Guide to Cooking with Fresh Herbs

By: Hilary Meyer, EatingWell Recipe Contributor

Learn how to prep, store and cook with some of the most common fresh herbs, such as basil, chives, cilantro, rosemary, sage and more.

Sponsored by Bonnie Plants®

Cooking with herbs is an easy way to infuse a recipe with flavor. Not sure where to start? Use this infographic as a quick reference for how to prep and store fresh herbs, plus ideas for how to cook with them. Try stirring a handful of basil and some marjoram into your favorite tomato sauce or rubbing a chicken with a mixture of thyme and rosemary before you roast it. Add your favorite chopped herbs to homemade vinaigrette or creamy ranch dip. Herbs like cilantro and mint are excellent tossed in an Asian-inspired salad. Some herbs may be more familiar to you than others. Experiment with a few at a time until you find ones that you like.

For the freshest herbs, grow your own. Herbs are among the easiest plants for beginner gardeners and they grow well in pots, so you don’t need a lot of space. Start with seedlings, such as Bonnie Plants® basil, chives, cilantro, mint and parsley, so you can start harvesting your first herbs right after planting. Plant in a large pot with well-drained soil and water regularly. Place in a sunny spot on a windowsill or outside near your kitchen door and you'll have fresh herbs at the ready whenever you need them.

Related: Your Ultimate Guide to Growing Herbs Indoors

Herbs

Basil

No other herb epitomizes the taste of summer like basil. This tender annual is available in a number of varieties—opal basil with attractive maroon leaves, Thai basil with its undertones of anise, and the classic sweet Genovese basil that is the backbone to every delicious pesto, are just a few options to consider.

Culinary Uses: If you have a lot of basil on hand, make your own pesto! You can freeze the pesto in an ice cube tray and use the blocks to enhance soup or serve over pasta when summer is long gone. Tender basil is at its best when it's fresh, and complements nearly everything from meat to fish. Use it to garnish salads and pizzas fresh out of the oven.

Recipes to Try: Healthy Basil Recipes

Prep: Basil can bruise easily. It's best to tear or very roughly chop the leaves. The delicate stems at the top of the plant are good to chop and use in soups. The larger stems of the plant (toward the root end) are woody and less flavorful.

Storage: The best way to store basil is with the root ends in a small cup of water with a plastic bag draped loosely over it on your kitchen counter (NOT in the refrigerator—the cold will cause it to wilt). It will last a week to 10 days. To freeze basil, blanch the leaves first, then dry them before they hit the freezer. This will prevent them from turning black. To dry basil, use a dehydrator or spread out the basil leaves on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven's lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Related: How to Preserve Fresh Herbs

Cilantro

Pictured Recipe: Strip Steaks with Smoky Cilantro Sauce & Roasted Vegetables

The pungent flavor and aroma of cilantro is popular in many cuisines, including Mexican and Vietnamese. The entire plant is edible: the dried seeds are sold whole or ground as coriander, the stems are as flavorful as the leaves and some Asian recipes even call for the roots.

Culinary Uses: Cilantro likes to make a statement. We like it paired with mild ingredients like chicken, fish and tofu where its bright, grassy flavor shines through. (But, really, cilantro can go with just about everything.) It's wonderful in soups, salsas and curries. Heat can temper fresh cilantro's flavor, so add it to a dish right before serving.

Recipes to Try: Healthy Cilantro Recipes

Prep: You can eat the leaves whole or chopped. The stems are just as flavorful as the leaves, they're just not as delicate. Use the stems for building flavor—you can chop and cook them along with other aromatics, or they can be used whole to enhance the flavor of stock and soup.

