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Marc’s Top Ten Culinary Herbs List

2011 June 29

By Marc Duquette

Why is this “Marc’s Top Ten” list?  Because your top ten list will most certainly differ from mine.  Regardless, I hope to inspire you to get out there and stick a pot or two of herbs into your landscape.  Herbs are incredibly easy to grow, need very little care – even tolerate some abuse and neglect, and most come back year after year (perrenniel herbs).  Herbs play a complementary role in any diet that seeks to be local, healthy and organic.  The very nature of such a diet suggests that you are spending more time in the kitchen preparing your own food.  Why not build on that and add fresh, organic, and healthy herbs to improve the flavor and complexity of your recipes.

With this top ten list, I also provide a nice variety of suggested uses.  These uses include a fresh summer cocktail, an herb infused vinegar, a side dish, a yeast bread, a fresh summer salad, cookies, and a meat entree.  The point is, there is no limit to what you can do with herbs.  You can find more detailed recipes for each of the following suggestions on my Marc’s Garden website.

CLICK HERE for the full post and complete list of herbs.

Marc’s Top Ten Culinary Herbs List

1. Basil.  Basil is a very fragrant annual herb (annual: must be planted from seed or picked up from the local garden center each spring).  Most folks associate basil with pesto.  While I’ve certainly made a batch or two, we have discovered a new favorite in our homemade Basil-Lime Mojitos, a perfect and refreshing summer cocktail.  Macerate the basil in a shaker with ice, fresh squeezed lime juice, simple syrup and rum.  Strain into a glass over ice, top with a splash of club soda and a slice of lime.
2. Parsley.  One of my favorite dishes during the summer months is a Lebanese/Middle Eastern Tabbouleh Salad utilizing a load of fresh parsley, vine ripe tomatoes, a hint of mint, and freshly dug onions from the garden.  Nothing tastes fresher than this!
3. Cilantro.  Either you love it or you hate it – I happen to love it.  We most associate cilantro with Mexican cooking, however it is one herb that is heavily used around the globe.  A fresh and vibrant way to feature cilantro in your diet is with Cilantro-Lime Rice; white rice to which you add lime juice, zest and cilantro just before serving. Cilantro is an annual herb that self-seeds very easily.  I have a bed of cilantro that returns every year without any effort on my part.
4. Fennel.  Fennel can be grown for the fennel bulb (considered a vegetable),or the fernlike fronds and seeds (the herb)–it all depends on the variety of fennel you plant.  One creative and tasty way to use fennel seed is in Fennel Cookies.  Fennel has a mild licorice flavor and when added to a common shortbread cookie dough (2-3 tablespoons), creates an amazing treat.
5. Mint.  Mint is an aggressive perennial that is best contained in a large pot.  You can find a number of varieties at your local garden center with the most common being peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, apple mint, and orange mint.  Although we prefer basil in our mojitos, mint is the herb commonly featured in this cocktail.  At my house mint usually finds its way into Mint Water.  Simply add a few sprigs of mint to a glass bottle filled with water and let it sit out in the sun for the afternoon.  Strain and chill for a fresh alternative to plain water.
6. Rosemary.  Like the fennel, I have used rosemary in cookies.  Rosemary is a woody and piney herb that pairs well with dark meats.  If you like to bake, I suggest trying Rosemary Focaccia.  This is a yeast bread that, served warm right out of the oven, makes a great accompanyment to a hot soup, stew, or chili.  The full recipe is on my website.
7. Tarragon.  A decorative bottle with vinegar, a herb sprig or two, a clove of garlic, and a few peppercorns looks great on a kitchen shelf or windowsill.  Herb vinegars are very easy to make, can be used for decoration, and can be used in any dish in place of straight vinegar to create more complex flavors in your dish.  Although any herb can be used, Tarragon is my herb of choice. To make herb vinegar, simply heat up the vinegar, pour over herbs, and let cool.  Strain, add to bottle with a fresh sprig for decoration and let sit in a dark location for three weeks.  Experiment by using different types of vinegars, different types of herbs and herb combinations, and by adding additional flavor ingredients like mustard seed, peppercorns, a chili pepper, or clove of garlic.
8. Sage.  Sage is a small, perennial evergreen shrub with fuzzy leaves that is more often used to decorate the garden herb bed rather than for use in the kitchen.  When used in the kitchen, it seems like it’s sole partner is pork.  And so it is in my kitchen. Sage and garlic rubbed pork is a huge favorite in my house.  A pork loin is rubbed, seared and baked (or grilled) with a paste of freshly ground black pepper, kosher salt, garlic and finely chopped sage.  Delicious!  How do you use sage?
9. Chives.  OK, what’s the first thing that popped into your head when you saw “chives?”  I’ll bet there’s a baked potato in there somewhere.  Come-on folks, let’s get creative!  Chives grow like a neglected weed in many backyards and benefits from a heavy cutting.  Add chives to everything.  Add it to salads (potato, pasta, bean or garden).  Chives adds a nice delicate onion flavor to many seafood dishes (like yummy crab cakes).  Throw some in your next batch of cornbread.  Add chives to fresh salad dressings.  Throw the purple flowers into your next salad.  Use chives everywhere.
10. Oregano.  The “pizza” herb!  Beside pizza and pasta sauce-based recipes, you don’t often see oregano used in other dishes.  Well, how about this for a change?  I use oregano throughout the summer months to add flavor to colorful and fresh bean salads.  Try fresh oregano in a black bean salad with chopped cucumber, red bell pepper and spring onions.  Toss with a splash of apple cider vinegar and olive oil, then salt and pepper to taste.  Let sit for a bit so that the flavors meld. ‘Hot and Spicy’ oregano adds a nice zip to the salad but you can certainly use the more common greek oregano.

So there it is, Marc’s Top Ten List of culinary herbs.  Now, I’d like to hear from you.  Do you grow and use herbs in your kitchen?  Which herbs would you add to this list?  How do you use these herbs in your kitchen?  Where do you source fresh and local herbs if you don’t grow them yourself?  I’m always looking for new ideas and perhaps together we can inspire other readers to kick it up with herbs.

Ooops, I ran out of Thyme….

Marc Duquette owns and operates Marc’s Garden when he is not working his day job.  He walks out to the garden in the morning before leaving for work; he walks out to the garden when he returns home and then visits later, after dinner – maybe more than once.   Weekends?  You know where to find him!

  • Stephanie

    Fantastic list and suggestions, Marc. Love the thyme joke at the end ;)

  • Pam

    It is great to see herbs taken seriously! Love the basil drink!

  • Pam

    It is great to see herbs taken seriously! Love the basil drink!

  • Chris Carroll

    hhaha the “thyme” has run out….funny :)
    and the herbs are what is going to go in my garden because they do not need alot of care and will add such freshness to dishes (as I can definitely attest to) even someone with less of a green thumb can handle them. And oh those basil mojitos are the best!…need to keep planting more basil :)

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