No kitchen is complete without a stockpile of herbs.  Cooking without herbs is like swimming without a suit – you can do it, but why?  From fresh to dried they’re not only jam packed full of flavor, but indispensable for adding that extra oomph to all your dishes.

Despite their necessity, they can also be somewhat intimidating . . . which one do I use, how do I store it, should I use fresh or dried???

Relax, we’ve got it all covered here with our definitive guide to the favorite selections we use most.

 

Basil

Best: Fresh

Also known as, St. Joseph’s Wort, basil is a fragrant, widely popular herb that actually belongs to the mint family.  Although it is most popular in Italian dishes, basil is native to the South Pacific Islands and Southern Asia.  Mamma Mia!

Basil has multiple varieties; each with its own special characteristics.

Uses For Basil

Basil contains iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C and K on top of antioxidants and inflammation-reducing properties.  So, it can be beneficial to incorporate it into your dishes as there are many healthy positives associated with this herb.

Some popular uses:

  • Basil-infused olive oil
  • Caprese salad: basil, tomato, and balsamic vinegar
  • Bruschetta: toast, mozzarella, tomatoes with basil
  • Tomato basil soup
  • Basil pairs well with watermelon and feta
  • Basil pairs well with an array of seasonal veggies and is great in salad

Tip: Use raw or add at the very end of the cooking process since heat can kill the flavor

Storing Basil

Basil is a soft herb, meaning it has a green, tender stem.  Usually, it’s better to temporarily store soft herbs with the jar method, but basil can be stored using the jar method or the paper towel method.

  • Jar method – Fill a jar slightly with water, place cut basil stems down (like flowers), and leave it on the counter out of direct sunlight.  You can also loosely cover with a plastic bag and place in the fridge.
  • Paper towel method – Place the basil on a damp paper towel and then gently roll them up and place in a plastic bag, halfway sealed, then place in the fridge.

Bay Leaf

Best: Dry

Bay leaves are the dried leaves of the Bay Laurel tree; they add a nice aromatic flavor to many soups and dishes.

There are two different main types of Bay leaf, the Turkish bay leaf and the Californian bay leaf.  These are different plants with different flavors, so it is important to know that substituting one for the other can result in completely different flavorings.

The Californian Bay leaf is a more pungent, eucalyptus-like flavor while the Turkish Bay leaf has a more tea-like flavor and is more common in cooking.

Best Uses For Bay Leaves

Bay leaves are typically used to season longer-cooked recipes that require liquid so that the bay can infuse the dishes – like soups and stews.  They are also used to enhance the flavor in pasta sauces and rice.  Some other dishes are:

  • Beef stew
  • Curries
  • Lamb tangine
  • Pickled cucumbers

Tip: Add early and give it time to work its magic

Storing Bay

Fresh Bay leaves can last one to two weeks if sealed in a zip-lock bag in the refrigerator.  They can also be stored in the freezer to help retain flavor.

Dried bay leaves can be stored in sealed containers in a dry, cool and dark spice cabinet.

Cilantro

Best: Fresh

Cilantro is a soft herb belonging to the parsley family that provides citrus overtones and is earthy and bright.  This is one of the most popular herbs used and there is no substitute for its strong flavor.  Just thinking about “Chinese Parsley” brings a smile to my face.

Some people may use the words, cilantro and coriander, interchangeably because the herb and spice come from the same plant.  However, cilantro is the leafy part of the Coriandrum Sativum plant while coriander is the small round seed that emerges when the plant dies.

There are several different types of cilantro:

Tip: Chop the stems and leaves together and use at the very end of the cooking process

Best Uses For Cilantro

Cilantro pairs well with garlic, lemon, lime, onion, chili, and other herbs like basil and mint.  There are many uses for cilantro:

  • Flavor oils
  • Homemade salsa
  • Spice up rice
  • Add to sour cream
  • In stir-fry

Storing Cilantro

Unfortunately, cilantro doesn’t last long if not used up quickly.  Since you usually have to buy more than you need, here are a couple ways to extend its life:

  • Jar method – The jar doesn’t need a lot of water because only the end of the cilantro stalk needs to be submerged.  Once the cilantro is in the jar, cover with a plastic bag and place in the fridge.
  • Freezing – When freezing cilantro, the herb should be washed and patted dry beforehand.  Then store in a sealed plastic bag.  This will keep the cilantro good for 1-3 months.

 Dill

Best: Fresh

The dill plant has feathery green leaves also known as dill weed.   The flat, oval seeds are used with dill spice, and it has a grassy/lemony/summery taste to it.

Mammoth dill, also known as Long Island dill, is the most popular variety of dill.  Other varieties are bouquet, fernleaf, dukat, and superdukat.

Uses For Dill

Because dill has such a strong, unique flavor, a little can go a long way.  Dill is one of the key ingredients for ranch, and is commonly paired with potato salad, cucumbers, dill pickles and other vegetables.

Dill also pairs well with some types of seafood, lamb, and spreads like cream cheese and sour cream.

Tip: Use as a garnish or finishing herb

Storing Dill

Unfortunately, dill is an herb that does wilt fast, but there are a few ways to help make it last longer.

