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Information about herbs and their uses

10th June is Herb & Spice Day


Jump to:-  Fresh or Dried  | Which herb to useGrowing your Own | Drying Herbs | Storage | Recipes


There isnít a chef alive who wouldnít agree that the use of herbs plays an important roll in cooking, from relatively mild parsley which you can use by the handful, to sage whose pungent aroma and taste ensures itís usually used sparingly. By the way, garlic, onions, leeks and celery are botanically included in the term "herbs" however, for the purposes of this editorial (and as far as most cooks are concerned) they are considered to be vegetables so are not included here.


Fresh or Dried Herbs?


There are no hard and fast rules about the choice of using fresh or dried herbs but use fresh herbs when available.  Dried herbs are most suited to dishes which require more than 20 minutes' cooking in order for them to impart their full flavour and soften up a little so when cooking "quick" dishes such as egg or cheese recipes, use fresh herbs.


In general if you are substituting dried herbs for fresh herbs, use one third of the amount of fresh herbs stated in the recipe.


Which herb to use?


Often this is a matter of personal taste however,  there are some well known combinations which may help you to choose which herb to use with a particular dish. Also, don't forget the established herb mixtures which have been used by cooks for hundreds of years namely:


 "Fines Herbs"  - a mixture of equal parts  tarragon, parsley, chives and chervil which goes particularly well with egg dishes such as omelettes.


"Bouquet Garni" - which is  a mixture of herbs which is tied together for easy removal from a dish. The classic bouquet garni consists of 5 sprigs of parsley, 2 sprigs of thyme, and 1 bay leaf however, depending on the recipe, other herbs can be added according to taste.


Specific Uses of individual herbs

- Thyme,  marjoram,  summer savory,  coriander, chervil,  parsley, bay leaves

Pork -  Sage, thyme, marjoram, oregano, bay leaves, parsley, coriander

Lamb - Rosemary, marjoram, thyme, parsley, dill, oregano, parsley, mint, coriander

Veal - Thyme, marjoram, summer savory, bay leaves, chervil, basil, parsley

Poultry - Sage, basil, thyme, borage, marjoram, coriander, bay leaves, parsley, rosemary, summer savory, tarragon, mint

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Fish and Seafoodó basil,  tarragon, basil, parsley,  thyme, bay leaves, coriander

Eggs and Cheese  - Basil,  marjoram,  rosemary, thyme, tarragon, chervil, chive, parsley, bay leaves


Pasta and Pizza - Basil, borage, oregano, parsley, marjoram, thyme


Vegetables - Chives, coriander, dill, borage, sage, basil, oregano, marjoram, mint


Don't forget the myriad of herb butters and sauces which can add interest to many plainly cooked ingredients.


Growing your own herbs


Many herbs are relatively easy to grow. Even if you don't have a garden, most can be grown in pots or containers both indoors on a window ledge or outdoors on the terrace, balcony or patio.  This is also a great opportunity to learn how to build a raised bed garden if you are starting from scratch.  


For specific details on growing a variety of herbs, visit our Growing Herbs page.  Not only does it contain sowing and growing details, we also list the height and spread of the plants so you can incorporate them into your flower garden.


Of course, you can always go out and buy mature plants from the garden centre although this is a more expensive way of growing your own. Also, beware of buying herb plants from supermarkets except for the short term - they are generally grown for indoor use and often don't last very long,  if at all, when placed in the garden.


Drying herbs - How to dry herbs


Pick herbs for drying just before the plants flower preferably in the early morning but after any dew has evaporated. Avoid bruising the leaves.


Air Drying This is a traditional method of drying herbs and is suitable for the more sturdy herbs such as thyme, rosemary, sage, bay leaves and oregano.  Cut long stems from the plant and tie together. Place upside-down in a large paper bag with the stems poking out of the opening, making sure there is plenty of room inside the bags so the herbs don't actually touch the sides. Gather the bag around the stems and tie securely, leaving a long amount of string. Poke several holes in the bag for ventilation.  Hang the bag up (by the stems) in a warm, airy room and leave for two weeks or a little longer.

Oven Drying
This method is best used for herbs which have a higher moister content and which are therefore more susceptible to molding such as basil, tarragon and mint. Remove the best leaves from the plants then wash and dry them well. Lay the leaves in a single layer on a baking tray lined with paper towels, making sure the leaves aren't touching.  Cover with another paper towel. You can have up to five layers of herbs, each separated with paper towels. Dry in a very cool oven. The herbs are ready when they are crispy which can take between 4 and 8 hours.


Microwave Drying  is a modern and fast way to dry herbs suitable for small quantities. Place small stems with leaves on paper towels in the microwave  and cover with another paper towel. Heat for 2 to 3 minutes on high. If the leaves are not brittle and dry at the end of this period, repeat the microwave drying process for a further 30 seconds.



General storage of Herbs


Once cut, fresh herbs will only last a few days in the refrigerator so only pick as much as you need for one day.


Always store dried herbs in air tight containers in a cool dark place.



We have literally hundreds of recipes using all manner of herbs on this website but below are just a few to whet your appetite. To find recipes using the herb(s) of your choice use the search form.




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