Herbs are a fantastic way to add flavor to your cooking without salt or other processed seasonings, as they add color and visual interest to a dish.
Some herbs, like basil and mint, feature globally across many different cuisines. Others, like dill and tarragon, are more specific to certain culinary regions. And then there are those herbs, like cilantro and parsley, that have long served as plate garnishes, but truly shine in certain dishes.
There are hundreds of herbs, but I’ve narrowed it down to 17 of the most common types for cooking. No matter your cooking style, there’s an herb that will perfectly complement your dish
Types of Herbs To Cook With
This list will get you started with some of the most popular and versatile herbs used in cooking. Experiment with different combinations to find the flavors that you like best. And don’t be afraid to try something new – you might just find your favorite fresh herb!
Native to central Africa and Southeast Asia, basil is a fragrant, sweet herb widely used in many different types of cuisine, especially Italian, Thai, and Middle Eastern.
There are many varieties of the herb, but the most popular in cooking applications include:
- Thai basil, with an anise-inspired flavor
- Sweet or Genovese basil, the type most commonly available in your local market
- Lemon basil, which features a citrusy tang
- Opal basil, a more mild version of sweet basil
I love using basil in Italian recipes like pesto, Caprese salads, and homemade tomato sauce. But it’s also delicious when used to flavor grilled chicken or fish, added to scrambled eggs, or used as a topping for pizza.
Whenever I’m making a dish with basil, I like to tear the leaves rather than chop them to retain more of their flavorful oils.
A woody, evergreen herb with a distinctive, pungent aroma, rosemary is native to the Mediterranean. It’s a popular ingredient in many Italian dishes and some types of French cuisine.
You can use fresh rosemary or dried, but it’s critical to keep yourself from going overboard.
This herb is particularly strong and can easily overpower a dish if not added with a disciplined hand.
I like to use rosemary to flavor roasted meats, vegetables, and homemade bread. I especially love using rosemary in chicken and potato dishes, as it evokes the nostalgia of sitting down to a home cooked meal with my family.
Rosemary is also delicious when used to make a simple syrup for cocktails or added to a homemade salad dressing.
If you’re looking to add a little flavor to your cooking, thyme is a great herb.
Thyme has a mild, slightly lemony flavor that goes well with various dishes. It’s commonly used in Italian and French cuisine.
You can add it to soups, stews, sauces, and more. Plus, it’s easy to grow thyme in your kitchen herb garden. I love using thyme to flavor roasted chicken or turkey.
However, I find that thyme’s flavor comes out best when paired with other herbs, rather than serving as the star of the show.
I recently made a roasted chicken with thyme, sage, and rosemary that was delicious, as the intermingling flavor profiles were just complex enough without overpowering the simple delight of biting into a juicy piece of chicken.
I also love using thyme in homemade vegetable soup or adding it to tomato sauce.
Sage is another herb that’s commonly used in Italian cooking. It has a slightly peppery flavor with a hint of mint.
Sage is one of my favorite herbs to use when making homemade sausage or roasting poultry.
In addition to being an excellent flavoring for roasted meats, sage is also delicious in homemade stuffing.
If you’re looking for a new way to use sage, try making a sage and onion stuffing. It’s a great way to add flavor to your featured holiday protein.
Cilantro is a fragrant, flavorful herb popular in many different types of cuisine, including Mexican, Thai, and Vietnamese.
This verdant herb has a slightly citrusy flavor and is often used as a garnish. It’s also a key ingredient in many types of salsa.
I mostly use cilantro to garnish soups, tacos, or enchiladas. I also like to add it to homemade guacamole or use it to make a cilantro-lime dressing for salads.
Last Christmas, I experimented with making cilantro-infused vodka. It was delicious and unique, adding a bit of savory flair to traditionally oversweet holiday cocktails.
Dill is my favorite herb to use for cooking, thanks to its strong flavor and distinctive aroma.
Most people recognize it as a fundamental ingredient for pickles, but its application goes far beyond gherkins.
Dill is a popular addition in sauces, dips, and dressings, particularly tzatziki sauce. This fresh, cool yogurt-based dip is a Greek staple and features cucumbers, olive oil, and lemon juice.
Like rosemary, it’s easy to go overboard with dill, so be sure to test the flavor profile of your meals as you season.
With a little experimentation, you’ll find the perfect balance between dilly flavor without overwhelming your taste buds.
My favorite way to use dill is in this homemade ranch dressing. It’s perfect for dipping crudite!
Of all the herbs on this list, mint is probably the most well-known.
It is a popular ingredient in many types of cuisine, including Middle Eastern, Asian, and Indian thanks to its refreshing, slightly sweet flavor that goes well in salads, desserts, and drinks.
I love using mint to make a refreshing summertime salad with watermelon, feta cheese, and plenty of lime juice.
I also like to add mint to homemade yogurt or use it to make a minty dressing for fruits and vegetables.
If you’re looking for a new way to use mint, try making a minty Mojito or adding it to a tall glass of iced tea.
Oregano is a popular herb often used in Italian and Greek cuisine.
