The chances are high that you have cooked with or eaten something cooked with herbs before. Fresh or dried herbs are used in a variety of cooking recipes and have been for centuries. Packed with flavor, it’s not hard to see why, but how much do you really know about herbs?
With this informational post, we are going to take a closer look at herbs and what they do for us, how to care for them, and so on. By the end of this post, you should be well-versed on what herbs are and how to use them, too.
How to Pronounce Herb
This can be very confusing depending on where you are in the world as there are different pronunciations of the word. In America, we say “erbs” leaving the H silent. This is a French take on the English word as even the French do not pronounce the H in herbs. In the UK and other various parts of the world, the H is more pronounced giving us a “herb” instead of an “erb”.
You can pronounce the word however you want, with or without the H, depending on what you feel most comfortable with.
What Are Herbs?
Herbs are, by definition, any plant with leaves, seeds, or flowers that are used for flavoring things like food, medicine, perfume, etc. Sometimes we actually get fruits and vegetables to fit into the category of herbs, like a banana tree, a tomato plant, or wheat.
Well Known Herbs
Some of the more popular herbs that you may already use or have tasted include oregano, basil, dill, mint, parsley, rosemary, and more. We use many of these herbs in recipes on this website too.
Fresh or dried, herbs are a tasty way to add a lot of flavors, and even color, to a dish. I enjoy using fresh herbs from my garden every chance that I can but when you use fresh herbs you often have to use twice as much to get the same flavorful effect as you would from their dried counterparts.
Dried herbs can be purchased in the grocery store’s seasoning and spices aisles and are often pretty cheap. Fresh herbs can be found cut and packaged in the grocery store’s produce section and some stores even have tiny herb plants (in a planter with dirt) so that you can bring home a herb plant that you can trim and use whenever you want. This is a great way to get your own herb garden started.
Herbs and Their Meaning
There are so many different types of herbs and while we won’t go in-depth on every single one (we’d be here for hours if that were the case) we will instead go through the different types of herbs. Every herb can be broken down into a category like kitchen herbs, witchy herbs, aromatics, etc. They all have different uses because herbs can be so versatile.
These are some common herbs used for cooking. Fun note, a lot of kitchen herbs actually thrive quite well in planters on your kitchen windowsill so if owning a garden outside isn’t in the cards any time soon, you can still have a green thumb and grow some edible herbs indoors.
- Chives– These are thin, green, grass-like looking herbs. They taste and smell very similar to onions or green onions and are often interchanged with green onions in recipes. In some parts of the United States (like Tennessee), chives grow wild mixed in the grass so when you mow your lawn you smell fresh cut grass and onions.
- Basil– This is a fragrant and vibrant green colored leafy plant. Used often in culinary recipes to bring more flavor to the dishes, we enjoy using it most in Italian recipes and pesto.
- Cilantro– Also known as coriander this leafy herb has a kick of spice to it and can often bring a lot of flavor to southwestern or Mexican dishes. Coriander and cilantro come from the same plant. The difference between cilantro and coriander is that in America, we call the stems and leaves cilantro and the seeds are called coriander seeds, whereas, in the other parts of the world, the plant and stems are called coriander while the seeds are called coriander seeds. The stem, leaves, and seeds of this plant are all edible.
- Sage– This is an aromatic herb from the mint family. The green leaves are slightly fuzzy making them appear different from other herbs and more unique. It has an earthy taste with a slight hint of mint and is used a lot in flavoring meats like chicken or steak.
- Mint– There are two main types of mint herbs: Peppermint and Spearmint. If you’ve ever tried peppermint-flavored gum or spearmint-flavored gum, then you already know that there is a difference in taste between both. Spearmint is more often used in cooking recipes because it isn’t as strong in taste as peppermint is. Peppermint however is very popular for flavoring recipes during Christmas time and is especially enjoyed in candy canes.
- Thyme– Another earthy favorite for meats and veggies is thyme. Thyme actually falls into the mint herb category due to its flavor and characteristics. There are different types of thyme but the one most commonly used is “gardening thyme.” It’s used in savory dishes like chicken, soups, and fish because its flavor isn’t overpowering, but it leaves enough of an earthy or woodsy taste to dishes to really help make them stand out.
- Dill– An annual herb from the celery family, dill is often used in combination with pickles. When making cold side salads like potato salad or macaroni salad, or even egg salad, dill can lend a nice flavor profile to the dish. When canning cucumbers to turn them into pickles, dill is one of the herbs placed into the jars to give pickles their distinct taste.
- Oregano– Featured in a lot of Mediterranean diets and Italian recipes, oregano lends a great flavor to a lot of different dishes. The tiny leaves of the plant have a very strong and pungent flavor and aroma that help to flavor recipes where a strong taste of herbs is desired- for example, marinara sauces.
- Rosemary– This is a very fragrant herb used in a lot of savory dishes and it looks like a small branch from a pine tree, making it cute for winter garnishes as well. It goes great with everything from potatoes to meats and even fresh citrus like lemons, but it really helps dishes taste better when paired with other herbs like thyme or sage.
- Parsley– This leafy herb is often used as a garnish on plates thanks to the bright leafy appearance. There are a few different types of parsley and the one most often used in cooking recipes is the Italian parsley (flat leaf) while the curly parsley is used as garnishes. Both have a very subtle taste, but curly parsley is much less flavorful than Italian parsley.
- If you want to grow your own kitchen herbs, here are some Tips for Growing Herbs Indoors.
