that allowed cultures to exchange various ingredients, but often at a hefty price tag. Ancient cultures recognized the value of herbs, and they were priced accordingly. The “exotic” herbs and spices from other countries were often reserved for the wealthy, and working class people had to get creative with the herbs and plants that grew locally.
It would have been nice if everyone had the privilege of experimenting with a wide variety of herbs and spices back in the day, but some people may argue that it is good that this wasn’t the case. Being limited in terms of which herbs were available to cook with allowed people to form deep bonds with their local plants.
These strong, deep bonds that formed between humans and the plants that grew locally allowed people to have a greater understanding of how to best work with the plants available to them. The “limitations” in ingredients to work with pushed people to experiment, and as a result, discover uses for herbs in cooking that may have otherwise gone undiscovered.
The information that people learned from herbs was largely passed on verbally. This was to keep the information accessible during times when the majority of people could not read. The earliest documented written information about herbs and their uses was found on Babylonian clay tablets that are estimated to be from around the year 2,000 B.C. These clay tablets were followed by written texts from Egypt, China, and India.
Herbs That Can be Used in Cooking
As mentioned above in the previous section, many of the herbs out there host a number of reported health benefits alongside their powerful flavor profiles. Cooking with these herbs is a great way to introduce yourself to the world of herbs in a way that is fun and less intimidating than some of the other ways of using herbs. In this section, you will be introduced to a few of the potentially healthful herbs out there that are also commonly used in cooking, so that you can familiarize yourself with their potential uses, and once given the go-ahead by a professional, begin to integrate them into your life through the food that you eat.
Basil is one of the most commonly used herbs in cooking all across the world, and with good reason. It has just the right balance of spice, sweet, and earthiness. It’s flavors perfectly compliment a wide variety of cuisines. Basil originated in India and then traveled back to Greece with Alexander the Great. After that, it spread throughout Europe where it became a key component of cooking in places like Italy.
You may be surprised to find that there are over one hundred varieties of basil, all with slightly differing leaf sizes, colors, aromas, and tastes. The two most common varieties are Holy Basil, which is used in Ayurvedic medicine in India for stress relief and mental clarity, and Genovese basil which is the variety most commonly grown in gardens for culinary purposes.
The leaves, stems, and flowers of the basil plant can all be used in cooking. Basil is a member of the mint family. It is sweet, slightly spicy, and warming while simultaneously being refreshing on the palate. Basil is one of the most versatile herbs out there. It can be eaten raw, cooked, whole, or blended. It pairs excellently with fruit in the summertime for a sweet and refreshing snack. One fruit that it works particularly well with is strawberry.
Basil also goes very well with poultry, cheeses, soups, and salads. If you’ve made a meal and find that it needs a little something extra, try reaching for basil instead of salt. A little basil goes a long way when it comes to enhancing flavor, and it can really make other flavors pop without all of the sodium that comes along with reaching for the salt shaker.
The Potential Benefits of Basil
Basil boasts a number of supposed benefits, although more research is needed, and you should never attempt to use Basil for any of these things without consulting with a professional.
- May aid in digestion
- May assist with regulating blood pressure (not enough research to say for sure, never replace proper medical care with herbs)
- Might reduce the occurrence of headaches
- May be helpful with stress reduction
Other Important Notes About Basil
Basil may alter blood sugar. Fresh Basil bruises very easily, so it is important to use a very sharp knife when you are working with it in a recipe. If you use a dull knife to chop fresh basil, you may find that your basil turns dark in color and turns slimy. Basil does not take well to freezing in its whole, unprocessed form. So, if you want to preserve your fresh basil, your best bet is to find a good pesto recipe. Once you have turned the basil into pesto, you can divide it into portions and freeze it that way.
Chives have been a staple in Chinese cuisine for thousands of years. The leaves and blossoms of the chive plant give dishes an onion like flavor that allows recipes to pop will flavor without becoming overwhelming. In modern times, chives are most often used as a garnish, but in ancient times many cultures consumed the stems and blossoms as a part of the main course, like a vegetable rather than a topping.
Chives taste the best when they are used raw, or added to recipes at the very end when everything has been taken off of the heat. They can be used to add flavor to salads, sauces, soups, among a variety of other things. The bright purple blossoms produced by the chive plant provide a pop of color that can be utilized by chefs for plating and garnishing.
