How to Use Herbs in Cookery

Herbs (like spices) are another great seasoning, preservative and staple ingredient of cooking throughout history. There is a great variety of herbs on the market from international cuisines now very cost effective. Here's how to use them in cookery.


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    Know the difference between an herb and a spice. an herb is usually designated as the leaf material of a plant, where a spice is usually defined as the seeds, flower or flower heads, roots, stems and other parts of a plant. For example, Coriander / Cilantro leaf is an herb, but the stems, seeds or roots of the same plant is typically referred to as a spice.
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    Consider the difference herbs offer when fresh, versus dried. The same herb can have a dramatically different flavour. Some dried herbs can have almost a musty flavour (which is noticeable if cooked in breads or scones), which contrast sharply against the same herb used freshly picked. For long slow cooking, some herbs are better dried as they can be more mellow, or alternatively more lasting flavour than fresh herbs that may lose flavour due to long cooking.
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    Consider when you add the herb to the meal, particularly with fresh herbs. Some herbs wilt quickly and have an unpleasant texture (especially if used in a salad context). Some herbs give a nice flavour (such as lemon thyme) when used in small quantities as a garnish for a fragrant perfume. Parsley is another good example that if added right at the beginning of a stew, its flavour is quickly lost to other ingredients which can give a pleasant undertone, or it can be added as a garnish just before serving to give the meal a fresh and distinct flavour.
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    Consider other parts of the same plant that can be used to complement the herb. In many occasions this is technically a spice (as per Coriander / Cilantro), but they can work well together in boosting the herbs flavour, changing flavours or enhancing other flavours.
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    Be careful about the strength of herbs in how much you use. Some herbs you only need a small pinch of as they are quite powerful, far less if the same herb is dried as it has shrunk and the concentration is likely to be higher per spoonful. Its sometimes recommended to use half or even far less the amount of dried herb to fresh herb, so if it asks for 1 Tablespoon of fresh chopped parsley in a braise, 1 tsp can be sufficient of dried. This also does vary according to varieties so experimentation is the key.
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    Grow your own! Herbs and herb seeds are very cheap to find and can grow for years (especially hardy herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme etc). Fresh herbs are very tasty additions to meals and growing them adds extra satisfaction.
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    Wrap food in herbs before cooking. This is often done with banana leaves (the banana plant is a herb in its own right) as well as ginger leaves, Ti leaves (in Polynesian and Hawaiian cuisine), cardamom leaves, grape leaves in Mediterranean cuisine etc. The food can then be steamed, poached or grilled to impart a fresh subtle flavour to the parcel contents.
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    Consider the medical aspect of herbs. In Imperial Chinese cuisine, it is said that cooks selected herbs and spices specifically of their health benefits for their patron. Many herbs can offer a treatment such as mint is said to be good for stomach upsets etc, but herbs should not be used to replace a prescribed treatment without the approval of your physician, in case it may conflict with allergies or react negatively to existing treatments.
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    Research online or read cookery books dedicated to herbs and spices. These books often have a good chapter showing the varieties of herbs and how to use them as well as good recipe recommendations.
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    Find ways to use more herbs. Such as:
    • In an herb paste, rubbed onto food prior to BBQ
    • In marinades
    • As a garnish
    • As a repellent to moths in the pantry (bay leaves and rosemary are said to be good for this)
    • Added to stews, braises, curries, poaching liquids, stocks and soups. A bouqet garni, is a classical bunch of herbs such as parsley, thyme, sometimes rosemary, bay leaf and others for adding as a bunch into a stew or a stock, for easy removal prior to serving.
    • Added to salads and sandwiches - Vietnamese rice noodle rolls are also a great example.
    • Added to baked goods such as flans, pies, breads, quiches etc.
    • The sticks of rosemary or lemongrass can be used as kebab sticks, or used to support roasted food from sitting in fat.
    • Made into teas, tisanes and other remedies.
    • Added as table decorations, or into a vase in the kitchen for easy access and as an attractive alternative to cut flowers.
    • There are many more just waiting to be tried and found.


  • Some herbs are not food safe, so logically should not be used. Its usually best to stick with the standard culinary herbs, or to research first.

Article Info

Categories: Basic Cooking Skills | Herbs and Spices