Recipes that Use Herbs
Amongst the good-tasting herbs are some very good-smelling herbs. Some of these include:
- bay leaf,
- and chives.
Thankfully, spotting aromatic herbs is pretty easy as you just need a good nose to sniff out the smells.
Besides tasting and smelling good, we also get a good variety of herbs that can sprout flowers too! This means your gardens can look great while providing you with some new recipe possibilities.
Some of the more popular flowering herbs include:
Despite the rumors and old wives’ tales, flowering herbs are actually perfectly safe to consume. Some herbs may lose a little flavor once their flowers appear, but others actually become stronger in flavor. Thankfully you can always taste and adjust your recipe as needed by adding in more or less of these herbs to suit your tastes.
If you’ve got a smoker then you may be interested in herbs you can smoke alongside the meats. This will help to infuse flavor into every bite. You could also follow along with recipes to smoke herbs on their own because smoked herbs can be far more flavorful than plain dried ones.
Dried herbs aren’t always the best for smoking due to their dry nature, they can go up in flames and leave a burnt taste on whatever you are cooking. Using the herbs in a marinade or rub, or simply adding a spritz of water can help them from turning into a charred mess.
Fresh herbs can sometimes present a similar issue to dried ones, but it really depends on the recipes you follow, the length of time they cook for and the temperature you are smoking at.
Some good fresh herbs to use include:
Herbs for Protection
Beyond the realm of cooking, we have herbs used in medicines and natural remedies. Using herbs for protection is one of the earliest ways that herbs were ever used, centuries ago. Back then, herbs were also used as protection from witchcraft and evil spirits. Some herbs are still used in this way in homes all over the world depending on beliefs and religion.
Some of the best-used herbs for protection are:
- Anise– Used for protection against the evil eye and bad dreams
- Basil– Protection against evil sprits and evil
- Bay leaf– Used for protection when carried, burned, or used as decoration
- Coriander– This protects against ill-health
- Dill– Believed to protect against dark forces
- Fennel– Protection against evil, curses, and problems
- Marjoram– Provides protection against negative energy
For lack of a better name, these are herbs that are said to have their own magical or healing properties. Please note that herbs are not ever a substitute for medical treatment and this is not medical advice:
- Amaranth: This helps to reduce swelling and to alleviate symptoms of the stomach flu.
- Basil: Eases fevers and helps to reduce the pain in stomach cramps as well as insect bites.
- Chamomile: Often served in teas, this is best known for helping with insomnia.
- Eucalyptus: This works as an insect repellent but it is also relaxing and fragrant. Sometimes seen in bathrooms lending a nice aroma and spa-like feel.
- Lavender: One of the more popular calming herbs and often used in bath time or baby products because it helps to ease tension and stress.
- Thyme: This herb is used as an antiseptic which means that it helps to stop or slow down microorganisms that could spread infection. This is very frequently used in hospitals and medical settings.
- Cloves. Often thought of as a spice, clove is actually in the herb family as well. It is used for the treatment of various ailments like cardiovascular diseases, prostate problems, depression, and inflammation. Some dental facilities will do a temporary medical filling (packed with cloves) to help alleviate the pain in a tooth if the root is or is closed to being exposed but a root canal is not yet necessary.
There are a lot of different “magical herbs” that offer relief of symptoms or aid in providing comfort. Used in rituals dating back centuries or in medical sciences today.
Herbs for Energy
If looking for natural ways to boost your energy, look no further than your own home garden or a nearby nursery. You can use these herbs for brain fog or give you a little push to get through your day.
- Ginseng: This is a very popular herb for providing energy boosts. You can often find it in tea.
- Sage: While not energy-specific, sage has been proven to help with the cognitive abilities in adults.
- Maca: Helping to improve endurance, moods, and even libido.
- Rhodiola: This herb helps to boost energy and reduce fatigue because it decreases your body’s stress hormone cortisol.
For a natural caffeine-like effect, these herbs can help:
- Kola nut
- Yerba mate
So the next time you feel like you just need a little more energy to make it through your day, skip the coffee and try some natural herbal remedies and see how they work for you.
FAQs about Herbs
Garlic is often thought of as a herb or a spice and it’s not hard to see why- it’s flavorful, aromatic, and used in a wide range of recipes just like herbs, but it is not a herb. Garlic is actually a vegetable according to modern botany.
As with any food, drink, or product, there can be side effects. Thankfully most of the herb side effects are good, as they can benefit your body in one way or another. Some common negative side effects would simply be allergic reactions or poisoning yourself if you take too much (like incredibly large quantities).
Herbs are a subsection of the vegetable category so technically they are vegetables, although they are not seen the same as a carrot, onion, or potato.
Whether you want to buy your herbs, dry your herbs, or garden them yourself, these are some products that can really help to make the process go more smoothly and easily.
Providing an airtight container for your herbs will keep them fresher longer so that they can remain flavorful for longer periods of time. As with spice, the older it gets, the less flavorful they become.
Herb Drying Rack
Whether you plan to buy your herbs fresh or garden them yourself, you can make sure to get the most out of your herb by drying them yourself instead of having them spoil in the fridge. These racks look great and provide a useful service so that you can get the most out of your herbs.
Electric Herb Grinder
Gone are the days of grinding dried herbs by hand. With this electric her grinder you can expedite the process and really get more done with your time.
So now that you know a little more about herbs and their uses, I look forward to hearing about your next well-seasoned adventure.