Why knowing the difference between herbs matters
Imagine, living on an island sans your cookbook . . .
You have three herbs: dill, rosemary, and sage, and your friends are coming over.
You caught a snapper and need a sensational sauce.
Your neighbours dug up a small rucksack of Adirondack Blue potatoes and gave you a basket of baby spinach leaves with a couple of young carrots.
Which herb would you use for which dish?
Armed with knowing differences between the two herb types, this becomes simple and easy.
A sprinkle of delicate dill is your best flavour for the mild fish and salad.
Sage and a sprig of rosemary will both work wonders with the potatoes.
The heavier essential oils of sage and rosemary would smother all refined flavours of fish.
Keep these two herbs for the potatoes.
If you are doing raw carrots, use the dill.
If you’re roasting the carrots (which might be a shame for young carrots), I’d use slithers of sage.
And for the spinach salad, I’d be making a garnish with dill for two reasons:
- the salad will look awesome with the contrasting flat leaves and fairy-like fronds
- the two will taste amazing together.
Why We Use Herbs
For centuries herbs have added a timeless upbeat to fruit, vegetables, dairy, protein, drinks, and even sweets.
We also use herbs to give our garden a healthy boost of nutrition while providing bees with nectar and pollen. And then there is our own good health.
The best part is, not a lot has changed, those same herbs are grown today.
Did you know:
When you tuck a comfrey leaf under or around each plant, the soil and plant get a massive boost of nitrogen.
The science behind gardening
What is Nitrogen?
Then plant.Some gardeners will test their soil annually if the crop is not a heavy load on soil requirements. It’s possible to send a soil sample to an external laboratory for an in-depth analysis. Tip: Know the difference between a full analysis test for your soil and a 3-in-1 garden probe. This cute ladybug probe measures the soil pH levels and is a great way to encourage kids to look at the science behind gardening. It’s a 3-in-1 because it also measures soil moisture and light. Read the fine print. This will not measure other possible missing nutrients. You may need a simple, easy to use tester to measure the missing nutrients, Nitrogen, Potassium, Potash and pH (acidity/ alkalinity) in your soil. When you know what’s missing, it’s easier to correct the deficit. There is more information here about what nitrogen does for your garden.
Let's Chat About Magnesium
All plants love a dose of Magnesium for strong, healthy growth.
Epsom salts are an easy way to get this mineral to your plant and it’s a kid-friendly gardening activity you can do together.
Your kids will love learning that plants need the same food source as they do to thrive.
Suitable for all herbs, vegetables, and flowers.
Here’s what you do:
Step 1: Mix 1 tablespoon Epsom salt crystals to 4 litres of water.
Step 2: Water your plants with a spritz bottle or watering can every 10 days.
Step 3: Watch your plants grow.
Step 4: Enjoy the benefits.
Click the link below
Delicate Versus Robust Herbs
Let’s go over the differences with each herb under their categories, delicate and robust.
Delicate herbs have mild flavours, fine leaves, and airy aromatics.
They are delicious with noodles, pasta and rice, salads and eggs, fish, shellfish, and poultry.
And If you are new to cooking or gardening, consider growing and using the lighter, more subtle tastes of delicate herbs first.
Angelica: is related to the carrot, dill, and fennel families. A native of northern Europe, angelica’s lacy white flowers attract bees.
Stems are candied for cake decorations or stewed with fruit.
The seeds give Vermouth, Chartreuse, and Gin their distinct flavours.
Tender leaves add flavour to fish and chicken and create interesting salads, teas, tinctures, and tonics, while the root is used in perfumes.
Did you know:
In 1510 the Normandy Benedictine monk, Don Bernardo Vincello, created the liqueur, Benedictine?
Angelica was one of his main ingredients.
For over 250 years everything remained the same; 27 herbs and spices were steeped and stirred, including nutmeg, fir cones, and saffron, with a generous spoon of honey to sweeten.
