Herbs… oh, how I love herbs. They add complexity and depth to food that can’t be matched. But they’re not all the same so how do you know which ones to use?
I’ve seen charts out there that try to tell you that these herbs pair with those foods but that’s simplifying it way too much for me. Some herbs are best fresh while others are great dried. Some hold up to cooking and others are best as a garnish. And some can be unpleasant going down your esophagus so I want a little more explanation than an “x” in the chicken column.
Experience is the best way to discover how you like your herbs but until you’re able to work with all of them freely, I put together a little guide for you. There’s a short description for each along with a chart that identifies properties of the fresh version of each. I listed out which cuisines each herb is most known for and also listed some of the more popular ingredients they compliment. 
Standard curly parsley and flat-leaf parsley can be used interchangeably although flat-leaf is more peppery and has a stronger flavor. The stalks of both pack more flavor than the leaves and are often used to flavor long-cooking French soups, stocks, and sauces while the leaves are used to finish dishes. Parsley cleanses the palate and is also used in heavy dishes to lighten the flavors. It’s mild flavor makes it the most versatile of all herbs and allows it to work with just about anything savory. Just keep it out of desserts.
Leaves:  Soft, bright green
Flavors:  Tangy, clean, slightly peppery
Cuisines:  Just about all of them
Pairs well with:  lemon, garlic, vegetables
Use it raw?:  Yes
Use it cooked?:  Yes
Use dried?:  Yes, but it’s better fresh
Chives are the most delicate member of the onion family. They’re best when fresh and should not be cooked for long periods or at high temperatures.
Leaves:  Long, green, and grasslike
Flavors:  Mild onion
Cuisines:  French, Mediterranean
Pairs well with:  Cheese, potato, eggs
Use it raw?:  Yes
Use it cooked?:  Gently
Use dried?:  Only when desperate
Cilantro is often mistaken for flat-leaf parsley and while their flavor profiles are similar, there is a notable visual difference. If you can’t tell them apart, compare the stems: cilantro stems are much thinner than parsley. Cilantro is used widely in salads and sauces and is best when not heated. It’s flavor is ruined when dried so stay away from the jarred stuff.
Leaves:  Soft with thin, wispy stems
Flavors:  Sharp and tangy, slightly citrusy
Cuisines:  Mexican, Asian, Indian
Pairs well with:  Lime, tomato, avocado, cumin, curry, garlic, ginger
Use it raw?:  Yes
Use it cooked?:  Gently
Use dried?:  No
Dill is very delicate and loses its impact when cooked so when cooking with it, add it at the end of a dish after it has been removed from heat. Steaming is really the only cooking method delicate enough for actually cooking dill.
Leaves:  Feathery, delicate, blue-green
Flavors:  Similar to parsley but with a much sharper taste of anise (licorice)
Cuisines:  Scandinavian, Greek, Indian, Central to Eastern Europe
Pairs well with:  fish, potato, cucumber, salads
Use it raw?:  Yes
Use it cooked?:  Gently
Use dried?:  Only when desperate
Tarragon is best when fresh and is one of my favorite herbs. I enjoy the flavor even though it’s kind of licoricey (and I don’t like licorice). It’s mild enough that I use it in place of parsley in quite a few dishes. Dried tarragon, however, tastes like hay. Not that I’ve tasted hay but it tastes like hay smells. You know what I mean.
Leaves:  Very delicate, long, and bright green
Flavors:  Delicate anise, mild and slightly sweet (similar to licorice or fennel)
Cuisines:  French
Pairs well with:  Fish, tomato, chicken, lemon
Use it raw?:  Yes
Use it cooked?:  Gently
Use dried?:  Please, don’t. Unless you like hay.
Sweet Basil is most commonly found in the United States so that’s what I’ve charted below. Opal Basil is the purple variety and is similar in taste but is less sweet than those with green stems. You may also see Thai Basil, which is between the other two in taste. Thai Basil is identifiable by its green leaves and purple stems.
Leaves:  Large, green
Flavors:  Strong, citrusy, slightly peppery, minty, slightly sweet
Cuisines:  Mediterranean, Southeast Asian
Pairs well with:  Tomato, garlic, coconut, curry, lemon, Italian cheeses
Use it raw?:  Yes
Use it cooked?:  Yes
Use dried?:  Eh
Mint has many different varieties but spearmint is most commonly found in the U.S. It can hold up to some cooking but its flavor doesn’t pair well with many savory flavors so it’s not cooked often. Mint is ideal in drinks (mojito, anyone?), salads, and desserts.
Leaves:  Soft, bright green
Flavors:  Tart, fresh
Cuisines:  Thai, Middle Eastern
Pairs well with:  Chocolate, fruit, lamb
Use it raw?:  Yes
Use it cooked?:  Yes
Use dried?:  No
Oregano has a strong, noticeable flavor, mostly associated with pizza sauce. It’s classically paired with tomatoes in Western cooking. In Middle Eastern, countries, it’s used to flavor a variety of meats and can even be found on the table next to the salt and pepper.
Leaves:  Small, dark green
Flavors:  Hearty, peppery, and slightly sweet
Cuisines:  Mexican, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern
Pairs well with:  Lemon, tomato, fish, pasta
Use it raw?:  Yes
Use it cooked?:  Yes
Use dried?:  Yes
Rosemary should not be used dried; its leaves get hard and inedible and it dramatically loses flavor. Its stems contain abundant flavor and are often used to flavor sauces but are removed before serving.