The mild oniony, garlicky taste of chives goes well with a variety of foods and leaves a lot of room for chefs and home cooks to be creative. You may want to try your hand at making a chive infused vinegar. Herbal vinegars are a great way to retain the taste and flavor of fresh aromatic herbs throughout the year. Champagne vinegar works best for making herbal vinegars due to its mild taste. Apple cider vinegar can also be used as a base, but it has a stronger taste and will require more plant material to get the flavor right.
Chive infused vinegar makes a wonderful, flavor-packed salad dressing when mixed with a high-quality olive oil. It can also be sprinkled over vegetables and added to sauces or marinades to give them an extra kick of flavor without all of the additives found in the premixed “ready to use” blends found on store shelves.
The Potential Benefits of Chives
Chives boast a number of supposed benefits, although more research is needed, and you should never attempt to use Chives for any of these things without consulting with a professional.
- Chives seem to be similar to garlic when it comes to the reported health benefits.
- They are believed to be beneficial for circulatory health, and they might boast antiseptic properties.
- Chives are thought to be a great source of iron and calcium.
- They’re also believed to contain a high level of antioxidants.
People tend to have mixed feelings when it comes to cilantro. It has a flavor that people seem to either love or hate without much grey area. Cilantro is also sometimes referred to as coriander when it is dried or being used in its seed form. The leaves and seeds of the cilantro are all commonly used in cooking.
Those who do like cilantro describe it as having a bright, almost citrusy flavor that is mildly spicy and earthy with notes that are similar to Sage. The seeds of the plant have a sweet taste that is a lot milder than the taste that is produced from the fresh leaves.
Cilantro shines the most in fresh, vegetable-based dishes like salsas and sauces. It also works very well in savory or spicy dishes that need a hint of something bright and refreshing to bring balance to the dish.
Cilantro works well alongside spices like chive, basil, and mint, but it tends to clash with herbs with flavor profiles like rosemary and Oregano.
The Potential Benefits of Cilantro
Cilantro boasts a number of supposed benefits, although more research is needed, and you should never attempt to use Cilantro for any of these things without consulting with a professional.
- The cilantro plant is thought to be very high in antioxidants.
- It may also contain large concentrations of potassium, iron, and magnesium.
- Cilantro is said by many to be one of the best plant-based sources for vitamin K.
- It has reported antiseptic properties and mild analgesic properties that may be useful for small aches and pains.
Dills uses in the culinary world extend far beyond making pickles. It has a great flavor that blends notes of citrus with a hint of earthiness. It has a mildly astringent aftertaste. Its flavor profile makes it great for complementing a wide variety of flavors, and a little bit packs a big punch.
Dill goes excellently with poultry, fish, and root vegetables. Its inherent citrus notes and natural tang play wonderfully with lemon juice, which is one of its best friends in the kitchen. Otherwise bland vegetables like potatoes come to life when they are introduced to dill.
Dill also works very well with beets, mixed into rice or other grains, as well as in homemade salad dressings, sauces, and marinades. The flavor of dill begins to diminish when it is dried, so this is an herb that is best used fresh. If you are unable to use all of your dill before it begins to wilt, it usually holds up fairly well in the freezer.
The Potential Benefits of Dill
Dill boasts a number of supposed benefits, although more research is needed, and you should never attempt to use Dill for any of these things without consulting with a professional.
- It may have antimicrobial properties and is thought to be rich in calcium and iron.
- Dill is also believed to promote digestive health
Fennel is believed by some to have mild diuretic properties. Fennel has its roots in Mediterranean cuisine where it has remained popular for many years. Fennel consists of a few different parts, all of which are used in cooking and are similar in flavor, but the bulb is used most commonly.
All parts of the fennel plant have a refreshing, crisp, mildly sweet herbaceous flavor to them. The leaves and flowers (sometimes referred to as fronds) are commonly used as a flavorful salad garnish. Fennel seeds are found in a variety of spice blends such as Chinese five spice due to their ability to blend well with a variety of other flavors while offering a touch of sweetness. Fennel seeds are also sometimes chewed as an all-natural breath freshener.
The bulb of the fennel plant is crisp and moist in texture. It is very similar to the texture of an apple, but a little bit harder and easier to work with when cutting and slicing. It is crisp and refreshing. It makes an excellent addition to salads, salsas, relishes, and could even be used as a sandwich topping. If a recipe that you’re working with could benefit from something refreshing and crisp, fennel could be just what you’re looking for.