Storage: Store cilantro in a jar in your refrigerator, with the stems in water and a bag over the leaves. It will last a week to 10 days. To freeze cilantro, blanch the leaves and stems first (this helps preserve their color and flavor), then dry them before they hit the freezer. Or, you can pulse the leaves and stems in a food processor and freeze the mixture in ice cube trays. To dry cilantro, use a dehydrator or spread out the cilantro leaves on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven's lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Dill

Pictured Recipe: Jalapeño & Dill Labneh

Pungent dill, a relative of parsley, has a reach that spans from Greece to northern Europe. It's the key flavor for dill pickles here in the United States, but it also plays a prominent role in other dishes around the world, from grape leaves to borscht.

Culinary Uses: Dill can be used as a garnish or to enhance the flavor of a dish through infusion (like pickling). It pairs well with fish, poultry, eggs and smoked meats. It can be combined with other herbs such as parsley or mint or enjoyed on its own in soups, stews and sauces. Because it has a somewhat strong flavor, a light hand with fresh dill at the end of cooking is best.

Recipes to Try: Healthy Dill Recipes

Prep: Its feather-like leaves are tender and can be chopped or torn to be used as garnish. The tender parts of the stems can be chopped and used in cooking or for infusing its unique flavor.

Storage: Store dill wrapped in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag in your refrigerator. It will last a week to 10 days. To freeze, place the leaves in a plastic bag or roughly chop and freeze the leaves in ice cube trays with a little bit of water. Add the mixture one cube at a time to soups and sauces. To dry dill, use a dehydrator or spread out the leaves on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven's lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Marjoram

Pictured Recipe: Herbed Tomato Gratin

Similar to oregano, marjoram is popular in many Mediterranean cuisines. Its intensely floral flavor goes particularly well with meats and vegetables.

Culinary Uses: Marjoram is milder than oregano and because of that, it's more versatile. We love it paired with mild ingredients like chicken, fish and tofu as well as darker meats like beef and lamb. It's wonderful in soups, salad dressings, pasta sauces and as a garnish for veggies. Heat can temper the flavor, so add it to a dish right before serving.

Prep: You can eat the leaves whole or chopped. The stems can be woody, but you don't have to throw them away. Use the stems for building flavor—they can be used whole to enhance the flavor of stock and soup.

Storage: Store marjoram wrapped in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag in your refrigerator. It will last a week to 10 days. To freeze, pulse the leaves in a food processor and freeze the mixture in ice cube trays with a little bit of olive oil. Add the mixture one cube at a time to soups and sauces. To dry marjoram, use a dehydrator or spread out the leaves on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven's lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Oregano

Pictured Recipe: Spanakopita Loaded Potatoes

A member of the mint family, oregano is related to both marjoram and thyme. Mediterranean oregano has a milder flavor than its Mexican counterpart. Use it to season spaghetti and pizza sauces, or add a pinch to your favorite chili recipe for another flavor dimension.

Culinary Uses: Oregano has a strong, woodsy flavor that pairs best with dark and gamy meats. Its flavor holds up well to heat, so you can add it in with your aromatics while you're cooking to build flavor. It's wonderful in soups, pasta sauces and pizza sauces. Using fresh oregano as a garnish may overwhelm a dish, so go easy on it if you choose to use it this way.

Prep: You can eat the leaves whole or chopped. The stems can be woody, but you don't have to throw them away. Use the stems for building flavor—they can be used whole to enhance the flavor of stock, soup or pasta sauce.

Storage: Store oregano wrapped in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag in your refrigerator. It will last a week to 10 days. To freeze, pulse the leaves in a food processor and freeze the mixture in ice cube trays with a little bit of olive oil. Add the mixture one cube at a time to soups and sauces. To dry, use a dehydrator or spread out the leaves on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven's lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Parsley

Pictured Recipe: Pasta with Parsley-Walnut Pesto

Parsley rarely gets to shine on its own, but its mild flavor provides the base for numerous soups, sauces and stews. Flat-leaved Italian parsley provides a mild grassy flavor and is a favorite for cooking, while rougher curly parsley makes a pretty garnish for platters.

