The Power Of Cooking With Fresh Herbs: 9 Culinary Herbs Endless Possibilities

Discover endless culinary possibilities by cooking with fresh herbs. Learn how to harness the power of nature's bounty to liven every dish you create.

The power of cooking with fresh herbs is the secret seasoning ingredient of any seasoned chef. They have the power to transform ordinary dishes into extraordinary culinary experiences.

They add layers of flavor, aroma, and visual appeal. In this guide, we’ll explore nine essential herbs – thyme, rosemary, sage, chives, basil, cilantro, oregano, marjoram, and bay leaf.


They can transform an ordinary dish into something spectacular. A small sprinkling of chopped fresh herbs can instantly brighten flavors, adding a delightful aroma and freshness to any recipe.

We will take you on a journey detailing their culinary uses, preparation techniques, and storage methods. With these herbs in your kitchen arsenal, you can transform dishes into culinary masterpieces.

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Cooking With Fresh Herbs Chart

My top 9 fresh herbs I use when cooking. These nine herbs have become staples in my kitchen, I am lucky as most grow wild in my garden. Each bringing its own unique essence and culinary magic to the table.

Cooking With Fresh Herbs


Common Culinary Herbs I Use When Cooking

Before diving into specifics on individual herbs. Let’s review the most common varieties called for in recipes:

  1. Thyme — This pungent, slightly lemon-flavored herb is a key ingredient in everything from sauces to soups to roasted meats.
  2. Rosemary — The piney sharpness of rosemary is perfect for complementing lamb, chicken, fish, and even vegetables like peas or potatoes.
  3. Sage — Earthy, savory sage shines when paired with rich fall and winter foods like squash, pork, and stuffing.
  4. Chives — Mild oniony chives add a pop of flavor and vivid green color to freshly composed dishes and salads.
  5. Basil — Sweet basil, most commonly used in its Genovese and Thai varieties, is the quintessential ingredient of pesto. Basil is also delicious with tomatoes, fish, chicken, salads, and more.
  6. Cilantro — The refreshing taste of cilantro is indispensable in salsa, guacamole, Indian curries, Thai dishes, and more.
  7. Oregano — Robust oregano can stand up to bold flavors in chili, sausages, Greek and Italian cuisine.
  8. Marjoram — Subtly citrusy marjoram has a delicate flavor that’s nicely highlighted when paired with root vegetables like beetroot and delicate meats like chicken or fish.
  9. Bay Leaves — In addition to their renown use in soups and stews, aromatic bay leaves also enhance the flavor of grains and bean dishes.

The Difference Between Cooking With Fresh And Dried Herbs

While dry herbs have a place in most pantries for their convenience and prolonged shelf life. Cooking with fresh herbs offers an unmatched vibrancy of flavor and color.

  • When herbs are dried, subtle aromatic oils and bright flavors diminish over time, intensifying the flavor. Resulting in a more concentrated and potent taste profile.
  • Fresh herbs retain the full spectrum of tastes and aromas the plant offers. They also add vibrant color, herbaceous scent, and texture when used to garnish dishes.

The difference in flavor intensity means you’ll use smaller amounts of dried herbs than fresh ones. As a general rule of thumb, use one-third the amount of dried when substituting for fresh. For example, one tablespoon of chopped fresh basil equals one teaspoon of dried basil.

Does this make dried herbs are better? No, while dried herbs have a more intense flavor, they lack the vibrancy and freshness found in fresh herbs. Hence, my preference always leans towards utilizing fresh herbs.

How to Clean Fresh Herbs

Before using fresh herbs, whether store-bought or harvested from your garden. Rinse them under cold running water to remove dirt and grit.

Gently swish the sprigs around in cold water and pat dry with a paper towel or salad spinner. Inspect the fresh herbs for any small insects, or dirt and if required repeat the washing process.


How to Store Fresh Herbs

Follow these storage tips to maximize the freshness and shelf life of just-purchased herbs or herbs harvested from your garden. As long as leaves remain perky, they’ll retain good flavor for four to five days stored one of these ways.