The Potential Benefits of Fennel
Fennel boasts a number of supposed benefits, although more research is needed, and you should never attempt to use Fennel for any of these things without consulting with a professional.
Fennel is a popular herb with people who are looking to support their digestive health. Herbalists sometimes use it for common gastric complaints like gas and stomach cramping. Fennel seems to be rich in vitamins and nutrients such as zinc, phosphorus, vitamin B, and vitamin K. The reportedly high amounts of selenium found in fennel may point to it having a number of other potential benefits (although more research is needed).
Lavender has seen a resurgence in popularity in the past few years. It has a sweet, bright, floral taste that people are taking advantage of to flavor their foods. In modern times, lavender isn’t just for tea. It is being added to beverages of all kinds. Lavender can also be added baked goods, ice cream, along with a variety of other foods.
Lavender is thought of as a gentle herb, but its flavor is particularly pungent, so when working with it for cooking purposes it is best to start out small and work your way up until you familiarize yourself with the right amount for your preferences.
The next time you try your hand at baking a cake, try tossing in a tablespoon or so of dried lavender buds into the cake batter to make things more interesting. Lavender also goes very well with citrus forward foods and can be added in small amounts to sweet recipes that contain lemon or orange.
The Potential Benefits of Lavender
Lavender boasts a number of supposed benefits, although more research is needed, and you should never attempt to use Lavender for any of these things without consulting with a professional.
Lavender is most commonly noted for its supposed stress relieving effects. It is thought to be a very mild, gentle sedative and has a long history of being used for mood support. It is also sometimes used by herbalists for soothing headaches, although you’ll need to consult with a professional you trust before determining if its right for you.
If you’re looking to cook with lavender, ensure that you are purchasing food-grade flowers and not just buying them from a flower shop. The lavender that is found in floral arrangements and used for decoration is often sprayed and treated with chemicals. Instead, you should look at a tea supply store or purchase from a trusted source online that specializes in culinary herbs. Also, some people are allergic to lavender, so it is best to make sure that you do not have an allergy before consuming it internally.
Check out our article on natural insect repellents. Lavender is one of the herbs that might be able to help keep pesky bugs away! –> www.rhoot.net/natural-insect-repellents
You might also want to read this post about making your own massage oils with lavender www.rhoot.net/homemade-herbal-massage-oils-for-pain-and-stiffness
Horseradish packs a punch of heat and can be used in most dishes when a kick of spice is needed. Horseradish is a root that is similar to ginger but with a slightly different flavor profile. Horseradish is tangy, spicy, and earthy. Unlike with ginger, horseradish doesn’t have any underlying sweetness to it. However, just because its hot doesn’t mean that it has to be overwhelming. When it comes to spicy herbs, it’s all about the amount that you use any way that you use them.
If you were to roughly chop horseradish root into chunks and add it to food, it would be incredibly unpleasant when someone bit into a piece. On the other hand, if horseradish is finely graded and thoroughly mixed into a sauce or blended into the food properly, it can add just the right amount of warmth and spice to a dish without becoming overwhelming.
Horseradish makes an excellent addition to marinades, sauces, and toppings. It can be mixed with other herbs to add to the depth of the flavor and to add a bit of earthiness and heat. Horseradish adds warmth to food in a way that is far more interesting to the palate than what something like ground black pepper could provide. If you learn to use it properly, it could become your new secret weapon when it comes to packing flavor into your food.
The Potential Benefits of Horseradish
Horseradish boasts a number of supposed benefits, although more research is needed, and you should never attempt to use Horseradish for any of these things without consulting with a professional.
- Reportedly high in antioxidants
- Might work to improve complexion
- Could give the immune system extra support
Oregano has been used as a culinary herb as well as by herbalists for thousands of years. Oregano is earthy, savory, and mildly minty. It has a camphor-like aroma and has a slightly astringent and drying effect in the mouth. Its flavor works best with savory foods, and it is typically used to season meat, vegetables, and baked goods like bread.
Oregano is similar to marjoram, and people sometimes mistake the two, but Oregano is far more pungent in the flavor department. When working with Oregano, less tends to be more. It can easily overpower other flavors and spices, which is why it is important not to go overboard.
If you can find fresh Oregano, a little bit of it can add a lot of flavor to a salad. Dried Oregano can add just the right amount of earthiness and depth to sauces. In order to get the best flavor, Oregano should be added toward the end of the cooking process. If you add it too soon, it can cause foods to become bitter.