Then, during the French Revolution, Vincello’s recipe was buried for safekeeping.
It wasn’t until 100 years later that the recipe was re-discovered!
I’ve not yet tried Angelica, but this herb’s on the top of my wish-list to grow.
Use young leaves chopped into soups or salads, added to fruit and vegetables, or infused as a tea.
The small purple-blue flowers are used as a garnish or frozen in ice cubes for a little fun.
Borage is popular in Mediterranean cuisine because of its mild cucumber flavour.
A word of caution when growing borage as it is almost too good at self-preservation.
If you get a plant, upturn it before too many seeds mature.
Did you know:
Borage is related to comfrey and grows up to 3’ tall, nourishes the soil, and protects other plants from pests, especially strawberries, squash, and tomatoes
Which herb do I use?
Chervil has the honour of being one of the prestigious ingredients found in Fines Herbes, a combination of herbs often used in French cuisine.
Because the flavour and aroma are delicate with hints of liquorice, add leaves to cooked dishes just before serving.
Delicious added to any salad, fish, seafood and exceptional with tomatoes.
Did you know:
Chervil is related to parsley and sometimes called French Parsley.
Chives: are related to garlic, leeks, onions and shallots. They also belong to the amaryllis family.
Their round purple flowering heads attract bees.
Use the long slender green stalks in any savoury dish.
I like chives because they give a dish a geometric, almost architectural, structured look.
Easy to grow in a container or in the garden, they survive long cold winters.
This herb has mastered the art of multiplying, as you’ll soon see in the Spring.
Did you know?
Chives originated in China.
The Romans brought chives to England and today they still grow wild near Hadrian Wall.
Cilantro / Coriander: that’s a little confusing but here’s the difference between these two.
Cilantro refers to the leaves and coriander is the seed.
The minty-anise taste of this leafy herb is one people either love or hate.
If you don’t know your guests well enough, serve cilantro in a bowl and on the side. Everyone will appreciate either taking a pass, or adding their own.
Because cilantro is fragile, they need special handling.
- Rinse the leaves with gentle cold water to dislodge any growing medium (grit).
- Remove any yellow or dark leaves, pat them dry and spread on a paper towel.
- Once completely dry, roll into a loose cylinder shape.
- Slide into a plastic bag and refrigerate.Better yet, buy your cilantro with roots.
- Stand upright in a jar and add water.
- Place near a good light and your plant will continue to grow.
Your cilantro should last twice as long and give you double the yield!
Dehydrated cilantro is disappointing so line up your recipes and use fresh!
I start with the leaves, usually in pesto and garnishes.
Next, I use the stalks and roots for soups, stocks, and in slow-cooking when making a bouquet garni.
The root is edible and versatile. Chop for a salad, stuff it whole in a baked fish, and add to a stock or soup or slow-cooked dish for extra flavour.
Did you know?
Cilantro is a member of the carrot family and related to parsley.
The seeds, known as coriander, were brought to Massachusetts by the British in 1670.
The seeds were even found in King Tut’s tomb.
Comfrey: is one of my most favourite herbs because of what it does for the environment.
Large prickly stalks and abundant leaves are high in nitrogen, giving any compost heap a well-deserved boost.
Add a leaf or two under, or beside seedlings gives them a slow release of essential nutrients.
Bees love the pollen inside the Comfrey’s small purple flowers and the plant can live for several decades with minimal fuss and with low risk to disease.
Dill: a delicate caraway flavour with fragrant, fragile leaves. With a fresh bunch of this herb, I find as many dill-worthy dishes to use as possible.
Wonderful with potatoes, yoghurt, cheese, tomatoes, I’ve even added dill to slow-cooked chickpeas.
Dill seed is used to pickle cucumbers – hence the name, dill pickles!
Did you know:
Dill is related to parsley and ancient Greeks often used the herb in recipes.
In fact, scientists have traced dill in food from as far back as 400 BC.