It has a slightly sweet, earthy flavor that goes well with many different dishes, including tomato-based sauces, soups, and stews. You can also use it to flavor meat, poultry, and fish.
I use oregano to make homemade marinara sauce or Greek-style salad dressing, and keep it close at hand to spice up a ho-hum pizza.
One of the most important things to remember about oregano is that it should be fresh and well-hydrated before being added to a dish. This will help prevent it from losing its flavor when cooked.
Bay leaf is one of the most widely used spices in the world. From Indian curries to French bouillons and Italian pasta, they add a distinctive aroma and flavor to many dishes.
Bay leaves are an excellent choice for beginners because they’re easy to use and taste great.
I recommend using bay leaves when making stock or broth. They add a lot of flavor and depth to the finished product.
I also like to add them to slow-cooker recipes, as the longer cooking process really draws out the oils from the leaves.
When using bay leaves, be sure to remove them before serving; they can be tough and bitter if eaten.
If you’re looking for a mild, onion-flavored herb, chives are a great choice.
These slender green shoots are a member of the onion family, but have a delicate flavor that goes well in many dishes.
I enjoy using chives in homemade sour cream and onion dip, sprinkling them on top of creamy scrambled eggs, or adding a little bite to my potato soup.
Chives are a versatile herb that you can use in many different dishes. Give them a try!
Parsley is a must-have in your kitchen arsenal because of its sheer versatility.
While most culinary newbies have only experienced this bright green herb as the dry garnish you toss away at restaurants, it offers so much more to dishes in the hands of an experienced home cook.
Parsley has a bright, slightly peppery flavor that goes well with many dishes, particularly those featured in Mediterranean and Italian cuisines.
My mom has used parsley to garnish soup, tacos, or enchiladas for as long as I can remember, but I prefer to use parsley to make a flavorful pesto or chimichurri sauce.
Also known as sweet fennel or finocchio, this aromatic herb has a slightly sweet, anise-like flavor.
Fennel is a member of the carrot family and is often used in Mediterranean, Indian, and French cuisine.
Fennel can be eaten raw, cooked, or dried. Just be sure to test your limits, as its black licorice flavor may take some getting used to.
Marjoram, also known as sweet marjoram, is a member of the mint family.
It has a mild, sweet flavor with hints of citrus and is often used in Mediterranean, French, and German cuisine. Some Middle Eastern countries also use marjoram to flavor tea.
I recently had roasted marjoram chicken at a friend’s house, and it was delicious. The marjoram added a subtle but unique flavor to the dish.
You can also use it to make a flavorful barbecue spice blend that pairs well with a molasses-based sauce.
Native to Sri Lanka and South India, lemongrass is a tall, slender grass with a lemon-like scent and flavor.
Lemongrass is often used in Asian cuisine, particularly Thai and Vietnamese dishes. It can be used fresh, dried, or powdered.
What I love most about lemongrass is the truly unique and earthy element it adds to home cooking.
The light citrus scent and taste is less intense than actually adding lemon juice, so it brings all the refreshing flavors without making your mouth pucker.
I highly recommend trying lemongrass ice cream on a hot summer day. It’s delicious!
Many people are familiar with stevia as a sugar substitute, but did you know that it’s also an herb?
Stevia is a small, sweet-tasting plant that is native to South America. You can use the leaves of the plant to sweeten food and drinks. Stevia is also available in powder or liquid form.
I often use stevia to sweeten my coffee or trim down the sugar content in my baking.
Just be sure to read the container, as swapping out traditional granulated sugar 1-to-1 with stevia may render your recipes cloyingly sweet.
If you are looking for a healthy alternative to sugar, stevia is a good option.
Coriander is often confused with cilantro, but they are two different herbs.
Cilantro has a strong, pungent flavor, while coriander has a milder, sweeter taste.
Coriander is native to the Mediterranean, where it features prominently in curries, soups, and stews.
If you want to try your hand at making a homemade curry, coriander is a must-have.
I recommend toasting your coriander-based spice blend to help meld the flavors together, creating a more cohesive sauce.
If you are like me, you may be surprised to learn that tarragon is an herb. I always thought of it as a spice because of its strong, pungent flavor.
Tarragon is native to Eurasia and is popular in French cuisine. It can be used fresh, dried, or powdered.
Tarragon has a robust and anise-like flavor that is both sweet and slightly bitter. It is excellent for flavoring chicken, fish, or vegetables. You can also use it to make a flavorful sauce or dressing.
Tarragon is also an excellent choice for making herbal tea. Simply add a few tarragon sprigs to hot water and let it steep for 5 minutes.
Types of Herbs To Cook With
- Bay Leaf
Although there are a lot of different herbs out there, these 17 are the most common ones used in cooking. I like to keep a mix of fresh and dried herbs on hand, so I always have something flavorful to add to my dishes.
Next time you are at the grocery store, pick up a few of these herbs and give them a try. I think you’ll be surprised at how much flavor they can add to your dishes.
What are your favorite herbs to use for cooking? Let me know in the comments below!
Don’t forget to add some classic spices along with these herbs while you’re in the kitchen cooking.