The Top 10 Culinary Herbs and How to Use Them in Your Cooking

Nothing makes me happier than stepping out to my sunny kitchen garden to harvest herbs for exactly what each dish I’m cooking calls for – perhaps some parsley, oregano, chives, or sweet basil! With dozens of culinary varieties thriving just footsteps from my stove thanks to strategic growing season planning, I’ve come to learn firsthand how essential aroma-enhancing herbs truly are for at-home cooks.

Beyond just flavor, I’m convinced keeping a rotating dried herb stash as well as kitchen herbs on my windowsill like prolifically fresh basil at the ready has made me a better, more intuitive chef when crafting weekday marinades or impromptu dinner parties. Through experimentation infusing dishes with herbs via sauces, chopping, dicing, and pairing though, I’ve found ten top herbs that stand out from the rest as MVP all-stars. They shine with versatile flair across nearly any cuisine I’m cooking up thanks to their nuanced flavors melding beautifully with recipes’ supporting spices.

A cast iron pan with steak for this Culinary Herbs and Spices post.

My Favorite 10 Culinary Herbs At A Glance

These herbs provide a solid all-star line-up covering various global cuisine flavor profiles from Mediterranean dishes to Thai and Mexican specialties. Their nuanced yet bold seasonings form fundamental foundations for home cooks.

  1. Basil
  2. Rosemary
  3. Thyme
  4. Sage
  5. Parsley
  6. Oregano
  7. Mint
  8. Chives
  9. Cilantro
  10. Dill

Keep reading for more details on storing, growing, and best uses for incorporating each of these incredibly versatile leafy herbs guaranteed to upgrade dinner through their unique aromatic essences!

A garden full of bright thriving herb plants.

Top 10 Culinary Herbs

Inside each of the following entries, you’ll discover useful quick hits on that herb’s formal name, its unique attributes and signature flavor contribution to dishes, ways I like cooking most with it personally, along with supplemental gardening, harvesting, storage, and usage pointers for fully unlocking that particular herb’s distinct aromatic potential.

1. Basil

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) Also known by its full Latin name Ocimum basilicum, this sweet leafy annual herb fills dishes with its distinctive peppery essence reminiscent of warm sunny summer days. I love using handfuls of fresh basil in Italian recipes from garden-ripe tomatoes to homemade pesto layered into sandwiches or tossed with hearty pastas. This is one of the most popular herbs to grow and cook with!

Attributes: Shiny, vibrant green oval leaves with softly jagged edges grow on purple-tinged stems when young. Delicate white blooms appear later in summer.

Quick Gardening Fact: Grow basil outdoors in full direct sunlight and well-drained yet consistently moist soil once overnight temperatures stay above 50 degrees F.

Harvesting Tip: Frequently harvest basil by pinching off leaf clusters anytime they get bushy to encourage tender new growth all summer long.

Bail Cooking idea: While dried basil has its place, use fresh leaves as a finishing touch on raw-tomato caprese salads and uncooked sauces in Italian dishes for the freshest flavor.

Proper Storage: Store freshly cut stems loosely wrapped in barely damp paper towels inside perforated plastic bags. Refrigerate for up to 5 days. Basil also freezes well either chopped or whole in ice cube trays topped with water or olive oil.

Basil in a white pot.

2. Rosemary

With the botanical name Salvia rosmarinus, rosemary’s trademark pine-like fragrance elevates roasted veggies and proteins alike with its woodsy depth. I also enjoy infusing olive oil with fresh sprigs for dipping breads.

Attributes: Pine-scented evergreen herb has leaves shaped like long skinny spears clustered together. Grayish green color with a slightly fuzzy texture. Woody stems filled with fragrant resin.

Quick Garden Fact: Plant this woody perennial herb outdoors in sharply drained soil and baking sun once overnight lows hit 50°F.

Harvesting Tip: Snip 6-8 inch fresh rosemary stems just above leaf junctures in spring and fall to promote ongoing woody regrowth.

Rosemary Cooking Idea: Toss whole rosemary sprigs over roasting potatoes or chicken in the oven then remove before eating. I love using Rosemary in egg dishes! The aromatic needles easily burn if exposed to direct heat too long.

Proper Storage: Fully intact rosemary stems keep over 2 weeks refrigerated in water like cut flowers, with minimal leaves submerged. Or hang mature bundled stems to air dry for storage for winter months.

Jar of rosemary.

3. Thyme

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)Also referred to by its botanical name Thymus vulgaris, this subtle yet versatile herb infuses dishes with its earthy essence, complementing flavors from roasted meats to hearty stews. I love experimenting with fresh thyme in everything from veggie sides to savory breakfast baked goods like quiches.