  • Stand the herb stems in a glass with an inch of water, cover them loosely with a plastic bag, and refrigerate. Popular herbs suited to this method are parsley, cilantro, dill, and mint.
  • More delicate herbs like basil, tarragon, and chives are best stored unwashed in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, wrapped loosely in a damp paper towel, and sealed inside an air-tight container. They’ll last three to five days stored this way.
  • Heartier herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage hold up well when wrapped in a dry paper towel and stored in an open container or bag in the refrigerator for five to seven days. Air circulation is vital for their woody stems.

9 Culinary Herbs And The Best Ways To Use Them

These nine culinary herbs have endless possibilities. I’m always cooking with fresh herbs, they are a staple in my kitchen. Where I continuously strive to unlock their full flavors and harness their versatility to elevate every dish I create.

1. Thyme

Cooking with fresh thyme — Savory thyme imparts flavors of subtle mint and lemon with floral undertones.  It pairs exceptionally well with poultry, fish, eggs, mushrooms, lentils beans and beef steaks. It also nicely complements tomatoes, onions and garlic.

Cooking With Fresh Herbs Thyme


Best Uses For Fresh Thyme

  • Infuse the flavors of thyme into oil by sautéing sprigs in oil for 30 seconds at the beginning of cooking meat, fish or vegetables. Discard thyme sprigs after flavor infuses oil.
  • Sprinkle chopped leaves over grilled fish, chicken or shrimp the last few minutes of cooking.
  • Add thyme sprigs to the cavity or under the skin of whole chickens and turkeys before roasting.
  • Mix chopped leaves into breadcrumbs for coating fish, pork chops, and chicken cutlets before baking or frying. The flavor will permeate the dish beautifully.
  • For an aromatic garnish sprinkle whole thyme leaves over finished dishes or mix into salads.

Cooking with fresh herbs — Save the woody thyme stalks they make for great flavor enhancers for homemade stocks and sauces.

2. Rosemary

Cooking with fresh rosemary — The fragrant forest flavor of rosemary enhances roasted lamb, as well as roasted beef and root vegetables like potatoes, onions, and carrots. Its woodsy, pine-like aroma bursting with savory character makes it perfect for hearty soups, casseroles and stews.

Cooking With Fresh Herbs Rosemary

Best Uses For Rosemary

  • Toss finely chopped rosemary into finished meat and vegetable sauces for a fresh rosemary hit. This is a great way to add earthy undertones to homemade sauces.
  • Season roasted root vegetables like potatoes, carrots and parsnips by tossing with chopped rosemary or whole leaves before cooking.
  • Rub a whole leg of lamb, boneless chicken breast or pork tenderloin with minced rosemary, garlic, oil, salt and pepper before roasting or grilling.
  • Sprinkle chopped rosemary over homemade pizza, roasted vegetables, or sautéed green beans just before serving.

Cooking with fresh herbs — Use a rosemary sprig dipped in oil to brush over grilled or seared meats for an amazingly fresh rosemary infusion.


3. Sage

Cooking with fresh sage — Savory, musky sage ties together sausage and stuffing seasoning. Fresh sage complements poultry, pork, vegetables, and fish. It also adds an earthy dimension to pasta, lentils, poultry, pork, vegetables, and fish. When fried briefly in butter, it lends a lovely aromatic nuttiness.

Cooking With Fresh Herbs Sage

Best Ways To Use Fresh Sage

  • Melt butter until browned with slivers of fresh sage leaves. The nutty sage flavor perfectly balances the richness of the butter. Mix through cooked pasta, steamed vegetables, or spoon over roasted pork loin.
  • Use chiffonade fresh sage leaves in stuffing for turkey, chicken, or even plant-based stuffing for bell peppers or zucchini.
  • Combine chopped sage with other herbs, garlic, salt, and pepper to make rubs or marinades for meats before grilling or roasting.
  • Place whole sage leaves under the skin of poultry before roasting to impart flavor directly into the meat.