Mint: Middle eastern dishes use mint in salads, and if you ever get a chance to do the same – run with this change. The essential oil, menthol, cleanses palates with a fresh, light twist to leafy greens.
As well, drop one or two dried mint leaves in a cup of hot water for a refreshing herb tea. The colour and flavour will have you converted and saving money on commercial tea bags.
Ancient Greeks cleaned their banquet tables with mint. Romans freshened their breath and Medieval monks cooked and made medicines.
Did you know:
Mint has many vitamins and minerals necessary for good health and the USA produces 70% of the world’s mint supply.
Often seen on plates as a garnish, parsley has health benefits if eaten.
It turns out parsley is high in antioxidants.
If you are a spring allergy sufferer, give your immune system a natural boost by sprinkling parsley on your food whenever you can.
Packed with Vitamin C, parsley supports your body while it heals from cuts and scratches and helps build stronger bones and teeth.
Did you know :
One single molecule of Vitamin C has 20 atoms.
Sorry, I couldn’t help but add that lesser known fact as it may come in handy one day!
Vitamin K in parsley protects us from hardening of the arteries and heart disease.
This vitamin prevents calcium buildup in blood vessels (which becomes plaque).
As well, Vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting and protects and strengthens our nervous system.
Did you know, one molecule of Vitamin K has 79 atoms? I thought that was intriguing but even better; Vitamin K prevents cancer!
Did you also know, anyone with a leaky gut syndrome, autoimmune or inflammatory diseases should eat more parsley?
That’s because the large intestine is the only place to absorb any Vitamin K we digest.
How much parsley do you need to eat to gain these benefits?
Most studies agree two tablespoons of fresh parsley each day has the most benefit.
Stronger herbs have hardy leaves, woody stems and their fragrance lingers for longer.
Their texture and essential oils balance rich meats such as duck, venison and lamb.
And they stand up to the dense, earthy flavour of beets and tougher Swiss chard.
Having said that, adding a pinch of a robust herb to a cooking oil can take bland tasting food like zucchini, pasta, or rice, and give them a plateful of personality.
Just don’t overdo it!
Anyone who has eaten Italian or Thai food knows basil. This strong anise-sweet taste has, for me anyway, a pleasant peppery bite.
Basil tastes best with tomatoes, pasta, chicken, and fish.
Tear, snip or chop whole leaves.
Blend to a paste or leave to marinate in a little extra virgin olive oil, salt, and freshly grated garlic.
Did you know:
Basil belongs to the mint family and helps keep flies away?
Subtle yet strong, a dish becomes more complex with bay leaves.
Best slow-cooked to bring out their subtle woodsy flavours, bay leaves work well with other herbs.
Rosemary and thyme come to mind.
And then there are the spices such as cinnamon quills, star anise, cloves, or nutmeg.
Did you know:
A fresh bay leaf is milder than a dehydrated one?
As well, the Greek winged goddess, Nike, rewarded winners of speed and strength with wreaths made with the Bay Laurel.
These same bay leaves became the emblem for the Olympic Games as a symbol for victory.
With a light liquorice flavour, fennel is fabulous and often forgotten.
Their frond-like leaves are soft and delicate. The bulb’s flesh has a clean white look with a fabulous crisp texture. Use both for an interesting salad.
Did you know:
Fennel is in the famous Papiro Erbes, a medical compilation written 3500 years ago?
Did you also know: Fennel has a male and female plant? We tend to eat the rounder male!
And one more: Italy produces 85% of the world’s supply of fennel.
Learn how to grow, use, and preserve
Related to oregano but sweeter and milder tasting.
With hints of mint and citrus, marjoram is used in European and Mediterranean dishes.
This herb does not like long cooking times, unlike oregano which can be slow-cooked for 10 hours.
Marjoram blends with most herbs and vegetables.
If you want a unique taste – try fresh marjoram sprinkled on steamed spicy cabbage!
Oregano has a stronger taste than Marjoram and is found in Italian and Greek cuisines.
