Freshly picked culinary herbs add flavour to food and many are delicious additions to salads. Edible herb flowers such as pot marigold, nasturtium and rosemary can also be added to the salad bowl. Many culinary herbs are rich in vitamins and minerals and when freshly picked and eaten raw they can form part of a well-balanced diet. Raw herbs can also be used to add flavour to oils and vinegars for cooking and for salads.
Parsley leaves gives a fresh flavour to sauces and salads, when added just before serving. The stems and leaves of parsley can also be used in bouquet garni. Parsley tastes particularly good with pasta dishes, omelettes, vegetables, fish and any meat or poultry.
Parsley is one of the most widely known and used of the culinary herbs. There are two main types of parsley – curly leaf and flat leaf – and both are excellent for culinary purposes. Both of these herbs are a rich source of vitamins and minerals and they can be used to enhance the flavour of cooked dishes and green salads.
Basil goes with almost any dish but it has a special affinity with tomatoes and is a favourite in Italian cooking.
Sweet basil with its soft green leaves and creamy white or purple tinted flowers is the most popular type of basil. This culinary herb can be used in sauces and salads and to enhance the flavour of cooked dishes such as soups and stews. Perhaps the greatest basil dish is pesto sauce, eaten with spaghetti. This combination makes a wonderfully delicious meal.
There are many other types of basil. Purple ruffle, dark opal and Greek basil are three of the other more unusual varieties, all with differing flavours.
Spearmint and peppermint are two members of the mint family most widely known and used as culinary herbs. There are many varieties of mint, some with distinct scents and flavours and some can be used for a variety of culinary purposes, such as in sweet and savoury dishes, in salads and for herb tea.
Spearmint is a favourite for mint sauce to accompany lamb and tastes particularly good with dishes such as soups, stews, plain meats, fish and lemon-based deserts.
Peppermint is also popular as a culinary herb flavouring. This herb is most commonly used as flavouring for sweets and chocolates etc. and is also used to flavour cordials. Fresh peppermint leaves can be used to make peppermint tea and the leaves can be added to fresh green salads.
Thyme can be used to improve the flavour of most dishes. Both the fresh and dried leaves of this herb are used for cooking. Fresh thyme leaves are useful in many savoury dishes.
Thyme has a rich flavour which makes it an ideal accompaniment to roast meats and tastes good in slowly cooked dishes such as stews and soups. The finely chopped fresh leaves may be added to new potatoes or salad.
Thyme is regarded as one of the great culinary herbs and is widely used in European cooking. This herb is an evergreen perennial it is recognisable by its mauve flowers and small leaves.