  • Jar method – Trim the stems, place into a jar with a small amount of water, cover loosely with a plastic bag and place in the fridge.
  • Paper towel method – Spritz finely with a mist of water, wrap in dry paper towels and store in a halfway sealed plastic bag.  Use your crisper/vegetable bin.
  • Freezing – When freezing, the herb should be washed and patted dry beforehand.  Then store in a sealed plastic bag or air tight container.

Dill doesn’t keep much flavor when it is dried out, but freezing can help preserve it.  Our favorite method for freezing dill is blending it with a small amount of oil to make it kind of pasty, and then freezing it in ice cube trays.

Marjoram

Best: Dry

Marjoram is an aromatic herb that is part of the mint family.  This herb is very similar to oregano and is often used with salad dressing, marinades and meat dishes.

There are three common types of marjoram; sweet marjoram, pot marjoram, and wild marjoram.

As a sub-species of oregano it is often used interchangeably or confused with its close cousin, but there are noticeable differences.  True marjoram is commonly referred to as sweet marjoram to help differentiate it from oregano.

Best Uses For Marjoram

Marjoram has a light, slightly sweet taste that pairs well with meats like lamb, veal, beef, pork, and chicken.  It’s often used in Mediterranean dishes, and spice blends like herbs de Provence.

Here some ways to incorporate marjoram:

  • Sprinkle on vegetables
  • Add to herbal teas
  • Flavor homemade bread
  • Use in a citrus marinade

Tip: Use as a garnish or finishing herb

Storing Marjoram

Fresh marjoram should be stored in the fridge wrapped in damp paper towels.  Place in a halfway sealed plastic bag and keep in the lower part of the refrigerator.  This will help it last for several days.  It can also be removed from the stems, chopped up and stored in ice cube trays like mentioned with dill above.

Dried marjoram can be stored in sealed containers in a dry, cool and dark spice cabinet for up to a year.

Mint

Best: Fresh

The mint family is a group of herbs that has many varieties, including spearmint and peppermint.  This is a fast-growing, aromatic herb that has a multitude of uses.

Here is a list of the most commonly grown mint varieties:

 

Best Uses For Mint

Mint is best when used raw or muddled to help release its flavor.

Mint can be used to jazz up lemonade or cocktails like mojitos and cucumber mint gimlets.  You can also use mint in tea or water.

Here are some other uses:

  • Add to yogurt
  • Strawberry, mint and basil salad
  • With lamb
  • Pep up your hot chocolate
  • Smoothies
  • Pesto sauce

Tip: Use as a garnish or finishing herb

Storing Mint

  • Jar method – Place into a jar with a small amount of water, cover loosely with a plastic bag and place in the fridge.  Change water every couple days.
  • Paper towel method – Loosely wrap in a slightly damp paper towel and store in a halfway sealed plastic bag.
  • Freezing – Remove stems, chop leaves and add to an ice cube tray with water.  This is a good method if you plan on using mint in smoothies, water or cocktails.

Oregano

Best: Dry

Oregano is an herb that a lot of people associate with pizza, pasta sauce and Italian dishes.  This is one of the most widely used herbs around the world.

Like basil and marjoram, it’s also a member of the mint family.  It is also commonly called wild marjoram, but don’t let that confuse you.  They’re closely related, but subtly different.  Oregano is more pungent than sweet marjoram.

There are a few types of oregano, the most common one being Greek oregano, also known as true oregano.

Best Uses For Oregano

Some of the most common uses for oregano is usually around tomato-centric recipes like pizza and pasta sauce.  Oregano is also used to infuse oil, vinaigrettes, and marinades for lamb, chicken, and beef dishes.

Oregano pairs well with garlic, basil, onion, and thyme.

Tip: Add toward the beginning of the cooking process so it has time to release its oils and flavors

Storing Oregano

Oregano should be used quickly because it does not keep well in the fridge for too long.

  • Jar method – Fill a jar slightly with water, place in whole stems, loosely cover with a plastic bag and place in the fridge.
  • Paper towel method – Place on a damp paper towel and then gently roll them up and place in a plastic bag, halfway sealed, in the fridge.
  • Spice rack – Dried oregano can be stored in sealed containers in a dry, cool and dark spice cabinet for up to a year.

Parsley

Best: Fresh

Parsley is one of the most versatile herbs around, especially in Middle Eastern cooking.

There are two main types of parsley, curly leaf and flat-leaf.  Curly leaf is what you will mostly find in restaurants as a garnish.  Flat leaf aka Italian parsley is preferred for cooking.

Best Uses For Parsley

Parsley pairs well with tomatoes, lemon, poultry, seafood, and egg dishes.  Here are a few other uses for parsley:

  • As a base for sauces like chimichurri
  • Herb laced bread dough
  • Add to salads
  • Roasted vegetables
  • Homemade dressings

Tip: Use raw, as a finishing herb or toward the end of the cooking process because it can be delicate

Storing Parsley

  • Jar method – Fill a jar slightly with water, place like flowers, loosely cover with a plastic bag and place at room temperature or in the fridge.
  • Paper towel method – Place on a damp paper towel and then gently roll up and place in a plastic bag, halfway sealed, in the fridge.
  • Spice rack – Dried parsley can be stored in sealed containers in a dry, cool and dark spice cabinet for up to a year.