Cooking with fresh herbs — Make sage-infused oils or vinegar by steeping fresh sage leaves in oil or vinegar. This is great if you have an abundance of fresh sage. These infused oils and vinegar can be used as dressings, marinades, or for drizzling over roasted vegetables.

4. Chives

Cooking with fresh chives — Delicate, grassy chives add a lively punch of flavor and a vivid pop of color to dishes without overpowering them. Their mild onion notes make them a versatile finishing herb to sprinkle over soups, salads, and baked potatoes right at the end. Both the slender green stems and pretty purple blossoms carry flavor.

Cooking With Fresh Herbs Chives


Best Ways To Use Fresh Chives

  • Mix finely sliced fresh chives into softened butter, then shape into a log, chill, and slice to top grilled meats, fish, or baked potatoes. 
  • Whisk chopped chives into homemade vinaigrettes and salad dressings for a refreshing mild onion and garlicy flavor.
  • Garnish composed dishes with a colorful sprinkling of finely chopped chives. Or mix snipped chives into salads or roasted potatoes just before serving.
  • Stir into mashed potatoes, diced tomatoes, savory pancake batter, cottage cheese, or béchamel sauce.

Cooking with fresh herbs — Combine finely chopped chives with other fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, and parsley to create a versatile herb blend. Use this mixture to season sautéed vegetables, grilled meats, or seafood.

5. Basil

Cooking with fresh basil — Fresh basil reminds me of summer. Its sweet flavor with hints of anise and mint makes it indispensable. Delicious with tomatoes, seafood, green beans, asparagus, and chicken. Sweet Genovese basil is what I use the most; however, you can try different varieties like lemon basil, cinnamon basil, and purple basil.

Cooking With Fresh Herbs Basil

Best Ways To Use Fresh Basil

  • Make classic pesto to toss with pasta, spread over pizza, coat fish or chicken before baking, or stir a spoonful into minestrone.
  • Layer large basil leaves over sliced heirloom tomatoes and goat’s cheese, then drizzle with olive oil and freshly cracked black pepper.
  • Incorporate ripped basil leaves into your crisp green salads for extra sweetness and herbal goodness. Add torn basil leaves to roasted portobello mushrooms to infuse them with a fresh and aromatic flavor.
  • Use whole basil leaves or finely sliced them as a garnish for pasta dishes, pizzas, bruschetta, soups, and salads. The bright green color and aromatic basil scent can enhance your dishes’ visual appeal.

Cooking with fresh herbs — Handle fresh basil leaves gently to avoid bruising or damaging them. Use a sharp knife to chiffonade (thinly sliced into ribbons) the leaves for optimal texture and presentation.


6. Cilantro

Cooking with fresh cilantro —The refreshing, citrusy taste of cilantro is an essential component of salsa, guacamole, curry pastes, Thai dishes, Mexican cuisine, and more. The leaves, tender stems, and roots hold plenty of flavor.

Cooking With Fresh Herbs Cilantro

Best Uses For Fresh Cilantro

  • Utilize cilantro roots and stems to craft a robust curry paste. Due to their intense flavor in the roots and stems, I consistently rely on these parts for marinades and pastes.
  • Use the leaves and tender stems as a base for an Asian-inspired salad. Or scatter cilantro leaves over a roasted pumpkin salad for a refreshing citrus hit.
  • Slice cilantro leaves into thin ribbons and garnish curry and noodle dishes. This will give them a beautiful aromatic finish and colorful finish.
  • Make cilantro pesto and baste over steamed corn cobbs just before serving. Or add a dollop to baked salmon, which will temper the rich buttery fish.

Cooking with fresh herbs — Cilantro is a versatile herb that can be used in many ways. Leaves for an aromatic colorful garnish and stems and roots are blended into pastes and marinades.

7. Oregano

Cooking with fresh oregano — Renowned for its robust aroma, often described as intensely aromatic with hints of eucalyptus. Its flavor profile combines slight bitterness and pungency, comprising earthy, hay, and minty notes. These characteristics contribute to its popularity as a versatile herb in Mediterranean and Italian cuisines.