Leaves:  Stiff, needlelike
Flavors:  Earthy, piney
Cuisines:  French, Mediterranean
Pairs well with:  Roasted or grilled meats (particularly lamb), fish, garlic, potato, onion, tomato
Use it raw?:  No
Use it cooked?:  Yes
Use dried?:  No
Sage is very robust and pairs well with heavy, rich dishes. Sage is probably the most identifiable flavor in breakfast sausage so when you try it on its own for the first time, you might have an irresistible urge for pancakes.

Leaves:  Light, grayish green, soft & fuzzy
Flavors:  Slightly peppery and minty
Cuisines:  French, Mediterranean
Pairs well with:  Cheese, pork, pasta, onion
Use it raw?:  No
Use it cooked?:  Yes
Use dried?:  Yes, but it loses flavor
Thyme stems have more flavor than their tiny leaves so they’re used to flavor sauces (just like parsley and rosemary stems). Thyme holds up really well when dried but it intensifies the flavor so use no more than half the dried thyme as compared to fresh.

Leaves:  Tiny, dark green
Flavors:  Hearty, earthy
Cuisines:  French, Italian, Middle Eastern
Pairs well with:  Chicken, fish, lamb, mushroom, onion, potato, soups, stews, tomato
Use it raw?:  No
Use it cooked?:  Yes
Use dried?:  Yes
Bay Leaves are used solely for flavoring soups, stocks, and sauces. Like thyme, they hold up extremely well when dried and are much less expensive than fresh. 

Leaves:  Large, bright green
Flavors:  Sweet, balsamic aroma and peppery flavor
Cuisines:  French, Mediterranean
Pairs well with:  Soups, stews
Use it raw?:  No
Use it cooked?:  Yes
Use dried?:  Yes

When shopping for fresh herbs, look for crisp, bright green leaves and stems. Avoid herbs that look limp. For extended life, rinse your herbs, wrap them in a barely damp paper towel, then seal them in a plastic baggie. Store them in the crisper drawer in your refrigerator. Herbs lose their flavor and can get bitter when they start to turn yellow or brown so try to use them up before they change color. I’ve seen some people suggest you freeze them in olive oil in ice cube trays but what if I don’t want that much olive oil in my dish? I prefer not to waste that much olive oil.
Don’t be intimidated to try herbs in your cooking. When experimenting, use your nose. Your sense of smell is directly linked to your taste buds so before adding a new flavor to your dish, smell the dish, smell the herb, then smell the dish again. That will give you an idea of whether or not the herb will work. It’s not foolproof but it’s helpful. Also, add a little at a time. You can always add more but you can’t take any away.

Happy herb experimenting!
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