Rosemary

Best: Dry

Rosemary is a hardy herb that is a very fragrant and pine like native to the Mediterranean.  This herb is another member of the mint family.

There are two types of rosemary plants, the upright variety and the creeping variety.

 

Best Uses For Rosemary

Rosemary is often used to season soups, casseroles, salads, and stews.  Plus, it pairs well with lamb, pork, steaks, and fish.

Rosemary also goes well with flavoring potatoes, vegetables, rice and other grains.  It can be added to drinks and cocktails, or even used to infuse oil and butter.

Tip: A little bit goes a long way.  Add early to release flavor and mellow the texture

Storing Rosemary

  • Paper towel method – Loosely wrap in a slightly damp paper towel, store in a halfway sealed plastic bag and place in crisper.
  • Freezing – Whole sprigs can be frozen individually or in ice cube form with water or oil.

Sage

Best: Dry

Sage is an evergreen shrub with an earthy taste that is a nice contrast to sweet or acidic flavors.  It’s hardy, versatile and highly aromatic.

There are many different types of sage that are commonly used for medicinal and culinary purposes:

Best Uses For Sage

Sage pairs well with any meat, especially poultry, and is commonly used in the preparation of sausage and stuffing.

Sage pairs well with other herbs such as garlic, onion, oregano, parsley and bay leaf.  Because of its somewhat floral taste, sage can pair well with pineapple and be infused into simple syrups used for cocktails and other drinks.

Tip: Add early to improve texture and flavor.  We prefer it in crumbled form.

Storing Sage

  • Jar method – place leaves in a glass jar and cover with olive oil
  • Paper towel method – Loosely wrap in a slightly damp paper towel, store in a halfway sealed plastic bag and place in crisper.
  • Freezing – Whole leaves can be removed from the stems and placed into resealable bags with the air removed.

Tarragon

Best: Fresh

Tarragon is an herb from the sunflower family and has a bittersweet taste with an aromatic quality.  This herb looks like fresh, green grass that is sprouting from a thin stem.

There are three main types of tarragon: French, Mexican, and Russian.

Best Uses For Tarragon

Tarragon has a potent flavor so it is beneficial to understand how to properly use it while cooking. The dried herb has even more of a concentrated, intense flavor.  As a result, you will either love it or hate it.

Tarragon goes well with potatoes, potato salad, and egg dishes.  It pairs well with salmon, chicken, veal, rabbit and vegetables.  Infuse vinegar, butter, dressings and sauces as well.

Tip: Use sparingly and add toward the end of the cooking process.  Do not overpower your dish.

Storing Tarragon

  • Jar method – Place into a jar with a small amount of water, cover loosely with a plastic bag and place in the fridge.  Change water every couple days.
  • Paper towel method – Loosely wrap in a slightly damp paper towel, store in a halfway sealed plastic bag and place in crisper.
  • Freezing – Whole sprigs can be frozen individually or trim, chop and place into an ice cube tray with water or oil.

Thyme

Best: Dry

Thyme is frequently featured in various international dishes throughout Europe and the Mediterranean.  It’s robust, hardy and has spaced out leaves that grow in clusters.  Pinching the stem and sliding your fingers down is a fun way to work with its small fresh leaves.

Here is a list of the most common varieties of thyme:

 

Best Uses For Thyme

Thyme is mostly used for savory dishes like roasted meats, vegetables and fish.

The herb can also add flavor to marinades, soups, stocks, cocktails, and teas.

Tip: Add it early in the process so that the oil and flavors have time to be released.

Storing Thyme

  • Jar method – Place into a jar with a small amount of water, cover loosely with a plastic bag and place in the fridge.  Change water every couple days.
  • Paper towel method – Loosely wrap in a slightly damp paper towel, store in a halfway sealed plastic bag and place in crisper.

Final Note

Well, we made it through the Ultimate Herb Guide!

Going forward, it’s best to use this article as a reference that you can come back to time and time again to look up individual herbs, tips and storing methods.

Before we sign-off, it would be best to leave you with a few important guidelines to remember:

  1. Under the heading for every herb we include our preferred method for purchase – Fresh or Dry
  2. Dried is most convenient; especially for herbs that you seldom use.  Add dates to your containers and change out yearly.
  3. Delicate herbs like cilantro, basil and parsley have little to no flavor when dried and should be avoided.
  4. Some dried herbs become stronger, so you can substitute less than the amount called for fresh, in order to account for their pungency.  For example, 3 teaspoons of fresh thyme could equal 1 teaspoon dried.
  5. Dried herbs are usually better in slow cooked recipes and should be added toward the beginning. 
  6. Fresh herbs are better used toward the end of the cooking process or sprinkled off heat as a garnish.
  7. Try using the jar method for storing fresh herbs.  It’s fast, easy and less likely to result in a damp, moldy, mushy mess.
  8. When freezing into cubes, oil usually preserves better than water.

 

– Have Fun In The Kitchen