A culinary herb is an aromatic, edible plant that you can add in very small amounts to your dishes to flavor them. A lot of the herbs people use for culinary dishes also have medicinal uses, and they come from the plants by using their leaves and seeds as herbs and spices. If you’re new to adding herbs to your dishes, this list of herbs will give you a great starting point to help you pick out the best ones for the flavor profiles you want to create. If you need more than one or two, you can easily create a herb spiral and grow them in your kitchen so they’re fresh and on-hand when you need them.
Home cooks and chefs have a long history of using both fresh and dried herbs to make savory and sweet dishes, including baked goods and light salads. They have a favorite list of herbs that they use as their go-to choices. Medicinal herbs use their essential oils to help with everything from clearing up your skin to helping reduce inflammation. I’m going to focus on the list of herbs you want to grow to season your dishes, and I’ll show you what pairs well with each choice to allow you to pull together chef-worthy dishes.
First up on the list of herbs is Basil. This plant is a member of the mint family, and it offers very deep green glossy leaves. You get a savory-and-sweet flavor with it that brings hints of pepper, mint, and anise, and it comes in several varieties like holy basil, lemon basil, and sweet basil. You can use it both fresh or dried in meat dishes, Asian curries, and in Italian sauces. This herb is very popular as the main ingredient in pesto, and this is a sauce that uses Parmesan cheese, fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, black pepper, kosher salt, and olive oil.
Sage is a perennial herb on my list of herbs that comes with fuzzy leaves in a grey-green coloring. It has a savory-and-sweet, earthy flavor that ends with a slightly peppery bite. Many people use fresh sage leaves to make herbal tea, but common sage is used in dried and fresh forms. It pairs very well with hearty fall vegetables to help you create comforting, warm recipes. Making brown sage butter that you can spoon over pasta is also popular, and other recipes that include this herb are white bean, sage, and sausage soup, Thanksgiving stuffing, sage tea, and fried sage with brown butter.
Latin for “Dew of the Sea,” Rosemary has a special place in many kitchens because it produces aromatic, sturdy whole sprigs and rosemary oil. It’s on the list of herbs because it has woody stems with needle-like leaves and a fresh, herbaceous aroma. You can use fresh rosemary in a host of dishes ranging from hearty fall vegetables to flavorful bundt cakes and breads to whipped goat cheese. You can add rosemary leaves and stems into your cooking by infusing them with hot oil or butter to sear your vegetables and meat. This herb dries very well and lasts for a long time.
You won’t be surprised to see parsley on the list of herbs because it is immensely popular as a garnish in many dishes. This herb is a member of the Apiaceae family, and it has a bright but slightly bitter taste that will help to enhance the other flavors in your dish. You can get flat-leaf parsley, Japanese parsley, and curly parsley as the most common types. Along with being a garnish, you’ll find this herb in chimichurri sauce, and it also has a lot of use for lighter Mediterranean dishes like tabbouleh. Using it fresh will give you a slightly more bitter taste than you’d get from dry.
Next up on the list of herbs is Mint. This plant is a perennial that has a slightly sweet flavor, and it also releases a welcome cooling sensation when you bite into it due to the menthol content. You can use it for medicinal and culinary purposes, and it’ll give you very tender leaves in a bright green coloring. You’ll see mint leaves in a lot of different beverages like mint juleps and mint tea, and it’s also a common ingredient in Thai stir-frys and Vietnamese pho. For tea making, you’d use a dry form of the mint leaves. Most people prefer to use fresh when they cook with it.
Chives are another perennial herb on the list of herbs that are extremely popular in Asian cuisine. Chives are a member of the Allium family, and this lends a slight onion flavoring to any dish with very light hints of garlic. You’ll get a herb with very thin, grass-like leaves when you grow it in a vibrant green coloring. It makes an excellent garnish for this vibrant color, but it’s also popular to use in a cream cheese dessert or in a sour-cream based dip for chips. Most people choose to use fresh chives over dried because this brings out the most flavor.
Dill is a very versatile entry on the list of herbs that has a very grassy flavoring with bright green coloring. It comes with very slender stems, and you see it most commonly used in pickling mixtures, egg dishes, dressings, and creamy salads like potato salad to add a small kick. If you’re going to grow and use fresh dill, it pairs wonderfully with cream cheese and other creamy, heavy ingredients. You can eat the dill weed herb, but the flowers and seeds of this plant are also edible. You can use dry dill for pickling or canning, but fresh works best in dishes.
8. Bay Leaf
Did you know that the bay leaf is actually native to Asia? It makes the list of herbs as being very versatile, but it’s most commonly associated with Italian or Greek cooking. This is a very aromatic herb with a pungent scent, and it gives you a slightly bitter taste. You’ll usually use a whole, dried form of the leaves that you put in sauces, soups, and stews to let them steep throughout the dish’s cooking process to help infuse a very deep flavoring. You’ll find bay leaves in Italian cooking, Aisan cooking, Indian cuisine, and French bouquet garni. You can fish them out of your dish before you serve it.