Culinary Uses: Because it is so mild-mannered, you can use a lot of it without overwhelming a dish. Whole parsley sprigs add a fresh, bright flavor to stock, soups and stews. Leaves can be enjoyed whole in salads, dips or salsas, or chopped and used as garnish. Everything from fish, poultry and dark game meats to legumes and tender vegetables are complemented by the universal flavor of parsley.

Recipes to Try: Healthy Parsley Recipes

Prep: Parsley leaves can be chopped or enjoyed whole. The leaves are sturdy and hold their color well, even when cooked. The stems are just as flavorful as the leaves, they're just not as delicate. Use the stems for building flavor—you can chop and cook them along with other aromatics or they can be used whole to enhance the flavor of stock and soup.

Storage: Store parsley wrapped in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag in your refrigerator. It will last a week to 10 days. To freeze, place the leaves in a plastic bag or roughly chop and freeze the leaves in ice cube trays with a little bit of water. Add the mixture one cube at a time to soups and sauces. Parsley loses much of its mild flavor when dried, but it retains much of its vibrant green color. To dry, use a dehydrator or spread out the leaves on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven's lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Rosemary

Pictured Recipe: Garlic-Rosemary Smashed Potatoes

Originating from the Mediterranean with a distinctive piney aroma, this sturdy herb is used to flavor sauces, oils, breads and roasts.

Culinary Uses: Rosemary has a strong, woodsy flavor that pairs best with dark and gamy meats, both roasted and grilled. Its flavor holds up well to heat, so you can add it in with your aromatics while cooking to build flavor. It's wonderful in soups, pasta sauces and breads and infused in oil. Since rosemary is one of the most powerful herbs, use a light hand since it can quickly overwhelm a dish.

Prep: Rosemary leaves look like pine needles. They should be chopped unless they are being used for an infusion or to flavor a dish without the intent to consume them. The stems are woody and don't have a lot of flavor. You can use the stems with the leaves attached for enhancing the flavor of stock, soup or sauces. Gently bruising rosemary stems with the blunt end of a knife before adding will bring out more flavor in your dish.

Storage: Store rosemary wrapped in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag in your refrigerator. It will last a week to 10 days. To freeze, place the leaves and stems in a plastic bag. Remove the leaves as needed. To dry, use a dehydrator or spread out the leaves on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven's lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Sage

Pictured Recipe: Crispy Potato Stacks with Fresh Sage

The distinctive flavor of sage has long been popular in the Mediterranean for both culinary and medicinal purposes. The soft, oval, silver-green leaves have a slightly bitter, musty flavor.

Culinary Uses: Sage has a love-it or leave-it kind of flavor. We happen to love the earthiness it offers, but many times you will find it paired with other herbs like thyme or parsley to balance the flavor. It pairs best with gamy meats and poultry, both roasted and grilled, as well as many root vegetables. Its flavor holds up well to heat, so you can add it in with your aromatics while cooking to build flavor or use it fresh as a garnish (but use a light hand unless you really love it!). It's wonderful in soups, sauces, breads and stuffing.

Prep: Sage leaves are long and almost fuzzy. Because of that and their relatively strong flavor, sage leaves are usually chopped. Whole leaves can make a lovely garnish if they are flash-fried in a bit of oil first. There is hardly a stem to speak of, but as long as its tender (up to the leaf end) it can be used along with the leaves.

Storage: Store sage wrapped in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag in your refrigerator. It will last a week to 10 days. To freeze, place the leaves in a plastic bag or roughly chop and freeze the leaves in ice cube trays with a little bit of olive oil. Add the mixture one cube at a time to soups and sauces. To dry, use a dehydrator or spread out the leaves on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven's lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Spearmint & Peppermint

Pictured Recipe: Mint Vinaigrette

These hardy perennials have a reputation for taking over gardens, but considering their culinary uses, maybe that's not such a bad thing. The herb you buy in the supermarket is most likely spearmint. Also known as common mint or garden mint, this is the most practical variety for both sweet and savory dishes. Peppermint contains more menthol and is used primarily in candies, teas and sweets. Numerous varietals include gems like apple mint, orange mint, pineapple mint and chocolate mint.

