Herbs: What they are, their types and their different uses

Food tastes not only pleasing but also smells amazing. This is because of the different ingredients present in the whole concoction of a recipe. You have the meat, the vegetables and additives such as herbs and spices.

What are herbs?

Herbs are the leafy plants used for adding flavour, texture and aroma to food. They are mainly used as an additive and not as the main ingredient due to their aromatic and flavourful properties. When used too much in the mixture, the flavour and smell can be overpowering to the point that it can be hard to enjoy the dish.

How would you know if a plant is a herb?

The first characteristic giveaway is that herb plants are leafy and green. The next thing you need to do is smell the plant to see if it has a strong aroma. When it does, then that is a sign that the plant is a herb. Aside from that, herbs have soft and green stems, and they do not have any wooden bark that acts as the main body. Moreover, herbs are great repellents for the usual garden pests such as ants, flies and moths.

How do they differ from spices?

About kitchen ingredients, herbs and spices are commonly stored together since both of them are flavour and aroma additives. As such, it is easy for people to mistake which ingredient is a herb or a spice. For starters, all herbs come in the form of plant leaves. Anything other than that is a telltale sign that what you have is a spice.

To help you visualise it better, here are some examples of herbs and spices:

  • Herb – Parsley and basil leaves
  • Spice – Cinnamon is a bark of a tree, and all spice is a dried berry.

What are the uses of herbs?

Aside from cooking, people use herbs as a flavour for their tea. The different types of leaves are great to relax the body and calming the mind. On top of that, herbs are also meant for medicinal purposes and these are what people used in place of pills and syrups back in the olden days of India.

The different types of herbs

Here is a list of the different types of herbs categorised for cooking and medicinal purposes:

Herbs for cooking

  1. Mint

One of the famous herbs people use for cooking is mint, which you can easily find in grocery stores. You can eat this in its raw leaf form and immediately taste its mintiness that will freshen up your mouth. Aside from that, there are different types of mint such as peppermint and spearmint.

For cooking, you can cut up the mint leaves into thin slices so that their flavour is diffused throughout your meal. Additionally, mint leaves go well as salad toppings and add flavour to salsas and marinades. 

  1. Parsley

Make your meals extra tasty when you add some parsley leaves into the mixture! This herb is more than just a finishing garnish to your plate because its flavour will be the game-changer. A bouquet of parsley plants will suffice when you plan to create a soup or broth out of it.

In terms of cooking, the light flavour of parsley leaves is good to balance out the heavy creaminess of a dish. That is why you would notice some specks of leaves in your carbonara pasta or creamy mushroom chicken. Additionally, parsley leaves will be a good addition to your plain pasta and egg just to lessen the blandness.

  1. Basil

Basil is the favourite herb of Italians because you would always see it included in their pasta and pizza recipes. This plant has two variations: green and purple leaves. The former gives you a lighter and sweet taste, while the latter has anise and peppery flavour. 

When using it as an ingredient, you can use basil as pizza toppings. You can cut them in half so that you can get the most out of their flavour. Aside from that, basil leaves are great for creating tomato and pesto sauce. For guided sauce creation, you can find a lot of helpful tutorials on the internet.

  1. Rosemary

When people say that love grows where rosemary goes, believe them! This is because of the different effects of this herb on both cooking and medicine. 

Adding rosemary as the last addition to your meal will give it a strong, pungent and pinelike flavour. Sometimes, the leaves of this herb are transformed into oil and infused into bread. Aside from this, some chefs would add more taste to pork chops and chicken breasts with rosemary leaves. To add this to your meal, make sure to separate the pine-like leaves by using cooking shears.

  1. Chives

Give your dishes an onion-like flavour with chives! This saves you from the eye-watering pain you can experience when cutting fresh onion bulbs. Although compared to the bulb, chives hold a lighter onion flavour and have a similar taste to leeks. In terms of appearance, this herb has tall strands of green and has a white bulb base at the bottom. Its green leaves are thin enough to dice them into smaller pieces.

When using this herb for cooking, you can use chives as a form of topping for your flatbread, eggs and cheeses. On top of that, you can use this herb as a sauce, especially when you grind them to release its juices. 

Herbs for medicinal purposes

Besides cooking, herbs are great for medicinal purposes too. You would be surprised that rubbing some leaves onto the affected area will make the pain go away after a couple of days! Here are the best medicinal herbs you can use and store inside your pantry:

  1. Turmeric

Turmeric falls under the ginger family, and it is a flowering plant that produces rhizomes. These are often used for cooking, but they can be used to treat ailments such as sore throats, flu and other inflammatory conditions. This herb has an anti-inflammatory effect that greatly minimizes discomfort when used regularly.

In terms of appearance, turmeric greatly resembles ginger because of its shape. However, the difference lies in its colour; upon cutting turmeric, you would see its orange hues inside the rhizomes. Aside from that, this herb is smaller than normal ginger, making it easy for you to cut and boil in a cooking pot. For medicinal purposes, you need to drink turmeric as a form of tea to relieve any pain inside your body.

  1. Lavender

Lavender is a purple-leaf flowering plant that grows tall in plant fields or gardens. This herb is native to African countries and the mountainous regions of the Mediterranean. In terms of usage, lavender is mainly used as a calming agent for people who often experience anxiety and insomnia. This herb relaxes the mind and helps you sleep when you get a whiff of its aroma.

Aside from that, lavender can treat minimal bug bites and other inflamed areas of the skin. Sometimes, this herb is mixed with shampoo products since its characteristics can heal gashes on the scalp.

  1. Chamomile

Chamomile is a flowering plant with bright green leaves and white flowers that resemble a daisy. This herb has proven its effectiveness throughout time because people in the past would use its leaves to cure illnesses. Here is a list of illnesses that this medicinal herb can treat:

  • Hay fever
  • Inflammation
  • Muscle spasms
  • Menstrual disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Ulcer
  • Wounds
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Rheumatic pain
  • Haemorrhoids.

The best way to use this herb is by boiling its leaves in water to create chamomile tea. Besides that, you can crush its leaves and create a salve you can use to rub against inflamed areas of the body.

  1. Echinacea

Under the daisy plant family, echinacea belongs and sprouts purple daisy flowers in full bloom. This herbaceous plant is best used in medicine because it helps reduce inflammation, increase the immune system and lowers blood sugar levels. Aside from that, this herb is high in antioxidants, which can help your cells combat oxidative stress. This condition can lead up to diabetes and heart diseases that can be fatal in the future.

You can use Echinacea as a herbal treatment by boiling its leaves and flowers in boiling water. This will let its taste and aroma infuse with the water and help create delicious tea.

  1. Primrose

Primrose is a medicinal plant that holds a lot of good effects on the body. By transforming this plant into oil, it can do the following:

  • Fight acne or eczema
  • Help lessen premenstrual syndrome pains
  • Reduces rheumatic pains
  • Reduces risk concerning osteoarthritis.

Can you grow herbs in your garden?

The good news is that you can grow some herbaceous plants in your garden! These are easy to take care of and all you have to do is find some seeds or starters. Just make sure to be knowledgeable about its respective cares to reap the benefits of each plant. 

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