The Potential Benefits of Oregano
Oregano boasts a number of supposed benefits, although more research is needed, and you should never attempt to use Oregano for any of these things without consulting with a professional.
Oregano is believed to be rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals, and it has historically been used to help people cope with a variety of issues. Some of the things that Oregano has historically been used to help with under the care of an herbalist are listed below…. Although, you should never attempt to use Oregano for any of these things without the guidance of a professional.
- Immune system support
- Muscle aches
Lemongrass has historically been used in Asian cuisine, but it has been gaining traction in recipes all across the globe. Just as the name suggests, it adds a bright, citrusy flavor to the foods that it is cooked with. However, the flavor that Lemongrass brings to the plate is more sophisticated than what would come from lemon juice. Lemongrass is bright and full of flavor without the risk of making a recipe too acidic, which can sometimes happen when using a regular lemon in recipes.
Lemongrass pairs incredibly well with chicken as well as with most vegetables. If you have a recipe that calls for lemon juice, and you want to take it to the next level, try using lemongrass instead. You may be surprised by just how much flavor and complexity this one simple step can have on your recipe.
The Potential Benefits of Lemongrass
Lemongrass boasts a number of supposed benefits, although more research is needed, and you should never attempt to use lemongrass for any of these things without consulting with a professional.
- May reduce LDL cholesterol
- Could potentially be liver supporting
- Might have antimicrobial properties
- Might have antibacterial properties
- Could have antiseptic properties
- May offer nervous system support
Check out our energizing herbal tea recipe featuring lemongrass! –> www.rhoot.net/energizing-herbal-tea-recipe
Check out our article on natural insect repellents. Lemongrass is another herb that might deter bugs from making you a snack! –> www.rhoot.net/natural-insect-repellents
Rosemary should be avoided by those with a history of seizures.
Rosemary is a long-standing favorite among many chefs when it comes to cooking herbs. It is bright, tart, savory, with just the right amount of earthiness to balance out all of the sharpness. Rosemary is a versatile herb that pairs well with all sorts of foods if it used correctly and in the right portions. Like with many other aromatic herbs, it can easily overpower other ingredients in the flavor department if too much is used.
Rosemary pairs well with flavors like lemon and garlic. Its brightness to savory dishes and makes an excellent companion to otherwise gamey meats like venison and lamb. It also works very well with chicken and works with it to allow the subtle natural flavors of the chicken to pop and come to life.
Rosemary adds a flavor boost to vegetables that works wonders to make them more palatable. Rosemary adds brightness and zest to veggies in a way far healthier than some of the pre-packaged seasonings blends available. Rosemary works well with garlic as well as a variety of other herbs and spices. If you want to start experimenting with your own seasoning blends, rosemary is a key component to have on hand.
The Potential Benefits of Rosemary
Rosemary boasts a number of supposed benefits, although more research is needed, and you should never attempt to use Rosemary for any of these things without consulting with a professional.
- Might support healthy memory
- Could boost energy levels
- May support improved circulation
Read this post about making your own massage oils for aches and pain. Rosemary is one of a few wonderful herbs that we talk about! –> www.rhoot.net/homemade-herbal-massage-oils-for-pain-and-stiffness
Parsley is so much more than a garnish. It has a robust, green, sharp flavor that does an excellent job of setting off the flavors of other ingredients. There are a few different varieties of parsley, but the ones you are most likely to encounter in the grocery store are flat-leaf and curly. Both varieties are very similar in flavor and give a peppery bite to the foods they are added to.
Parsley goes very well in a variety of sauces, and it makes an excellent marinade when combined with other herbs, spices, and chilies. Parsley goes very well with eggs and otherwise bland proteins that would benefit from a peppery punch. It can also be added to juices and smoothies for a green boost and an easy way to take advantage of its supposed benefits.
The Potential Health Benefits of Parsley
Parsley boasts a number of supposed benefits, although more research is needed, and you should never attempt to use Parsley for any of these things without consulting with a professional.
- Reportedly high levels of antioxidants
- Might be kidney supporting
- Might boost the metabolism
- Could have anti-inflammatory properties
Sage is an earthy, piney, slightly sweet delight that can transform foods from bland to gourmet with just a pinch. Minced fresh Sage makes an excellent addition to a variety of foods and allows those who use it to get a lot of flavor with minimal effort.