When paired with basil in a tomato sauce, perfection happens.
Did you know:
Oregano is also known as the pizza herb and has four times the antioxidants of blueberries.
Related to the mint family with a Latin name that comes from the plant’s incredible ability to live on the coast. ‘Ros” means ‘dew’ and “Marinus” means ‘of the sea.’
This makes Rosemary the ‘dew of the sea.’
Fresh rosemary has a heavy, bitter, astringent taste making it perfect infused in olive oil and balancing out rich food such as lamb.
When still supple, branches of rosemary become topiaries and bonsais.
In the 16th and 17th centuries throughout Europe, older plants were sought after for wooden boxes and combs.
Today, rosemary wreaths are a symbol of remembrance.
Did you know:
A rosemary wood comb creates less static, helps spread natural scalp oils, and increases blood circulation?
Tip: never pinch, prune, or cut the centre out of your rosemary plant until it’s reached the height you need.
Rosemary stops growing tall when disturbed this way.
Add rosemary sprigs to oils, vinegar, and aromatic, relaxing hot baths.
related to the mint family and often bought dehydrated for rubs and stuffing.
Due to its musky, some say ‘smoky,’ smell and taste, sage works with meats, salads, pickles, cheese.
If you grow your own, snip off the stunning silver-green leaves with scissors and add to your favourite soups, stews, or slow-cooked dishes.
I use fresh sage in my favourite garlic white bean dip and it never fails to please guests.
Sage works its magic beside other robust herbs like Thyme, Rosemary, and Basil.
Try it dehydrated for an even stronger fragrance and flavour.
Tip: Not everyone loves sage, so use sparingly. A little goes a long way and the longer sage cooks, the better (which is why stuffing tastes so good after five hours in the oven!)
Did you know:
Ancient Greeks and Romans used sage to preserve meat and its Latin name ‘Salvia’ means ‘to heal, or ‘to save.’
Tarragon: related to the Sunflower family, this herb is fun! It’s leaves taste like basil mixed with aniseed. Fair warning: check which one you grab as there are two types – French and Russian. French tarragon is more intense in a delicious way!
If your recipe calls for tarragon try to avoid dried leaves, if possible. The oils which give the leaves their distinct taste will have dissipated.
Tarragon helps mustard, oils, pickles, béarnaise sauce, vinegar, and it is fantastic in salads.
Did you know:
Tarragon is a French staple and is one of the ingredients found in Fines Herbes, one of the most widely used blends used in French cooking.
The other three are parsley, chervil and chives.
Thyme: related to mint and oregano, has a light, minty-lemony taste and is popular in the kitchen.
Thyme is essential for the famous, bouquet garni, a posy of herbs tied together and dropped into the pot of a simmering stew, soup, or stock.
This hardy, easy-to-grow plant is one you will want in your potted plants or garden.
Bees love the nectar and other insects stay away.
And it survives the winter cold.
Eggs, fish, meat, salads, soups, stews, casseroles, and vegetables . . . think of thyme as you would with parsley.
The herb is mild, versatile and almost impossible to have too much of.
Keep refrigerated in a sealed bag or stand in a jar of water and use as soon as possible.
The small leaves don’t keep long and quickly drop off the stem once picked.
Dehydrate by bunching the stems together and hang upside down to dry.
Or lay flat on a sheet of paper.
Crumble the leaves from each stem and store in a sealed container.
Did you know:
if a recipe calls for thyme and you’re fresh out, substitute with a pinch of oregano.
Ideas for your herbs
- Freeze herbs in ice trays topped up with water for drinks, soup, stock.
- Add to a marinade and chop extra for garnish.
- Lay whole sprigs between the skin and meat of chicken and roast.
- Stuff the cavity of a whole fish and bake.
- Chop and sprinkle over any root vegetable before roasting in olive oil.
- Make a different pesto sauce than the usual basil and pine nuts. How about oregano, parsley, and almonds?
