Allspice (Pimenta officinalis)
This is not a blend of spices as most people think; it’s a single spice with a combined flavour of nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon hence its name. The spice comes from a tropical evergreen myrtle tree native to Central America and the West Indies. Use it to flavour fruit desserts, puddings, biscuits, cakes, beef, stews, pot roasts, pies, and vegetables such as sweet potatoes, red cabbage and pumpkin.
Anise (Pimpinella anisum)
Also known as aniseed, this graceful, feathery herb produces small seeds that are crushed and used to flavour curries, cream cheese, cakes, apple pies, breads, apple sauces, creams, liqueurs, and of course confectionery such as aniseed rings and bulls-eyes.
Balm or Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Use the fresh and finely chopped lemon flavoured leaves of this hardy perennial herb in white fish sauces, mayonnaise, sauerkraut; poultry, pork, chicken, fish and egg dishes; vegetable and fruit salads; custards; tea, iced tea, fruit punches, wine punches, and fruit drinks. Combine in vinegars with other herbs such as tarragon.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
The flavour of this well-known annual herb has been likened to a combination of cloves and mint. Unlike other herbs the flavour of basil gets stronger with cooking so use with care.Use fresh or dried leaves in tomato dishes such as soup, pasta sauces, and tomato juice; add to egg and cheese dishes, sausage mixtures, salad dressings, salads, meat, chicken, soups and fish. Add to bland vegetables.
Bay Leaf (Laurus nobilis)
Bay leaves are strong so use them sparingly in game, fish, meat, soups, stuffing, poultry, sauces and marinades. Add the slightly bitter yet aromatic leaves to cooking water to give a subtle flavour to bland vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, eggplant, and chokos. Use one leaf or less per six to eight servings.
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Also known as ‘Herb of Gladness’, borage has beautiful bluish-lavender star-shaped flowers, which are used in salads, as a garnish in iced drinks such as punches, or in candied form as decorations on cakes and desserts. The refreshing flavour, similar to cucumber, is not retained when the leaves are dried so for culinary purposes use the fresh plant. Use the young, tender leaves in fish sauces; yogurt dishes, salads, cold drinks, and cooked as a vegetable as you would spinach. Because this annual herb is usually unavailable from suppliers you will need to include it in your kitchen herb garden.
Chili Powder(Capsicum frutescens)
This is a blend of several varieties of dried powdered Mexican chili peppers with most blends containing other spices such as oregano, coriander, and cumin. Use the powder in chili dishes, to give sauces a zing, and any dish that requires a boost of flavour. Use as much or as little as you wish, depending on the amount of ‘chili heat’ you require.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
This herb is so versatile that it adds flavour to many savoury dishes. It can be used fresh or dried so even if you don’t have a place to grow it, it is readily available in dried form and retains its flavour well. Use in salads, egg, potato, and yogurt dishes and add to sauces. It is a great companion for cheese dishes.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
This delightfully aromatic spice comes from a small, tropical, evergreen laurel tree. The dried inner bark is peeled off and as the pieces are drying they curl into the familiar quills, which are easily purchased from supermarkets and herb suppliers. The quills are ground in to a powder and are used in baked sweets, some meat and fish dishes and cooked fruit such as stewed apples. Use the quills in teas, pickling liquid, and to spice punches.
Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum)
The clove tree is a beautiful evergreen from which the spicy flower buds are harvested and dried. Cloves can be used in the whole flower bud form in marinades; hot, spicy drinks, stewed fruits, and pickling liquids. Use the ground spice in some meat dishes, curries, pies, breads, cookies, spice cakes, fruit cakes and fruit dishes.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
Both the seeds and the leaves of this pretty plant can be used to flavour food. Dried seeds have a flavour similar to a combination of sage and lemon peel and are used in marinades, pickling liquids, hot spiced drinks, soups, sauces and vegetable dishes. The ground herb can be used in breads, pastries, puddings, fruit sauces, chili sauces, cream sauces, tomato chutney, curries, apple pies, biscuits, cakes, and marmalade and the fresh lower leaves in sauces, stews, poultry and meat dishes; salads, curries and garnishes.
Cumin Cuminum cyminum)
The whole and ground seeds are used in cabbage and sauerkraut dishes; cheeses, pasta and barbecue sauces, curry and chili powders, egg and some potato dishes.
The powder, depending on the manufacturer, is a blend of various quantities of various spices such as cloves, coriander, cardamom, cayenne, dill, cumin, pepper, turmeric, ginger, mace, and fenugreek. Apart from curries the powder can be used to flavour dips, chutneys, relishes and cheese dishes.
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
This herb has a characteristic pungent flavour that is evident in the seeds and leaves although it is less pronounced in the leaves. Use both the leaves and the seeds for fish, sour cream dips, sauces, cream cheese, cheese, soups, eggs, poultry, sauerkraut, salad dressings, and salads. Leaves are a delightful addition to foods that are light coloured such as white sauce and cheese dishes. They also make an attractive garnish.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
With a flavour of licorice similar to anise but weaker, fennel goes well with any fish dishes, especially oily fish like mackerel because it aids digestion. Another purpose for using fennel with fish is to add to poaching liquid because it will help to keep the fish firm. Use the whole seeds for apple pie, biscuits, bread, bread rolls, and cakes; and use the leaves for sauces, salads, and soups.
