There are dozens of fresh herbs available, and each adds its own unique punch of flavor to your dishes. There are tender, leafy herbs like basil and mint. Then, there are sturdier, woodier varieties, like thyme, tarragon, and rosemary.
Each variety has its own flavor profile and uses, so we’re covering everything you need to know about the taste and uses of the most common fresh herbs:
Basil is ubiquitous in Italian cuisine. It’s fresh, floral, and versatile. You can eat fresh basil raw in salads, on top of pasta, or use it to garnish soups. Basil also holds up well cooked. Stir it into tomato sauce to upgrade your marinara with an herby finish.
Basil grows well in warm, sunny climates and comes in several different varieties. You might be most familiar with Italian basil, but other varieties include sharp Thai basil, African blue basil, and even deep purple basil.
Another Italian herb, oregano has a strong flavor that’s reminiscent of mint and hay. It’s often dried and used to flavor soups and sauces. Fresh, oregano makes a savory, herbal addition to Italian, Greek, Turkish, and other Mediterranean dishes.
Parsley comes in two main varieties: curly and flat-leaf. Curly parsley is crunchy and a staple in Middle Eastern dishes like Tabbouleh. Flat-leaf parsley, on the other hand, has a bolder flavor, and is generally preferred by chefs. Parsley is enjoyed around the world and can add a pretty garnish and a fresh flavor to many dishes.
Not to be confused with flat-leaf parsley, cilantro is a staple herb in Southern and Central American cuisines. Also known as coriander, this herb is related to carrots and carries a mild, vegetable flavor. Fresh cilantro is best added just at the end of cooking, as it gives off a delicious aroma and flavor that can be damaged by too much heat.
Deeply savory with a distinct flavor, thyme adds depth to cooked and raw dishes alike. A heartier herb, thyme can stand up to long cooking, which makes it perfect in slow-cooked casseroles, soups, and even to add a savory note to desserts. Fresh, it’s lovely sprinkled on top of savory tarts. The only difficult thing about thyme is picking the tiny leaves off the stem. It’s a labor of love that’s well worth it.
Another woody herb, rosemary also stands up well to heat. It adds remarkable fragrance to any dish. Rosemary can transform a meal into a delicious, herbal masterpiece. Try it brewed into hot or iced tea, or even in a cocktail for a savory twist.
While it may be most often associated with desserts, mint also has plenty of savory applications. It’s a stronger flavored herb, however, so a little goes a long way. To add just the fragrance of mint to a salad or drink, try crushing the leaves a bit to release the flavorful oils.