Any plant with leaves, seeds, or flowers used for flavoring, food, perfume, or medicine, is referred to as an herb. They are plants with aromatic or savory properties. Typically, culinary use distinguishes herbs from spices. Herbs refer to the leafy green or flowing parts of a plant, fresh or dried, and spices are usually dried and produced from many other parts of the plant, including roots, seeds, fruits and bark. There is evidence that Sumerians, as far back as 5000BCE, used herbs in medicine. Natalie Rizzo, NBC news, reflects on fresh herbs, how to eat them, and health advantages:
“Using fresh herbs is one of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to take a dish from basic to brilliant. But for the home cook, incorporating fresh herbs can be daunting and probably raises some questions.
What do they taste like, when should you add them in the cooking process and what flavors go well together? With this guide to ten common fresh herbs (and a little help from our chef experts), you’ll no longer walk right past the fresh herb stand at your local farmers market.
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Although parsley looks strikingly similar to cilantro, the taste is much milder. “Parsley has a fresh taste that’s earthy and mildly sweet,” according to Sara Haas, RDN, Chicago-based and author of Taco! Taco! Taco!. Parsley and cilantro look extremely similar, so make sure you opt for the herb with the pointy leaves. One cup of chopped parsley provides over one thousand percent of your daily value of vitamin K, plus it’s rich in myricetin, a flavonoid that may have some anti-cancer properties. Haas suggests using parsley at the end of cooking for finishing dishes. “It’s great in tabbouleh, roasted potatoes, pasta dishes and grain dishes,” and it makes a nice accompaniment to salads and sandwiches, like this Spiced Chickpea Wrap.
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“Tarragon has a bright, peppery, yet sweet anise-like taste,” says Jackie Newgent, RDN, culinary nutritionist, author of “The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook” and spokesperson for American Pecan Council. “Frankly, I think it’s one of the most underutilized fresh herbs,” she adds. Tarragon contains magnesium, iron and zinc, but the amount used in cooking is usually rather negligible. Newgent advises adding tarragon at the end of the cooking process or making use of the fresh leaves. “One of my favorite recipes to serve at picnics is a tarragon chicken salad with pecans, since tarragon is a perfect pairing for chicken and the pecans provide delicious texture and filling dietary fiber to the creamy salad.” For a dinner recipe, try this Mushroom and White Bean Pasta, finished with tarragon.
Arguably the most popular fresh herb (probably because it’s a pizza topper), basil has a sweet, aromatic and somewhat peppery flavor. Like the other fresh herbs, it’s rich in plant polyphenols that are thought to prevent chronic diseases. Not surprisingly, basil pairs well with Mediterranean flavors and works best when added at the end of cooking. It’s also a nice accompaniment to fresh salads, such as this Spring Strawberry Salad.”
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