Tarragon is a classic Mediterranean herb on our list of herbs that has a very strong flavor. When you use it, you’ll infuse big notes of chervil, licorice, and anise into your food. Russian tarragon, Mexican tarragon, and French tarragon are the three most common varieties available, and you can use it either fresh or dried when you cook. It’s popular for flavoring hearty meat dishes like roast or pork chops, and you’ll also find it in much lighter fish or egg recipes. This herb has a long history of medicinal use by the ancient Roman soldiers to help restore vitality as well.
Thyme comes with many pale green leaves that are very small, and this makes it very recognizable when you combine it with the pungent scent. It made the list of herbs for cooking because it is very sturdy, and it’ll easily hold up to heat well during the entire cooking process. German thyme, French thyme, and English thyme are the three main varieties that you’ll find, and many people choose to add to very hearty dishes like fatty meats and pork loin to infuse the flavor. It’s also good in lemony chicken breasts, and it can come through with richer flavors.
Many people will be surprised to see lavender on the list of herbs for cooking because it’s usually one of the last herbs that come to mind. This is a floral member of the mint family, and it has a very heavy fragrance when you brush against it that makes it very popular in potpourri and perfumery. However, people are starting to add it to their dishes with lavender jam, grilled pork chops, shortbread cookies, and lavender roasted red potatoes. Since this is such a strong herb, you’ll only need a small amount of the fresh or dried product to go a long way, and it’ll break down as you cook.
Marjoram is a very close cousin to Oregano, and it looks very similar. It makes the list of herbs because it has slightly lemon-flavored leaves that are grassy. This flavor profile makes it a wonderful addition to herb butters, poultry dishes like baked chicken, and various light egg recipes. It’s a good idea to use the leaves fresh because they’re very small, and you can add them to your dish right in the middle of the cooking process to infuse sauces, soups, and any other cooked dishes with a very light, herbaceous flavor profile.
Coriander is one plant people keep on hand for their list of herbs when they create smoker recipes. Also called Cilantro, you’ll get a very citrusy, tart flavoring with it. It has delicate leaves in a bright green shade, and most people use it fresh and add it in the last few minutes of their cooking time. This herb is a member of the parsley family, and you’ll find it in a lot of Middle Eastern and Mexican cuisine. It pairs well with spicy Vietnamese, Thai, and Chinese dishes. If you grind the seeds of this plant, you can make a common ground spice for your dish.
Chervil is one entry on the list of herbs that many people may have never heard of, but it’s a very delicate herb that is used a lot in French cuisine. This herb offers a very subtle anise-like flavoring, and it comes with curly, delicate leaves. It’s one of the main ingredients in many classic herb blends, and most people choose to use it fresh instead of dried and add it into the dish at the end of the cooking time. You’ll find this herb in a classic Bearnaise sauce, and it uses an emulsification of egg yolk and butter with chervil, white wine vinegar, and tarragon.
Chamomile is one of the biggest ingredients in herbal tea in the United States and Europe. It’s also an excellent bedroom plant to help you sleep because it has sedative properties. It has a medicinal history that dates back thousands of years for helping calm nerves and settle stomachs, and this is why it’s on the list of herbs. You can grow Roman or German chamomile and use them interchangeably when you make your tea. However, German chamomile gets over three feet high while Roman chamomile grows only a foot high. Use it fresh and steep it in your tea.
16. Winter Savory
Winter Savory is a very spicy entry on my list of herbs, and it will add a strong aromatic flavor to your dish. It has antifungal and antibacterial properties too, and this makes it popular for medicinal uses. This herb is a part of the mint family, and it is a great compliment to beans, fish, and poultry dishes due to the intense flavor profile. It will lose a small amount of this flavor during the cooking process, but it should be more than enough to carry through to the end. It’s also very popular in flavoring liqueurs, and it makes a very nice garnish on your salad dishes.
Peppermint in one plant on the list of herbs that can help freshen your breath and aid in digestion. Peppermint is also a great source of Vitamin B, potassium, and calcium. This is a hybrid plant that is a cross between spearmint and watermint, and you can use peppermint oil as a natural pesticide as well as enhancing the flavors of your dishes. You’ll need rich soil and partial shade to grow this plant, and it’s best used fresh. You should add it at the end of your cooking time to coffees or chocolate dishes to help infuse the flavor.
Stevia is on the list of herbs for cooking because it’s a natural sweetener. This is an attractive plant that adds no calories to your food when you use it to sweeten your drinks or dishes. It’s part of the sunflower family, and you’ll find it in the tropical and subtropical regions of the Western hemisphere. You may hear it called sugarleaf or sweetleaf, and it works well as a sugar substitute in baking, for smoothies, for tea, and in any recipe where you’d normally add sugar. You can use the leaves fresh, or you can dry them before grinding them down into a fine powder.