Attributes: Plentiful tiny grayish green tiny leaves sprouting along delicate woody stems. When crushed or brushed releases signature sharp, woodsy notes. Occasional spikes of petite purple or white flowers bloom.

Quick Gardening Fact: Plant this Mediterranean perennial herb outdoors in a sunny, well-drained area once overnight temperatures average 55°F.

Harvesting Tip: Cut thyme sprigs in the morning after dew dries, right as flower buds appear for the most intense, aromatic oil concentration.

Thyme Cooking Idea: Drying intensifies thyme’s woodsy notes so use sparingly in recipes. Sprinkle it in early during long cooking for the best flavor distribution.

Proper Storage: If harvested mid-morning, thyme maintains peak color and aroma for up to 10 days refrigerated after gently rinsing and patting stems dry with paper towels before storage in loose plastic bags. Air drying also preserves dried leaves up to a year stored in a cool dark space.

a bundle of thyme.

4. Sage

Sage (Salvia officinalis)With the formal name Salvia officinalis, common sage imparts dishes with its signature musky, earthy essence that wonderfully balances rich meat dishes and fall vegetables. Beyond stuffings, risottos, and brown butter pan sauces, I also rely on fresh sage leaves for flavoring hearty bean dishes and seedy nut loaves.

Attributes: Medium rough grayish green textured spear-shaped leaves unfurl from woody stems in ruffled oblong patterns. Prominent central veins run the narrow fuzzy leaf length tinted darker at the tips.

Quick Gardening Fact: For best growth outdoors, provide this evergreen perennial full sun exposure in soil with sharp drainage.

Harvesting Tip: Pinch or snip fresh sage leaves anytime once plants are established, but the flavor is most intense right before flower buds open in early summer.

Sage Cooking Idea: Fry whole fresh sage leaves briefly in olive oil to infuse pasta sauces with flavor. Unlike rosemary needles, the leaves get quite crispy making lovely edible garnishes.

Proper Storage: To store fresh sage, wrap leaves in damp paper towels then refrigerate inside a plastic bag. Visit my post on How To Dry Sage Bundles for instructions on drying fresh sage.

A bundle of sage on a cutting board.

5. Parsley

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)Offering a fresh burst of herbal aroma, this popular kitchen herb comes in curly parsley and flat-leaf parsley – I prefer the latter for its bolder zing! Tuck it among dishes like grilled meats, pastas, salads and soups as bright counterpoints.

Attributes: Bright emerald leaves emerge with either tightly curled or flat saw-toothed edges on wispy hollow stems in the first season. Umbrella-like white blooms shoot up in the second spring.

Quick Garden Fact: Soak seeds overnight before sowing this hardy biennial in early spring for best germination. It thrives in nutrient-rich moist soil with full sun.

Harvesting Tip: To harvest parsley plants, snip outer parsley stems 2 inches above soil anytime once established for continual regrowth.

Parsley Cooking Idea: Mixing parsley early when making compound butters or salad dressings allows its grassy flavor to permeate fully.

Proper Storage: Store freshly cut sprigs in water inside the fridge for up to 1 week, or air dry thoroughly for longer duration.

parsley pesto.

6. Oregano

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) With the botanical name Origanum vulgare, common oregano fills kitchens with its intensely aromatic signature. Beyond Mediterranean recipes like zesty tomato sauces, I adore sprinkling its woodsy notes over pizza, roasted vegetables, and rich red meats off the grill.

Attributes: Bushy compact plants full of fuzzy ovate leaves in shades from gray green to deep green alongside clusters of petaled pink wildflowers in summer. Crushing releases minty, camphorous notes.

Quick Garden Fact: Plant this hardy perennial herb outdoors once overnight frost danger passes, providing well-drained soil and full sun for optimal growth.

Harvesting Tip: Cut sprigs when flower buds swell for the highest concentration of flavorful oils just before the summer heat hits.

Oregano Cooking Idea: Add fresh oregano early during cooking processes at lower heat, as longer high heat exposure diminishes vibrancy.

Proper Storage: Keep freshly chopped leaves under olive oil in the fridge up to 10 days, or dry them thoroughly then crumble them into airtight containers for a longer duration.

oregano plant with dried oregano.

7. Mint

Mint (Mentha) Offering cooling, crisp flavor, the mentha family invigorates both sweet and savory recipes from fruit salads to chickpea tabboulehs. I also muddle the leaves of my mint plants into refreshing mojitos!

Attributes: Depending on variety, textured leaves in cool green shades from dark to lighter yellow tones. Toothed, wrinkled leaves sprout oppositely up squared purple stems. Spikes or balls of diminutive flowers attract pollinators.