Culinary Uses: Mint is much more versatile than we give it credit for. It can infuse a cocktail, combine with other herbs to create a deep and complex flavor or stand on its own to bring a minty fresh twist to poultry or lamb. It's great in chutney, salsas or salads. And don't forget it makes a delightful flavoring and garnish for desserts! Also try it in dips and sauces.

Recipes to Try: Healthy Mint Recipes

Prep: Mint leaves can be chopped, torn or enjoyed whole. The stems are edible too, as long as any woody ends (toward the root) are not included. Stems can be cooked along with aromatics or used to for juice or in purees.

Storage: Store mint wrapped in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag in your refrigerator, or loosely wrapped in plastic with the stem end in a small jar of water. It will last a week to 10 days. To freeze, place the leaves in a plastic bag or roughly chop and freeze the leaves in ice cube trays with a little bit of water. Add the mixture one cube at a time to soups and sauces. To dry, use a dehydrator or spread out the leaves on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven's lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Tarragon

Pictured Recipe: Baked Chicken with Tarragon & Dijon Mustard

Long, flat, tender leaves identify tarragon. The French have perhaps most heartily embraced its bright licorice-like flavor, making it a star ingredient, along with chervil, parsley and chives, in the seasoning mixture fines herbes, as well as in traditional sauces, such as sauce béarnaise.

Culinary Uses: With its sweet anise flavor, tarragon is best known as the key ingredient in béarnaise sauce, but its uses reach far beyond that. It pairs particularly well with eggs, fish and poultry, and can infuse white-wine vinegar as a base for subtly sweet salad dressing. To make the most of its unique flavor, add tarragon near the end of cooking.

Prep: Tarragon's delicate leaves can be chopped, torn or enjoyed whole. Like basil, they bruise easily. The stems can be woody and aren't as flavorful as the leaves, but you don't have to throw them away. Use the stems for building flavor—they can be used whole to enhance the flavor of stock, soup or pasta sauce.

Storage: Store tarragon wrapped in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag in your refrigerator, or loosely wrapped in plastic with the stem end in a small jar of water. It will last a week to 10 days. To freeze, place the leaves in a plastic bag or roughly chop and freeze the leaves in ice cube trays with a little bit of water. Add the mixture one cube at a time to soups and sauces. Unlike other herbs, tarragon loses much of its flavor when it's dried, so instead preserve its unique flavor by combining it with butter, oil or vinegar.

Thyme

Pictured Recipe: Lemon-Thyme Whipped Ricotta

Best known as a background flavoring for stews and soups, thyme is one of the most versatile herbs around. Originating from the Mediterranean, its small delicate leaves can flavor dishes chopped or whole, while entire sprigs can be used to add flavor to soups and stocks. Its flavor can range from floral and bright to lemony and tart.

Culinary Uses: Thyme is great on its own, or paired with other herbs like rosemary, sage or parsley. It pairs well with just about everything from fish, chicken and dark meat to tender vegetables. It can be added at the beginning of cooking to enhance flavors or added at the end as a garnish.

Prep: Thyme's tiny leaves can be chopped or enjoyed whole. Like basil, they bruise easily. Stems toward the flower end of the sprigs are tender, but further down they're woody. Your best bet is to pick the small, tender leaves off the stems and use the stems to flavor soups and sauces.

Storage: Store thyme wrapped in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag in your refrigerator. It will last a week to 10 days. To freeze, place the leaves in a plastic bag or roughly chop and freeze the leaves in ice cube trays with a little bit of water. Add the mixture one cube at a time to soups and sauces. When dried, thyme takes on a musty flavor. To dry, use a dehydrator or spread out the leaves on a large baking sheet and heat at your oven's lowest temperature setting until dry and crumbly.

Watch: How to Make Homemade Herb Vinaigrette

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