Cooking With Fresh Herbs Oregano


Best Ways To Use Oregano

  • Sprinkle fresh oregano leaves over pizza just before serving. Or sprinkle chopped oregano leaves over the tomato sauce base before adding the cheese and topping.
  • Combine oregano, butter and garlic and slide under the skin of chicken or turkey. This will impart earthy garlicy flavor into the poultry while keeping it moist.
  • Rub oregano and fresh lemon over pork belly before slow cooking. Or roast pork should over a trivet of onions and oregano for a herbaceous infusion.
  • Oregano pairs well with garlic, onion, tomato, basil, thyme, and lemon. For example, add oregano to tomato-based pasta sauces or pair it with lemon and garlic for grilled chicken or fish.

Cooking with fresh herbs — Fresh oregano is a robust herb that can withstand being cooked. However, its flavor can diminish if added too early. For best results, add fresh oregano towards the end of cooking to maintain its aroma and flavor.

8. Marjoram

Cooking with fresh marjoram — Mildly sweet floral marjoram has hints of pine and citrus. It delicately complements eggs, cheese, vegetables, poultry, fish, and tomato-based dishes. Balance marjoram with complementary flavors such as garlic, lemon, oregano, and basil.

Cooking With Fresh Herbs Marjoram

Best Ways To Use Marjoram 

  • Sprinkle finely chopped marjoram over poached eggs on smoked salmon, and roasted mushrooms with brie cheese.
  • Combine marjoram with other herbs, such as thyme and basil, to create a flavorful herb blend. That can be used to season sautéed vegetables, risottos, and mash pumpkin.
  • Scatter marjoram over flatbreads topped with caramelized onions, balsamic feta cheese.
  • Marjoram is a classic ingredient in stuffing recipes, particularly those for poultry and game birds. Its citrus and herbaceous flavor adds depth to the stuffing mixture.

Cooking with fresh herbs — Use fresh marjoram leaves as a garnish to add flavor, color, and freshness to finished dishes. Pluck the leaves from the stem and sprinkle them over pasta, grilled meats, and warm and cold salads before serving.


9. Bay Leaves

Cooking with fresh bay leaves — Bay leaf’s subtle sweetness requires a slight touch. It infuses wonderful flavor into braised and slow-cooked dishes when used judiciously. Just one or two leaves complement soups, casseroles, stews, and grains with a delicious herbal essence. Always remove the leaves before serving since they’re too tough to eat.

Cooking With Fresh Herbs Bay Leaves

Best Uses For Bay Leaves

  • Toss a bay leaf into the cooking water when boiling potatoes. The bay leaf will infuse the potatoes with its aroma, adding a subtle herbaceous sweetness that compliments them.
  • Toasting bay leaves in a dry skillet for a few seconds can help release their essential oils and intensify their flavor. Be careful not to burn them, as this can result in a bitter taste.
  • Blend one or two bay leaves with garlic, smoked paprika, and fresh lemon for a fantastic grilled or roasted chicken marinade.
  • Infuse rich flavor into homemade stocks by making a bouquet garni with bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, and parsley.

Cooking with fresh herbs — Whole fresh bay leaves are typically preferred in cooking because of their fresh herbaceous flavor, and they are easier to remove before serving. However, if you only have ground bay leaf powder on hand, use it sparingly, as it is more potent. Start with a small amount and adjust to taste.

Now that you’re armed with my insider tips for selecting, storing, and using these nine culinary herbs, your cooking will surely reach new heights of flavor!

Start simple by adding a sprinkle of fresh herbs to finished dishes. Soon, you’ll begin intuitively cooking with fresh herbs and combining them as exciting flavor foundations for your signature recipes.

Cooking Is A Science And A Skill

Cooking is a science and a skill that requires a deep understanding of both the technical and creative aspects. Cooking is also a matter of precise measurements and ratios.

For example, baking is particularly sensitive to accurate measurements and temperatures. A slight deviation in the amount of an ingredient or cooking degrees can result in a completely different outcome. So, to help you, here is a handy little unit converter tool for cooking without guesswork.