Quick Garden Fact: Plant mint outdoors in your garden bed in partial shade once overnight temps remain above 60°F or contain its fast-spreading roots in pots. Mint plants prefer consistently moist soil, but they don’t like to be waterlogged. For more information on watering mint visit my How Much Water Do Mint Plants Need post.

Harvesting Tip: Pinch off the top mint leaves from your kitchen herb garden just before flowers open for optimal flavor.

Mint Cooking idea: Add torn mint leaves raw or quickly wilted at the end for the freshest flavor. Over-cooking dulls menthol notes.

Proper Storage: Submerge trimmed stems in water glasses for up to 2 weeks of refrigeration, changing H2O every few days. Avoid air exposure to prevent discoloration.

mint pasta salad.

8. Chives

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)With the botanical name Allium schoenoprasum, chives lend delicate onion essence in abundance once established thanks to continual self-seeding. Beyond garnishing soups or baked potatoes, try whipping the thin grassy leaves into herb-flecked compound butters too! Chives’ culinary uses are boundless!

Attributes: Clusters of reed-like waxy grass blades emerge with a mild onion kick from dense low mounds of slim onion bulbs just under the soil surface. Showy bursts of pom-pom purple blooms reveal the allium relation.

Quick Garden Fact: Plant chive bulbs pointed-side up in early spring for rapid clump formation – they thrive alongside roses benefiting one another.

Harvesting Tip: Snip chive tubes back to 2 inches above the soil anytime with flowers removed to encourage dense regrowth all season.

Chives Cooking Idea: Add freshly chopped raw chives at the very end of cooking for maximum vibrancy on finished dishes.

Proper Storage: Place upright in water-filled glasses for up to 1 week’s refrigeration, or dry then freeze chopped leaves for longer storage and later use.

A large potted chive plant.

9. Cilantro

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) Also known as coriander and Chinese parsley, people tend to love or hate cilantro’s strong citrusy essence. But I adore it in global recipes from Thai curries to Mexican salsas thanks to its burst of bright flavor!

Attributes: First-year feathery delicate leaves deeply lobed like parsley but brighter green. Distinctive flavor. By second season, separate leaves give way to lacy white umbrella flowers and wild carrot-esque umbels heavy with coriander seeds emerge.

Quick Garden Fact: Soak coriander seeds overnight before sowing to speed germination, and make successive plantings through summer since it bolts fast.

Harvesting Tip: Snip the outer cilantro leaves anytime for optimal flavor before flowers trigger soapy-tasting compounds.

Cilantro Cooking Idea: Add raw or quickly wilted at the very end of Asian and Latino dishes for best results.

Proper Storage: Place freshly cut stems in water, loosely wrap and refrigerate 5-7 days, replacing liquid every few days. Avoid air exposure to prevent discoloration.

Tacos with cilantro.

10. Dill

Dill (Anethum graveolens) With the formal name Anethum graveolens, dill infuses dishes with a distinct tang making it perfect alongside salmon, cukes, potatoes and yogurt-based dips. I also add chopped fronds when canning pickles for that signature flavor.

Attributes: Spindly hollow stems extend high while maturing, capped by large flat spray flower heads harboring seeds for pickling. Extremely fine thread-like leaves occupy lower on plants. Emerald green color.

Quick Garden Fact: Soak seeds briefly before planting to speed germination, sowing successively as plants bolt fast. Provide full sun and wind protection.

Harvesting Tip: To harvest dill snip leaves anytime, but cut fronds mid-morning right after flower buds open for maximum flavor. Select mature leaves and seeds for the freshest flavor and aroma in your culinary creations.

Dill Cooking Idea: Adding the feathery leaves raw or at the very end of cooking is a great way to ensure the freshest flavor. High heat during the cooking process diminishes vibrancy.

Proper Storage: Cut stems with roots attached and store longest when wrapped and refrigerated. Otherwise, use water glasses up to 5 days like other herbs.

chopped dill in my hand.

There you have it, my top 10 must-have culinary herb plants! These versatile herbs can be used in a variety of dishes and add depth and flavor to any recipe. Cultivating your own herbs in a home garden is not only convenient but also ensures that you have fresh herbs on hand whenever you need them, bypassing the need to rely solely on the selection at your local grocery store.

Growing your own herbs allows you to select the best herbs for your culinary herb garden, ensuring optimal freshness and flavor. To keep your own herbs from spoiling, wrap them in a damp paper towel and store them in a plastic bag in the fridge. This simple method helps prolong their freshness, ensuring they’re ready for use whenever inspiration strikes in the kitchen.

I encourage you to embrace the joys of cooking with your own herbs and explore new flavors and dishes. With your apron on and your imagination fired up, you’re poised to create culinary delights that showcase the vibrant flavors of your homegrown herbs. Happy cooking!

My signature. A drawing of me sitting with a cup of coffee and a rosemary topiary next to me.

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