There is a vast and delicious world beyond common herbs like basil, parsley, oregano, cilantro—not that there's anything wrong with those herbs! If you're already regularly using fresh herbs, you're ahead of the game, but now it's time to dive into the less common herbs and see just how much they can enhance your food—and your health!
Herbs offer us far more than simply flavor. Most are full of potent antioxidant plant goodness that can boost your immunity and improve your health. Check your local farmers market for some of these, or try planting them in your own herb garden.
1. Savory – This herb comes in two varieties: summer and winter savory. Both are a terrific herb-cousin of mint. While summer is sweeter, you can use either variety when you're out of the more common herbs thyme, marjoram, or sage in stuffing, stews, soups, and any other dish that needs a subtle flavor boost. Like thyme, savory leaves contain oils that are antifungal.
2. Marjoram – A personal favorite, marjoram is a bit like oregano only sweeter. It pairs well with most Mediterranean or Italian dishes, providing a soft and rich flavor. Fresh marjoram is loaded with vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin A, and the antioxidants cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zea-xanthin.
3. Lovage – You may think it's parsley or celery, but lovage is stronger than both and makes a great addition to a soup stock. Add it to stews, casseroles, potato dishes, even sprinkle some into your salad. It can reduce garlicky breath if you chew on a fresh leaf, and it can help ease digestive discomfort.
4. Chervil – Like lovage, chervil is similar to parsley, but on the other side of the spectrum. It is much more mild in flavor and delicate. Use it as you would parsley (or lovage) in soups, stews, casseroles. Add it to salad dressings, mashed potatoes, and pasta dishes. Chervil contains healthy amounts of vitamins A and C, as well as calcium, iron, manganese, potassium, and zinc. It can improve digestion, clear up skin issues, boost circulation, lower blood pressure, and relieve cold and flu symptoms.
5. Purslane – Although technically an herb, you can eat purslane much like a leafy green in salads and sandwiches. It has a rich, grassy flavor and is an excellent source of essential fatty acids that are essential for healthy hair, skin, and nails and optimal brain function as well as healthy cardiovascular function. For that reason, avoid cooking it as the delicate fats can corrupt at high heat.
6. Lemon verbena – A wonderfully aromatic herb, lemon verbena can liven up a salad of vegetables or fruits like little else. Add to your favorite pesto recipes for a burst of bright lemony flavor; make it into a tea, dressing, or marinade. Muddle a few leaves into your favorite vodka, rum, or even absinthe for a wonderful cocktail. Lemon verbena can relieve digestive disturbances and difficulty sleeping; it can reduce asthmatic episodes, skin disorders and symptoms associated with colds and flu.
7. Angelica – Known more often for its medicinal effectiveness in aiding in digestion and improving circulation, angelica is also a wonderful culinary herb. With a sweet licorice-like flavor, the leaves can be added to salads of fruits or vegetables. Slice up the stem like you would celery for addition to soups, stews, and sauces.
8. Cicely – Also called sweet cicely or myrrh (though not the same as the tree that produces myrrh resin), this hardy herb is one of the main ingredients in a bouquet garni, which is used to flavor soup stocks and broths. It's slightly anise-like and delicate, but still firm in flavor. It's rich in vitamins A and C, calcium, and the minerals potassium, iron, and phosphorus. Cicely has a long history of medicinal uses for aiding in digestive relief and reducing mucous. It can induce sleep and menstruation. When the root is applied topically as a poultice, it can help treat boils and wounds.Learn more about Jill Ettinger