University of Maryland Extension

Tips on Cooking with Fresh Herbs

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Cooking with herbs is an art. Although there are no set rules for using them, it’s the interest, imagination, and experimentation of the cook that makes food prepared with fresh herbs more tasty and appetizing.

Herbs are used to enhance flavors; food can become exciting and delicious. Imaginative cooks use special flavorings or seasonings to prepare meals having unusual or distinctive flavors. Herbs are a quick way to add a different flavor to many foods, including soups, sauces, vegetables, salad dressings, meat and vegetable dishes.

  • Use herbs sparingly – the aromatic oils are strong and too much of any flavor can be objectionable.
  • Blend herbs carefully according to the purpose. Have a leading flavor and combine with it two to four less pronounced flavors. Never emphasize more than one of the very strong herbs in a blend. Actually, blends should be so subtle in taste that only folks with discerning palates can tell which herbs have been used.
  • The best way to blend herbs is to heat with unsalted butter or other cooking oils which draws out and extends the flavor of the aromatic oils. If using herbs in salad oil make sure the oil is at room temperature.
  • Cut or chop leaves of fresh herbs very fine. For some purposes, it is best to grind the leaves in a mortar. The more of the cut surface of the herb leaf that is exposed, the more completely the aromatic oil can be absorbed.
  • Remember that dried herbs are two to four time stronger than fresh herbs.
  • Extended cooking can destroy the delicate aroma and flavor of savory herbs.
  • For soups and gravies, ties sprigs of fresh herbs in tiny bunches or bouquets or place ground herbs in cheesecloth bags and add them about one-half hour before cooking is completed. Remove the herbs as soon as you have achieved the desired taste. 
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