- Use the stalks and roots as well – they have flavour!
- Make your own vegetarian stock with vegetables and herbs.
- Dehydrate or dry them! They’ll still taste fresher than any dried herbs you’d buy from the store.
Tips to get more from your herbs
When buying fresh cilantro, try to choose a bunch with the roots still on.
Placed in a jug or jar of water, your cilantro will keep growing.
Not only will you have fresh cilantro for twice as long, you’ll get double the amount!
Try to have two recipes ready to try before you buy cilantro.
This herb is so delicate that it’s best used within a day or two. For example, whole stuffed cilantro baked fish and a batch of pesto sauce.
Robust herbs are the ones you want to dehydrate and use over the cooler months for your stocks, casseroles, slow-cooking, and roasting.
If you buy fresh herbs, keep and re-use the clamshell containers!
– find your herbs quicker and easier in the pantry.
– dry even the last three sprigs instead of throwing them out.
Clamshell containers help keep the delicate leaves whole. A good example is whole dried mint leaves for your own tea.
The containers are already labelled and airtight.
How to create your own herb mix
There are three well-known blends of herbs used by cooks, but why not make your own?
You don’t have to use only one herb at a time, and when there are two or more together, each mouthful of a dish is unique.
Grab some inspiration from the traditional French herb seasoning known as Fines Herbes which includes the delicate herbs: parsley, chives, chervil and tarragon.
Depending on the recipe and your guests, you could include a pinch or two of the robust herbs: thyme, marjoram, and summer savory.
Fines Herbes 4-Herb Blend
- Measuring spoons
- Chopping board
- Chef's 8" knife
- Small bowl
- 1 tbsp tarragon leaves fresh
- 1 tbsp chervil leaves fresh
- 1 tbsp parsley leaves fresh
- 1 tbsp chives fresh
- Wash, dry and remove the stalks from the leaves. Compost or reserve and freeze stalks for making stock later.
- Chop all fresh herbs until they are no longer coarse.
- Add all herbs to a small bowl and stir until well mixed. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
- Lightly sprinkle your fresh herb blend to garnish a platter of cheeses, a fresh salad, an omelette, soup, or casserole.
3 Quick Tips
Base your herb choices on the food.
If your food is already mild in flavour or softer in texture (think pasta, rice, noodles, salads), then stay with delicate herbs to garnish and enhance the tastes.
If your food is packed with flavour or is sturdy in texture (think potatoes, sweet potatoes and meat and poultry), use robust herbs to compliment.
Bu sticking to this golden rule no matter what your dishes are will guide you into inviting layers of complexity and intrigue.
Here’s another simple and easy trick to stop food waste and save you money.
Use your delicate herbs first THEN, when your robust herbs begin to fade, dehydrate them for later!
The plant’s essential oils help keep their flavours for many months.
Balance out your garden by using this same method and grow the herbs that go together. So, if you have your favourite herb blend, make sure they are all close by, or in the same pot!
It will make remembering which herb is what, when you come to making a decision.
If you're wondering, can I get a herb blend pre-made, the answer is 'yes!'
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Great post! I just started a herb garden on my balcony … even the possum that likes to visit is enjoying it!!
Thanks Mia – what a lucky possum! Hopefully, you can figure out the favourite herb then have two – one for you and one for him (or her!)
Wow that was a LOT of information – I didn’t realize how herbally ignorant I’ve been up until now! We’re not great herb growers (though I do have some mint atm) but maybe it’s time to start a pot or two of something.
To be honest, I was the same until finding this tidbit.
My absolute favourite go-to drink is hot water with a sprig of fresh mint, and fresh mint on salad is a super simple wow!
You can never go wrong with mint.
At the present time, we have to types of mint, escallion, sage, rosemary, thyme and chives. They’re all amazingly good for teas and some are used as seasonings; any other suggestions for usage?
I love them chopped up fine and used lightly sprinkled over fresh tomatoes, or in a salad dressing!