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Most of us are familiar with garlic, which is usually used to flavour meat dishes by rubbing a freshly cut clove over the meat or inserting slivers of the clove in to small cuts made all over the meat. It especially goes well with lamb – insert leaves of rosemary with the garlic in to small cuts. A whole corm of garlic can be baked in the oven (moderate temperature) until it is soft. Squeeze out the soft pulp and spread it on toast; it has a delicious flavour and is not overpowering at all. Garlic is a huge favourite in Mediterranean cooking and has many uses including flavouring oils, added to dressings, sauces, pasta dishes including pasta sauce.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
This popular spice comes from the root of a beautiful tropical lily, ginger, and has many culinary uses for western and Asian dishes. When using fresh ginger it is best to grate it or peel and slice it thinly before adding to salad dressings, stews, stir-fries, and sauces. Use ground ginger in cakes, biscuits, gingerbread (of course), curries, pies, sausages, and some Mornays. Fishy odours can be removed by rubbing fresh ginger on the fish.
Horseradish (Armoracia officinalis)
An ingredient in many sauces, horseradish is an old favourite that is popularly used as a meat condiment which can be prepared by grating the fresh root and combining it with lemon juice or vinegar. Horseradish sauce goes very well with oily or smoked fish, and roast beef. The young leaves can be added to salads, and the grated fresh root can be added to coleslaw, cream cheese, avocado fillings, mayonnaise, and pickled beetroot.
Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla)
This delightful herb has fresh lemon-flavoured leaves, which are used in custards, fruit salads, jellies, and as a garnish, especially in iced drinks. The leaves are best used fresh so add this lovely plant to your herb garden.
Mace (Nutmeg tree-Myristica fragrans)
Most of us are familiar with the appearance of the whole nutmeg, which is the kernel inside the seed of the tropical nutmeg tree but few know that mace is a spice that comes from the lacy dried outer covering of the seed. The flavour of mace is similar to nutmeg but stronger. It can be used in whole or powdered form just the same as nutmeg: biscuits, cakes, stewed or cooked fruit, puddings, and desserts as well as in savoury dishes when it is usually combined with other herbs and spices such as bay leaves, onions, and cloves.
Marjoram (Majorana hortensis)
Although marjoram has a lovely sweet, sage-like flavour it’s a dominant herb and should be used sparingly to season vegetables, meats, legumes, and poultry. Like oregano and basil it goes especially well with tomato dishes including Italian favourites, lasagna, pasta, and pizza dishes. Finely chopped fresh leaves are great in salads and for some reason the herb makes heavy foods such as goose, duck, and pork seem lighter.
Mints (Mentha species)
Spearmint and peppermint are generally used to flavour food but other mints such as apple, orange, and pineapple mints go well in drinks and fruit dishes. You can use fresh or dried mints with cream cheese, zucchini, lamb, salads, peas, coleslaw, as a garnish for cold drinks, and in mint sauce. To make a delicious mint sauce place fresh or dried mint leaves in a small heatproof jug, add sugar to taste and a little boiling water. Stir, cover and let stand for about thirty minutes then add malt vinegar to the required strength, stir and serve with lamb – delicious! Use quantities to suit your own taste, I like the mint and vinegar to be quite strong.
Mustard (Brassica nigra and B. hirta)
Most are familiar with the mustard preparations we use as condiments with meat but did you know that apart from adding flavour they also stimulate the appetite? The condiments are made from the dried powdered seeds of white or black mustard mixed with water, wine, or vinegar. The dried powder can also be used as a spice to flavour savory dishes and the whole seeds from white mustard are used to season pickles, salads, vegetables and sauces while the white mustard leaves can be cooked as a vegetable or used in salads.
Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans)
This much favoured spice is the dried kernel from inside the seed of the tropical evergreen nutmeg tree and is used to flavour many types of dishes including fruit pies, desserts, cakes, cookies, stewed fruits, milk drinks, and some savoury dishes. Pre-ground nutmeg keeps quite and well gives a lovely flavour when added to the above dishes but to obtain the best possible flavour from the spice keep whole nutmegs in the kitchen and grate as needed.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Oregano is wild marjoram, the parent stock from which garden marjoram was derived. It looks very similar to marjoram but has a stronger flavour. A popular ingredient in Italian, Mexican, and Spanish dishes the herb can also be used for the same foods as marjoram.
Paprika (Capsicum frutescens)
A spice from the dried ripe pods of the mildest and largest variety of capsicum shrubs, paprika is used to flavour and colour goulashes and many bland and savoury dishes. There are different varieties of paprika with the best coming from Hungary so the pungency and quality of the spice can vary.
