Bunch of fresh thyme

Whether they are the featured flavor or employed to support the theme of a dish, herbs add a generous layer of complexity. Ideally they are used fresh; in many cases, drying will compromise their fresh flavor. This is especially true for tender herbs such as basil, parsley, and chives or similar. Resinous herbs like rosemary, thyme, and oregano are a little more forgiving and retain their flavor better during the drying process. In order to get the biggest epicurean benefit, it is important to add them to the dish at the right time during the cooking process. As a rule of thumb, resinous herbs should be added at the beginning; their flavors will actually benefit from cooking.

The flavor of tender herbs, however, tends to dissipate during cooking; hence they should be added at the very end of the preparation. The following table shows a variety of herbs commonly used in many cultures.

Common Herbs and Their Uses

Common Culinary Uses


Small to large, oval, pointed leaves; green or purple; pungent; varieties include opal, lemon, and Thai basil; also available dried

Flavoring for sauces, dressings, infused oils, and vinegars; pesto sauces; popular in Mediterranean and Southeast Asian cooking Store basil in an upright container (like a jar or cup), with its ends submerged in water

Bay leaf

Smooth, oval leaves; green, aromatic; most commonly available dried Flavoring for soups, stews, stocks, sauces, and grain dishes Fresh bay leaves are much more pungent than dry, so less is more


Small, curly leaves; green; delicate texture; anise flavor; also available dried Component of fines herbes; garnish Chervil can be difficult to find; since it is mild, parsley is a good substitute, or a 50/50 mix of parsley and tarragon


Long, thin; bright green; mild onion flavor Flavoring for salads and cream cheese garnish; component of fines herbes Many recipes call for chives as a “non-functional” garnish in quantities that are barely perceptible (guilty!). If called for as garnish, you can leave them out entirely



Similar shape to flat-leaf parsley; green; delicate leaves; fresh, clean flavor Flavoring for salsa and uncooked sauces; garnish. Leaves and stems should be used and should not be chopped too finely If your cilantro is wilted, refresh it in an ice water bath before drying and using

Curry leaves

Small to medium size; pointed oval; dark green; mild, aromatic flavor Flavoring for stir-fries and curries You can find curry leaves at most Asian markets or online


Long, feather-like leaves; green; distinct flavor; also available dried (often called “dill weed”) Flavoring for salads, sauces, stews, and braises Dill is uniquely flavored and difficult to substitute. Though the flavor won’t be the same, choose a bright, fresh herb, like parsley or basil


Long blades with rough surface; pale yellow-green Flavoring for soups, stocks, stir-fries, and steamed preparations; desserts Lemongrass is very strong; a little bit goes a long way. Remove particularly woody exterior layers, if needed


Small, oval leaves; pale green; mild, similar flavor to oregano; commonly available dried Flavoring for lamb and vegetable dishes Use marjoram anywhere you might use oregano for a subtle variation; it’s a great addition to split pea soup


Pointed, textured leaves; pale green to bright green; leaf size and strength varies with type; varieties include peppermint, spearmint, and chocolate mint Flavoring for sweet dishes, sauces, and beverages; garnish for desserts; mint is a traditional accompaniment to lamb Mint is more versatile than it gets credit for. Experiment with mint in herb blends, marinades, and stews—especially those that are Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and southeast Asian


Small, oval leaves; pale green; pungent flavor; Mexican and Mediterranean varieties are available; commonly available dried Flavoring for tomato-based dishes; marinades; soups and stews Mexican oregano  is also called epazote. It’s often sold as dried whole flowers, so you’ll want to rub it between your fingers to crumble it.


Curly or flat leaves; pointed, scalloped edges; bright green; clean tasting; flat-leaf parsley is also known as Italian parsley; commonly available dried Flavoring for sauces, stocks, soups, dressings; component of fines herbes; garnish; used in bouquet garni and sachet d’épices Parsley is more than a green garnish. Toss a large handful of minced parsley in a basic chicken soup for a pop of bright, fresh (and green!) flavor.


Pine needle–shaped leaves, woody stem; grayish, deep green color; strong pine aroma and flavor; commonly available dried Flavoring for grilled foods (lamb) and marinades; popular in Mediterranean cuisine; branch-like stems are used as skewers Fresh rosemary is much more flavorful than dry, so choose it when possible


Thin, oval, velvety leaves; grayish green color; musty flavor; varieties include pineapple sage; commonly available dried, both crumbled and ground Flavoring for stuffings, sausages, and stews Sage is the unmistakable flavor in Thanksgiving stuffings and breakfast sausage. Once cooked, large pieces of sage can have a troublesome texture, so if that sort of things bothers you, stick with a mince


Oblong leaves; dark green; soft, fuzzy texture; commonly available dried Flavoring for pâtés, stuffing; used to make poultry seasoning Savory can be purchased as summer- or winter-savory. Summer savory is more mild, but both have an earthy, somewhat peppery flavor. It’s hard to find in the U.S., so you can substitute thyme


Very small leaves; woody stem; deep green color; varieties include garden thyme, lemon thyme, and wild thyme; commonly available dried

Flavoring for soups, stocks, stews, braises, and roasted items; used in bouquet garni and sachet d’épices

Strip the small leaves from the woody stem before using thyme. Grip the stem at the top between your fingertips, and drag them down to remove the leaves from the top down


Thin, pointed leaves; dark green; delicate texture; anise flavor; commonly available dried Flavoring for béarnaise sauce; component of fines herbes

Tarragon counts among cilantro as one of the bolder-flavored herbs. Use is sparingly until you get the hang of it. It’s delicious in chicken salad