Popular Topics

BACK TO Tips All About Herbs

All About Herbs

If you’ve never cooked with fresh herbs before, you’ll be amazed at how they can transform and enhance the flavor of your favorite recipes.

Herbs are so easy to use, and once you start incorporating them into your cooking, you’ll think of all kinds of ways to work them into recipes. Here are some guidelines and suggestions for using them.

All About Herbs
  1. In general, herbs fall into one of two groups: hearty and strong (rosemary, marjoram, oregano, thyme, mint), and tender and mild (basil, cilantro, dill, tarragon, parsley). Hearty herbs can, for the most part, be simmered in dishes for an extended period of time without losing their flavor or integrity. The tender, mild varieties are usually added at the end of the cooking process (or aren’t cooked at all) because prolonged exposure to heat weakens or destroys their flavor.
  2. It’s important to store fresh herbs properly so they last as long as possible. Wrap sprigs of hearty herbs in moist paper towels and store in a resealable plastic bag or container in the refrigerator. Keep the paper towel moist, and they’ll last for four or five days. Tender, leafy herbs are more delicate and can spoil quickly, especially if they’re too wet. Wrap them in moist paper towels and refrigerate, but don’t wash until you’re ready to use. To store fresh basil, place the sprigs in a glass of water (as you would flowers), cover loosely with a plastic bag and keep on your countertop—the cold temperatures in the fridge will cause the leaves to turn black.
  3. Fresh herbs are great sprinkled over finished dishes (think basil on pasta), but try these simple ideas for adding a touch of delicious flavor to recipes:
  • Blend chopped fresh cilantro, minced garlic and minced lime or lemon zest into softened butter then shape into a cylinder and wrap in plastic. Chill the butter until firm then top sautéed fish or chicken with a “coin” of the herbed butter—it’ll melt into a delicious sauce.
  • Toss cubed fresh fruit (cantaloupe, honeydew, strawberries, bananas, etc.) with chopped fresh mint, tarragon or basil, a drizzle of honey and squeeze of lemon, lime or orange juice for a refreshing fruit salad.
  • Add leaves of cilantro, parsley and fronds of dill to salad greens for a refreshing burst of flavor.
  • If you have extra chopped herbs (like parsley, thyme or rosemary) from a recipe, don’t throw them away. Instead, divide the herbs among the wells of an ice cube tray then pour Swanson® broth or stock into each well and freeze. Use the herb ice cubes to thin out sauces or add a touch of fresh flavor when reheating leftovers.
Grow Your Own

Herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow, and tending a small container garden is a terrific way to enjoy them without dedicating a lot of space, time and energy to the process. All you need is an assortment of herb starter plants from a garden center (keep them in their plastic pots), a larger potting container like a window sill box, a bag of small rocks (aquarium stones are fine) and some flat stones. No potting soil is necessary.

  1. First, cover the bottom of the large potting container with a two-inch-deep layer of the small rocks (this ensures good drainage).
  2. Next, place the pots of herbs into the container, making sure that the tops of the pots are level with the edge of the container. Adjust the depth of the rocks under each pot, if necessary.
  3. Finally, arrange a few flat rocks around the base of each herb (to help retain moisture). Keep your herb garden in a sunny spot (they grow best if they have at least five hours of sunlight daily) and water whenever the top quarter-inch of soil feels dry, at least once a week (more often if the herbs are kept outside).
  4. To harvest, snip leaves or sprigs with scissors or pinch off with your fingers, leaving at least half the plant untrimmed to ensure continued growth.

 

Herb Combinations: While any and all herbs can be grown together, here are a few suggestions for container garden combinations:

  • Italian: basil, oregano and flat-leaf parsley
  • French: tarragon, thyme and chives
  • Mediterranean: rosemary, thyme and mint