Sage is a common herb to cook with during the holiday season, but it is perfectly capable of giving people flavor all year round. If you’re tired of tomato sauce, try tossing your pasta with a mixture of olive oil, Sage, and the other herbs of your choice with some lemon juice and chopped toasted walnuts. Sage also goes very well with meat because its flavor profile is potent enough to stand out among other strong flavors.
If you’re a tea drinker, you may want to try making a sage-infused honey. The finished product can be added to teas and other beverages to give them a kick of extra flavor. Sage honey pairs particularly well with drinks that fruity and berry forward in flavor.
The Supposed Benefits of Sage
Sage boasts a number of supposed benefits, although more research is needed, and you should never attempt to use Sage for any of these things without consulting with a professional.
Sage is thought to contain polyphenols, which are chemical compounds that might hold the potential to protect the body from the effects of oxidation.
Sage reportedly contains compounds that have properties that are similar to estrogen, which may be useful for those who are seeking support for conditions associated with low estrogen levels – although more research is needed, and you shouldn’t attempt to use sage for this without professional guidance.
Sage has been shown in a few different studies to potentially have a positive effect on cholesterol. Research suggests that it may lower bad LDL cholesterol and raise good HDL cholesterol. If this proves to be true, then Sage could end up playing an important role in the future of the wellness world.
Tips for Cooking with Herbs to Maximize Flavor/Benefits
Herbs can be intimidating at first. They come dried and fresh and are offered by many different companies. Knowing where to start and what to pick and be tough, but if you stick to reputable companies and growers, you are off to a good start. Here are a few small extra tips to help you get started.
The General Rule of Thumb
Dried herbs should be added at the start of the cooking time and heated thoroughly. Fresh herbs should always be added at the end once you are finished cooking and have taken the food off of the heat. This is because dried herbs need more time to release their flavor due to being dehydrated.
Fresh herbs are already at their peak flavor capacity without the need for heating or rehydrating. If you heat fresh herbs for too long, you run the risk of the flavor becoming bitter or changing in an undesirable way.
Making or Breaking the Flavor ( A Sharp Knife is Key)
Fresh herbs run the risk of bruising and becoming mushy when they aren’t cut properly. This can lead to uneven flavor dispersal throughout your dish and make your food appear unappetizing. Investing in a sharp knife and learning about a few cutting techniques can do a world of good for the overall appearance and flavor of your finished recipes.
Fresh isn’t Always Available – But Aim for it When You Can
When push comes to shove, fresh herbs tend to be easier to work with than dried herbs. This is for a few reasons. The first reason being that fresh herbs are much more forgiving in the flavor department. It is a lot easier to overdo it and overpower a dish with dried herbs than it is with fresh herbs due to how concentrated the flavors can become once an herb has dried.
Although the flavors get more concentrated when herbs are dried, this is not always in a good way. Fresh herbs tend to have a more palatable taste than their dried counterparts. When an herb is dried, it begins to break down and lose some of its volatile oils, which can change the flavor profile and make it less enjoyable overall, even if it is more intense.
However, dried herbs do have their time and place, and when used properly, they can add wonderful flavors to recipes with a depth that can be hard to achieve when using fresh herbs. When working with dried herbs, just be sure to do your best to purchase from a company that stores their dried material properly, and make sure you have the proper measurements ready to go so that you don’t accidentally spoil the flavor of your recipe by using too much.
Don’t be Afraid to Take Your Tastebuds for a Ride
The herbs mentioned throughout this article are just a few of the basics. They serve as wonderful starting points, and they have stood the test of time. They have traveled from culture to culture over centuries. However, when it comes to herbs and their uses in cooking, there are dozens of herbs worth exploring.
Some of the herbs used in cooking are more beginner friendly than others, but with a little bit of research, you can open yourself up to a whole new world of flavor. When you begin to learn how to work with herbs, you can start to eliminate pre-packaged seasoning blends and in turn remove some nasty preservatives and unnecessary sodium from your diet.
As always, be sure to check with your healthcare provider before introducing any new herbs into your diet. Especially if you are taking medications or are pregnant. Herbs are generally pretty gentle, but they can be tricky and interact with the body and medicines in mysterious ways. Once you have been given the go-ahead from your doctor, you can begin to experiment with new herb combinations and recipes safely.
Crocker, P. L., & Crocker, P. L. (2018). The herbalists kitchen: Cooking and healing with herbs. New York: Sterling Epicure.