Culinary Herbs For Dummies: A Guide On How To Use Fresh Herbs In Your Cooking (Part 1)

culinary herbs

by Femita

Bay Leaf
bay leaves

This elegant green bush carries purple and white fruits. The shiny leaves have a strong smell and very smooth surface.

  • Flavor: Quite bitter and aromatic.
  • Great with: Poultry, game, legumes, casseroles, marinades, tomato sauce, herring, preserved vegetables and soups.
  • How to use: Use no more than two or three leaves. The longer bay leaves cook, the more flavor they will give to your stew or casserole.


A hardy plant with long, narrow, grassy stems. Chives are the smallest species of the onion family and produce blossoms when not cut back.

  • Flavor: Chives are oniony, but mild-flavored and their smell is rather intense.
  • Great with: Salads, vinaigrettes, boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, cucumber, uncooked vegetables, cream cheese, omelets, fish, meat and herb butter.
  • How to use: It is best to add chives right before serving. Use liberally!


Basil comes in many varieties. The leaves can be red, green or lilac in color.

  • Flavor: This herb has a very intense, rich, peppery flavor. This also makes it one of the most fragrant herbs.
  • Great with: Tomatoes and other Mediterranean vegetables, pastas, salads, pork, poultry, cheese, eggs and pizza.
  • How to use: Always add basil last minute because it will lose its flavor when cooked.


Savory comes in two types: summer and winter. The first is an annual plant about 10 inches high with  leaves that have a strong fragrance and look like thick needles. The winter variety looks the same, but has more leathery leaves and a less refined flavor.

  • Flavor: Peppery and very aromatic.
  • Great with: All kinds of beans, cabbage, sprouts, beets, cucumber, potatoes, pea soup, fish and grilled meat.
  • How to use: Use sparingly and add right from the start.


Lemongrass is a reed-like type of grass. The stem looks like a small leek, while the leaves smell like lemon.

  • Flavor: Fresh lemon taste.
  • Great with: Lemongrass is widely used in Thai cooking and is excellent with fish and shellfish. Dried lemongrass is a treat for your barbecue meals.
  • How to use: The soft, white parts can be used in salads and marinades, while the green stalks should be cooked.


Coriander is well known for its beautiful flowers with their exotic smell. The leaves are not unlike flat-leaf parsley.

  • Flavor: Sweet with an exotic aroma of orange blossom and anise.
  • Great with: Tomatoes, pumpkin, onion, cheese, stir-fry dishes, meat marinades, fish, rice, curries and other oriental dishes.
  • How to use: Don’t be afraid to use liberally. The stalks can be cooked, while the leaves should be added raw.

Lemon balm
lemon balm

Has bright green, serrated leaves with notable veins.

  • Flavor: Fresh and lemon-like with a soothing lemony smell.
  • Great with: Fish, mushrooms, sprouts, green peas, carrots, red cabbage, cucumber, veal, lamb, chicken, fruit desserts.
  • How to use: A great lemon zest alternative. Add last-minute.

dill leaves

This plant has only one stalk and sea-green leaves that look like little feathers. In summertime dill develops tiny yellow flowers.

  • Flavor: Mild and anise-like. The seeds taste stronger than the leaves.
  • Great with: All fish and shellfish, eggs, potatoes, cucumber, avocado. The seeds are great in lamb stew.
  • How to use: Dill leaves should be added at the end of the cooking process, otherwise they will lose their characteristic flavor and aroma.


Tarragon is a bushy plant with smooth, narrow, olive-green leaves that have a pungent smell.

  • Flavor: A penetrating and bitter-sweet taste.
  • Great with: Tartar sauce, vinaigrettes, vinegar, mustard, marinades, fish, shellfish, turkey, chicken, eggs, salads and herb cheese. And of course, no béarnaise without tarragon.
  • How to use: Don’t use too much, because the taste can be a bit overwhelming.


A quick growing annual with hollow stem that may reach 15 inches in height.

  • Flavor: Somewhat sweet and close to fennel and anise.
  • Great with: Salad, tomatoes, carrots, green peas, eggs, cheese, soup, rice, lamb, veal, chicken, fish, mussels, herb dressing and mayonnaise.
  • How to use: You can cook the stems, but not the leaves. In this case it’s better to use too much than too little.

Want more? 10 other culinary herbs are waiting for you in part 2!

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jess August 18, 2010 at 6:46 pm

Looking forward to the second part! Would be great if you could do something on rosemary and thyme, because I only use it for meat and would like to get some different suggestions.. btw dill is my favorite from this article, great with fish like salmon.


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