Parsley (Petroselinum sativum)
This easy to grow herb is an old favourite that is used to flavour and garnish many dishes. Eating a sprig of parsley between courses is said to freshen the palate so the taste of the following course is not confused with the previous one. Use parsley in meat, chicken, egg, cheese, fish, Mediterranean dishes, sauces, and vegetable dishes. Parsley is not a dominant herb so adding it to these dishes enhances the flavour of the food rather than giving them the flavour of the herb. It softens the strong odour of vegetables such as garlic and onions and combines well with other herbs…parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme are not just words in a once popular song.
Pepper (Piper nigrum)
A bit like salt, not many of us usually like to eat food without it and like nutmeg pepper is best used freshly ground to obtain the full flavour. Peppercorns are the dried berries of a tropical vine and are either white or black depending on when the fruit is picked. Black peppercorns come from the dried and cured underripe berries, and the white peppercorns are the dried ripe berries which have had the dark outer shell removed. Both varieties of pepper enhance all savoury dishes. Although white pepper is not as strong as black it has a more aromatic and finer flavour and is generally preferred in light-coloured sauces.
Poppy Seed (Papaver rhoeas)
Contrary to popular belief the little dark poppy seeds we are so familiar with don’t come from the opium poppy instead they are the seeds of the corn poppy. They are used in cakes, canapés, sweet vegetable dishes, fruit salads, and as topping on breads, biscuits, rolls, and cakes.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Like marjoram, rosemary is a dominant herb and should be used sparingly to flavour lamb, beef, fish, Mediterranean, chicken dishes, and some vegetable dishes. It can be used fresh or dried and has a pungent flavour that has been described as sweet but savoury, and similar to pine.
Safflower - also known as Mexican Saffron (Carthamus tinctorius)
Although this herb is not related to saffron at all it makes a fine substitute and costs much less than the real thing. The powdered dried orange-red florets are used to flavour and colour the same dishes that saffron is used for.
Saffron (Crocus sativus)
Obtained from the dried red stigmas of the Crocus flower, saffron is the most expensive of all spices so it’s fortunate that only very small quantities are needed to add flavour, aroma, and colour to rice, fish, cheese, and chicken dishes, shellfish soups, bread, cookies, puddings, pastries, confectionery, liqueurs, and cakes. Depending on the quality of saffron, it’s recommended that 100 to 500mg of the spice is needed to flavour and colour a dish for 4 to 8 people. It takes approximately 220,000 Crocus flowers to produce a kilogram of Australian saffron. Apart from it’s culinary uses, the spice also has medicinal properties and helps to aid the digestion of rich foods, such as pork, goose, and duck dishes. It has the most delicate flavour of all spices and is a favourite among chefs who revere it for the golden colour and beautiful flavour it gives to such a large variety of dishes.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Although sage is an old favourite with a variety of culinary uses it’s a very strong herb that can become bitter with long cooking so it needs to be used with care. The fresh leaves have a delicate minty flavour while the dried lives are aromatic and pungent. It not only gives a lovely flavour to food it also aids a number of digestive problems so its use as a culinary herb is a viable one. Sage seems to make fatty fish and meats seem less heavy so when using it for this reason place leaves on top of dishes such as pork, duck, eel, mackerel and goose. Another way to use it for this purpose is to add it to accompaniments such as stuffing and sauces or to the cooking liquid. Use the herb to flavour omelets, stuffing, and cheese, poultry, meat, and fish dishes. Pineapple sage and Clary sage can be used for similar purposes.
Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
Most of us have heard of tarragon vinegar, which is a way of preserving the fresh leaves until needed. Fresh, dried or the leaves preserved in vinegar can be used to flavour salads and sauces, and egg, meat, fish, and poultry dishes. Tarragon vinegar is delicious when tossed through salads. It’s a very important herb in French cooking and no self-respecting chef would prepare béarnaise sauce without it. The herb has a slightly bitter, sweet licorice flavour.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
This is another important herb used in French cooking to flavour meat, fish, stuffing, poultry, cheese and egg dishes, vegetables, vegetable juices, and salads. It not only stimulates the appetite but aids in the digestion of fatty foods that include goose, duck, sausage, fatty fish, and pork. Use thyme with care because it’s a strong herb with a clove-like pungent flavour. To flavour desserts, fruit drinks, and salads use the fresh leaves of lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus).
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
A member of the ginger family, turmeric has a bitter, gingery taste so needs to be used sparingly. It’s sometimes used as an inexpensive substitute for saffron but is mostly used in small amounts to give a golden colour to curries, pickles, mustards, mayonnaise, chutneys, relishes, and sauces. The dried root is used.
Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia)
A culinary favourite, vanilla is derived from long pods that grow on a perennial tropical orchid vine native to Mexico and Central America. The pods are fermented and cured for six months to develop the flavour before they are ready for the market. Vanilla extract is obtained by macerating the cured pods in an alcoholic solution. To make your own essence or extract keep a dried vanilla pod in a little brandy – the flavour will improve over time. Use it as you would use vanilla essence and always have a supply on hand by having several extracts on the go at once. Scraping the dark flesh from the inside of the dried pod or bean produces a more pure vanilla flavour than the essence, however, the essence works very well and is easy to purchase and use.
Proprietor, author, and tutor of The Home Herbalist Online Course.