It is thought that herbs were originally grown for their medicinal properties or to disguise the flavour and smell of food that was beginning to decay.
Now, herbs are used to help enhance the flavour of foods and they are used greatly as garnishes for final dishes. We want to enhance food and not overpower - some herbs such as rosemary, thyme, tarragon and even coriander will be overpowering it too much is used.
Buying fresh herbs can be quite expensive, especially if you only require a few leaves of some herb. The great thing is you can grow your own as they can be grown in pots in the garden or a windowsill.
If you find you have an abundance of a soft leaf herb such as parsley, coriander or tarragon, quickly blanch it in boiling water for a few seconds then plunge it into ice cold water, drain and dry well on a clean cloth. Chop and fill an ice cube tray, top up with water and freeze. When they have frozen solid into little cubes, tip them into clear plastic bags, label and date and store in the freezer. Then, when a recipe requires chopped parsley, for instance, just take out one or two cubes and drop into your soup or whatever you are cooking. A good way of saving your soft leaf herbs.
Click on the following for links to more information on herbs most commonly used in the kitchen:
Bay is an evergreen shrub used very much in bouquet garnis or for flavouring stews. When planted in a container a patio, bay will not only give you leaves to use in the kitchen but will slowly grow into a lovely dark green specimen tree, giving you the best of both worlds.
Basil is a tender plant and will not stand any frost, so you can try to transplant it into small pots for your windowsill during the winter months. When required, pinch out the smaller leaves to use in the kitchen. Basil has very soft leaves. I always tear them with my fingers rather than using a knife. As it is so soft and tender, if using basil in a hot dish only add in the last minute or so. Basil is great when used with tomatoes and a main ingredient in pesto, which is widely used with pasta.
Quite a widely used herb, chive is a mild member of the onion family and grows well during the summer months. Use it in potato salads, soups and is a good herb to mix with cream cheese. It is nice to snip chives with a pair of scissors rather than use a knife.
Coriander is a soft leaf green herb, very much used in Eastern cookery to flavour curries and stews. It can be used to flavour cous cous or added to salads. Like parsley, the stalks are useful as well as the leaves.
Dill is a member of the parsley family with a feathery foliage with a slight hint of aniseed flavour. It is very good herb to use with fish, especially salmon, and the foliage makes a very good light garnish.
If you are learning to cook, use garlic quite sparingly, for it is very strong in flavour and will easily overpower everything else. Sometimes, all you need to do is rub the blade of your knife with a garlic clove and that gentle hint of flavour will be enough. It is a member of the onion family and can be chopped likewise. The smaller you chop or crush the garlic, the stronger the flavour will be.
Mint is one of the most widely grown herbs. In fact, it sometimes grows too widely and spreads throughout the garden. So, growing it in containers is a good way of keeping it in check. Mint is such a lovely herb — the smell is so fresh. Rubbing a leaf between your fingers and you get a lovely sent on your hands. Throw a sprig or two in with your new potatoes and tender young peas. Obviously, the main ingredient when making mint sauce for lamb. Chopped and mixed with yoghurt, it makes a nice fresh dressing. A great herb!
Possibly the most used herb of all. Finely chopped and added to sauces or just sprinkled over a dish for garnish. Also use the stalks for bouquet garni, to flavour stocks, soup, stews, etc. We can chose between curly leaf or flat-leaf varieties. It is a lovely herb to use when freshly picked. Indeed, another great herb and our kitchens are a better place because of parsley.
Rosemary leaves a lovely smell on your hands after using it, but it is quite strong in flavour and should be used sparingly. Good to use with lamb and pork and you can add a sprig or two in with your roasted root vegetables. Rosemary will grow into a large woody bush. Another use for rosemary is to use some of the thicker, wooden branches when stripped of their leaves will make excellent skewers for kebabs on a BBQ and rosemary will give a wonderful aroma while cooking. A great herb!
Sage is quite an attractive plant for the patio and possibly one of the strongest flavoured herbs. Expect mostly famous for sage and onion stuffing used with roast chicken. It is also good with some pork dishes and is very good with liver, but use it sparingly. Also very much used in pasta dishes.
Tarragon is another soft leaf herb and with a strong aniseed flavour, so care should be taken when using it. A good herb to use with chicken or chopped into butter to accompany steak. Also makes a good salad dressing.
Thyme grows into a small evergreen bush, so you can pick sprigs all year round. One of the main ingredients in bouquet garni to flavour stocks, soups, sauces etc. But, once again, it is quite a strong flavouring herb so use sparingly. We can grow or buy lemon thyme, which is a little milder and gives off a citrus flavour. It is nice to use a little of this in fish dishes. As with rosemary and mint, thyme will bring a lovely aroma to your kitchen.