5 Fresh Herbs Everyone Should Use
It’s time to officially say sayonara to winter, and nothing says spring like the kiss of fresh herbs. Herbs have long been prized throughout the world for their curative properties, with oregano, rosemary, and parsley among the most powerful in terms of antioxidant properties. In fact, food writer Mark Bittman says you should think of herbs as “teeny vegetables.” And, they are a better-for-you way to add and boost flavor, transforming a dish from just okay to “Oh my gosh!”
Most fresh herbs can be stored for at least a week and should always be added towards the end of cooking for maximum flavor. You can cut down on cost and waste by growing your own. Visit your local nursery for seeds or seedlings. For tips on storing and pairings, see our primer below.
Oregano belongs to the mint family and is related to both marjoram and thyme, though it is stronger and more pungent. It is good for promoting digestion, reducing coughs, and protecting the body from bacteria and viruses. Oregano goes extremely well with tomato-based dishes and is a familiar pizza herb. It also works well in poultry rubs. Choose bright-green, fresh-looking bunches with no signs of wilting or yellowing and refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to three days. Try Oregano-Hemp Dip: In a high-speed blender, combine 1 1/3 cups hemp seeds, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, 1 garlic clove, 1 teaspoon salt, pinch of black pepper or cayenne. Serve with crudite or whole grain crackers.
Rosemary is a fragrant evergreen herb most often used in Mediterranean dishes, but also a great addition to roasts, fresh-baked breads, vegetables and even beverages. It has been used since ancient times for its medicinal properties, some of which include: alleviating muscle pain, improving memory, boosting immunity, and strengthening the circulatory system. Since rosemary is a tougher herb with a woody stalk, you can store in a loose plastic bag or saran wrap without any moisture, which can result in mold. Try Lemon Rosemary Marinade: Combine juice of 3 large lemons, 1/4 cup fresh rosemary, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 cloves minced garlic, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon white pepper in a bowl. Mix well. The marinade can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1 week.
There are two common varieties of parsley: curly-leaf (clean, light flavor and aroma) and flat-leaf or Italian (more peppery in profile). Dishes that benefit from a sprinkling of parsley include hot or cold pastas, whole grains, warm vegetables, seafood, poultry and eggs. Parsley is known as a great digestion aid and may also help reduce muscle spasms. Select bright-green leaves with no wilting. Because parsley is a more delicate herb, when storing treat them more like flowers. Simply snip the ends and stand the herb upright in an inch of water. A mason jar is perfect for this. You can even leave it on your counter rather than refrigerating. Alternatively, wrap the parsley in a damp paper towel, then place in a plastic bag and refrigerate for up to one week. Try Parsley Smoothie: Purée 1/2 cup (packed) flat-leaf parsley, 4 kale leaves, 1 cup frozen berries, 1 banana, 1 teaspoon ground flax, and 1 cup almond milk in a blender until smooth.
Nothing smells like summer quite as much as fragrant Basil. Also a member of the mint family, and related to oregano and rosemary, there are actually 35 different types of basil. Sweet basil is prevalent in Italian cuisine (pesto or caprese, anyone?), while Thai basil is used in many Asian-inspired dishes. Lemon basil is used in soups, stews, curries and stir fries. Basil is well known for its medicinal properties: It helps promotes good blood flow, healthy eyesight, and has also been shown to be an effective anti-inflammatory. It is worth mentioning that Holy basil, while not the type you want to add to your marinara, is known for its adaptogenic properties (which means it helps balance and restore the body) and has been shown to soothe anxiety and stress. Store basil the same way you would parsley and don’t be afraid to grow this hardy plant right in a pot on your deck. Try Dairy-free Pesto: Combine 8 cups basil, ½ cup pine nuts, 1 clove garlic, 1 tablespoon white miso, ¼ cup olive oil, and ½ teaspoon salt in a food processor. Blend until creamy. Add olive oil to reach desired consistency.
One of the most widely-used culinary herbs, thyme has a minty, light lemon aroma. Instead of imparting a bold flavor, this aromatic helps to balance the flavors in a dish. It is a welcome addition to stuffing, poultry, meat dishes, roasted veggies, soups, sauces and casseroles. It even works well in baked goods and sultry summer beverages. If you think basil has a lot of varieties, there are some 400 varieties of thyme, but not all are available locally, and only a few are suited for culinary use. Thyme may aid in relieving bacterial and fungal infections and muscle spasms. Its woody stem, means you should store dry in a bag in the fridge for up to a week. Try Strawberry Thyme Lemonade: Combine 1 cup sugar, 8 sprigs thyme, and 1 cup water in a small pot. Bring to a boil and cook stirring until the sugar dissolves. Cool and discard thyme. Combine mixture with 2 cups hulled strawberries, 1 ½ cups fresh lemon juice and 5 cups cold water in a large pitcher. Chill and serve over ice. Garnish with additional thyme.
Bonus: The silvery-green leaves of sage are slightly bitter and have a musty mint taste and aroma. Its name comes from the Latin derivative “savior,” a reference to its long-believed healing powers. It was used by the ancient Egyptians to improve fertility, and in the first century, a Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist reported that sage could help stop wounds from bleeding, disinfect sores, treat coughs and more. Since then, herbalists have used sage for treating swelling, sprains, and asthma, among other ailments. A 2017 study also revealed that sage may be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s. Try sage in dishes containing pork, cheese, beans, and stuffing. Refrigerate in a paper towel, then a plastic bag for up to four days. Try Sage and White Bean Dip: In a food processor blend 1 can rinsed cannellini beans, 1 garlic clove, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon sage, ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, ¼ teaspoon dried paprika, and ¼ teaspoon red pepper until creamy. Serve with crudité.
Note: Typically, moisture shortens the life of herbs, so you need only wash them once you are ready to use them. And, never rinse them under a running faucet. Instead, fill a large bowl with cold water, and gently swish them around the bowl to release any sand or soil.