Lemongrass is an excellent addition to any companion planting setup you want to have, and the stalks of this plant provide a host of antioxidants like beta-carotene that can help fight against inflammation. There is a very strong lemon flavor to this herb, and this is why it is on the list of herbs for cooking. You can use it as seasoning in your dishes or steep it as a lemon tea. They can grow up to nine feet high in zones one to nine, and you can use it fresh or dried. It goes well on poultry and fish dishes, and it’s an important component in many different sauces.
Better known as Bee Balm, this plant makes the list of herbs because it has a rising popularity in the culinary world. It has a slightly spicy minty flavor that makes it a popular addition to salads, pizza, and breads. You can use it as a substitute for Oregano if you run out, and it has a long medicinal history amongst the Native Americans to treat minor cuts and scrapes. It has higher levels of a natural antiseptic that can help treat throat infections. You can dry this plant to store it and use it later, or it works very well if you use it fresh by picking the leaves.
This is a very flavorful and aromatic addition to the list of herbs for cooking, and this is the primary ingredient in absinthe with anise. This herb is native to the Mediterranean region, and it grows best in dry soil that is right next to river banks or the ocean. You want to keep it away from the bell pepper because it’ll cause it to fail to thrive, and you can eat it raw, saute it, or grill it. You’ll get very strongly flavored leaves that look a little like dill, and many people choose to add whole or cut fennel bulbs as garnishes or they stick them in salads to add a slight bite to the flavor profile.
Fennel by Jorge Luis Zapico / CC BY-SA 2.0
Yes, this is a different herb than Cilantro, and it’s very rarely used in the United States for cooking purposes. This herb is actually a cousin to Cilantro, and you can use them interchangeably. It’s on the list of herbs because it’s very popular in Latin America, the Caribbean, and in Vietnam. It has a spicy and pungent flavor associated with it, and you can use it either fresh or dried without a problem. It works well in heavy meat dishes like pork, or beef, and you only need a small amount to go a long way in flavoring a dish or infusing into the meat.
Kothmir (Gujarati: કોથમીર) by Dinesh Valke / CC BY-SA 2.0
While technically a spice, ginger belongs on the list of herbs that you need to have stocked in your kitchen. It goes very well with scallions, especially if it’s fresh ginger. You can add it to your roasting meats like chicken to infuse a slightly spicy bite to it, or it creates a very solid base for a stir-fry. Many people add grated ginger onto salads, and it’s very popular in Asian cooking for both the main dishes and the sauces. You can add it at the start of your cooking time and continue until the end, or you can toss it in during the second half for a slightly lighter flavor profile.
Ginger by Tony HIsgett / CC BY 2.0
Also known as American spikenard root, this entry on the list of herbs is native to the Eastern portion of the United States. It has a balsamic flavor, and this is why you’ll often find it in tonics and teas. You harvest this root late in the summer months and dry it to preserve it. It comes from the Ginseng family, and it mimics the same effects you get with the Ginseng root. You can use it to make a thick poultice for eczema and rheumatism, and you don’t need a lot in your dishes to make a big impact.
虎刺匆木 Aralia armata [香港西貢獅子會自然教育中心] by 阿橋 HQ / CC BY-SA 2.0
Garlic is one of the most well-known entries on the list of herbs, and it has a wide range of uses. You can easily store it for months at a time, and it has a very pungent smell and taste. It comes from the lily family with shallots and onions, and raw garlic is much stronger than dried garlic. It’s popular in pasta, pizza, and meat-based sauce dishes. Since garlic is so strong, you don’t need a lot of it in your dish. You can add it and simmer it with sauces to impart a deep flavor profile.
Garlic by Adrian Midgley / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Better known as Holy Basil, Tulsi is India’s Queen of Herbs due to the several medicinal properties associated with it. You can find it spelled Thulasi or Tulasi, and it has thousands of years of use in Ayurvedic medicine to help detoxify the body, fight stress, and improve your health. It has a strong aroma with a slightly bitter flavor associated with it, and it can offer either peppery or floral notes to your dishes. There are also lemon notes in some cultivars, and it goes very well in herbal teas, or you can add it to Indian or Asian-inspired dishes to help enhance the flavors.
Bilatti Tulas (Bengali: বিলাতি তুলস) by Dinesh Valke / CC BY-SA 2.0
The 26 entries on my list of herbs can help you enhance your cooking and bring out the flavors of your dishes. You can experiment with growing a few that you think you’ll use the most, and it’s easy to expand your herb garden and grow many more with minimal room and upkeep. This way, you have them right on hand when you want to use them to season your dishes.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.