Ten Top Herbs for the Kitchen

INCOOKING, dry herbs are a poor substitute for fresh. Many herbs lend themselves to window-box culture, and most thrive in patios close to the kitchen door. Here are 10 of the most useful in the kitchen, with Dr Stuart's observations.

TARRAGON: The Latin name, Artemisia dracunculus, meaning little dragon, refers to its coiled, serpent-like root. Its essential oil is identical to anise, and the chopped leaves are intrinsic to French classic cooking, in creamy chicken and shellfish dishes. Chop into salads, herb omelettes, and use whole stems to flavour vinegar. Do not by mistake grow Russian tarragon: it is a poor, tasteless relation.

CORIANDER: Valued for its seed (powdered in Indian curries), it stimulates the gastric juices. Although it has been cultivated for 3,000 years, the leaves have only recently become accepted in British cooking, thanks to the fashion for Thai and other oriental cuisines where it is a basic flavouring. It can be sown outdoors in early summer, and germinates slowly.

PARSLEY: The most used herb in the British kitchen although these days relegated to the role of a garnish. It stimulates the appetite and is an anti-flatulent. It also masks the odour of garlic on the breath. French flat-leafed parsley has a better flavour than the English curly leaf. Likes a good, moist soil.

THYME: Contains many oils, of which thymol is a powerful antiseptic that works in the gastro-intestinal tract, thus medicating your food as you eat it. Much used in medicine as an antiseptic. Used in stews and omelettes it confers the instant taste of the Mediterranean. An old trick is to marinate pork chops with thyme, garlic, bayleaf and wine for several days in the fridge to reproduce the gamey flavour of wild boar. There many varieties of thyme, the culinary one is Thymus vulgaris and it can be grown easily in a sunny spot.

ROSEMARY: From the Latin Ros Maris, dew of the sea. The flowers are dew-like and the plant likes a seaside habitat. The oil is highly aromatic with tonic, diuretic and antiseptic properties. Externally, the oil is an effective insect repellent. It makes a good gargle and soothing embrocation. In cooking, it is pervasively strong, but wonderful with grilled meat or stuck into lamb with garlic slivers. Stick a cutting in well-drained soil in a sheltered position and it will easily take.

SAGE: There are some 750 species of sage (Salvia, from salvere, to be in good health) but the common one is Salvia officinalis. Its powerful aroma is useful in cooking to mask other smells, especially liver. Its strong antiseptic properties combined with onion make it a useful ingredient for stuffing a bird, inhibiting the growth of bacteria inside. Very pungent and a little goes a long way. Grows easily in this country.

SWEET MARJORAM: Aromatic herb used forcenturies in northern Europe to flavour meat dishes; the Germans call it Wurstkraut (sausage herb). It is the tamer cousin of the wild marjoram, otherwise known as oregano, which perfumes Mediterranean hillsides. Both forms have an affinity with tomato sauce. It has both antiseptic and digestive properties.

MINT: Needs no introduction. Spearmint is the common or garden variety; its beneficial volatile oils have stimulant, anti-spasmodic, antiseptic, anti-flatulent, appetite-promoting properties. Much prized in mint jellies, mint tea and mint sauce (borrowed from the Infidels by the Crusaders). Mint leaves are essential to Middle Eastern salads, and are mixed with other herbs with bulgar grain to make tabbouleh.

BAY: Sweet laurel - many are the errata slips in cookery books translated from European languages where laurier has been rendered as laurel, a leaf poisonous in cooking. Bay is antiseptic and stimulates the digestion. It is an essential ingredient in a bouquet garni along with parsley, thyme and leek. Bay has a sweet smell which masks less pleasant odours, and is therefore useful in making fish and other stocks. It grows freely in the garden and needs cutting back.

BASIL: Basilikon phuton, the kingly herb of the Greeks. The spicy, peppery scent of basil is due to the essential oil, estragol, which indicates a relationship with tarragon (estragon in French). Medicinal properties are as a comforter and sedative. It flourishes best in hot climates; in Italy it is used in salads, tomato sauces and in pesto. Grown under glass in Britain, it develops aroma but has only a passing flavour of the Mediterranean herb.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing