The Ultimate Guide to Cooking with Fresh Herbs

Brighten up your meals with our helpful guide for cooking with fresh herbs.

When summer arrives, its time to fire up the grill and load up on picnic-basket favorites. But a good cook will tell you it’s also the best time to shelve that old jar of dried seasoning. Why? Fresh herbs such as basil, cilantro and thyme are at their peak freshness. Check out our best recipes featuring fresh herbs.

Herbs are an easy way to add life to dull dishes. As such, they’re the secret weapon for many professional cooks. These tasty little plants add vitality to every bite. Toss some basil into a caprese salad or garnish tacos with fresh cilantro and your family might just start calling you chef. (Psst! Our food editor James Schend shares how to prep them the right way.)

Herbs come in a variety of forms and flavors, but deciding which to use can be tricky. Follow this helpful guide to learn the best uses for some of summer’s freshest (and finest) ingredients:


Basil.Photo: Shutterstock/Billion Photos

One of the more popular herbs in the United States, basil has many varieties. Perhaps the most common are sweet (Italian) basil and Thai purple basil. Both are floral and clove-like, with powerful sweetness and a hint of pepper. Although most commonly associated with Mediterranean cooking, basil is a fragrant companion to Asian and Indian foods and adds a refreshing balance to spicier dishes.

For maximum flavor and to prevent browning, add basil at the end of cooking. Remove the leaves and discard the stems, as the leaves hold the most flavor. Basil is a delightful accompaniment to summer tomatoes, grilled chicken, curry and mozzarella cheese. Get more recipes for fresh basil.

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Fresh green cilantro, coriander leaves on wooden surfaceKatyaPulina/Shutterstock

Otherwise known as the coriander leaf, cilantro is bright and refreshing with a zesty lemon flavor. Some find it “soapy,” (there’s a scientific reason why!) and American consumers are pretty well divided on whether they love or hate it. The herb is a staple in Latin American and Asian cooking.

Like most herbs, cilantro can be eaten raw or cooked, and it has the ability to bring the dullest sauces to life with its invigorating flavor profile. See for yourself with this herb-packed recipe for Enchilada Sauce or one of our other favorite cilantro recipes.

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tied fresh parsley on wooden surfacePhoto: Shutterstock/ Diana Taliun

Parsley is perhaps the most versatile and popular herb in the world. It has a subtle flavor that adds freshness and bite. Although the leaves hold the most flavor, the stems can be equally potent.

Use it to garnish a soup or toss with summer greens for a crisp salad. It also makes easy seasoning for stocks. For a quick parsley-studded brunch dish, try this Cheese and Fresh Herb Quiche. Parsley pairs perfectly with lemon, butter, pasta and eggs. Find out what else you can do with parsley.

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Fresh green mint leaves in a bowlPhoto: Shutterstock / Anna Kurzaeva

This cool, bright herb has a similar flavor profile to basil. Though it’s most commonly associated with desserts, mint is a key player in savory dishes, such as this flavor-boosted shrimp and feta skillet.

For a more traditional approach, use mint to garnish a fresh fruit arrangement or toss it into fresh lemonade. For a fast and refreshing summer side, try this Minty Watermelon and Cucumber Salad. Get all of our best fresh mint recipes to help you use up that bumper crop.

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RosemaryNataliia K / Shutterstock

Tough and woody, rosemary is a pungent herbal stalk that pairs best with full-flavored and robust meats. The leaves can be used fresh or dried.

Rosemary’s pine-like flavor lends itself to hearty meals like lamb chops, pork tenderloin and roasted potatoes. But don’t let the hearty pairings fool you; rosemary is just as tasty with light summer fare. Whip up these Strawberry-Rosemary Yogurt Pops for your next family BBQ. Get more sweet and savory ideas for rosemary.

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