Herbs have been used as a treatment for several medical ailments and diseases since ancient times. There is a deep connection between humans and herbs that goes way back in time. Generation after generation, human beings have greatly relied on the use of different herbs as a source of good health and well-being.
Several anthropologists believe that people began making healing ointments and oils out of numerous plants and herbs as early as 7000 B.C. According to other historical records, plants were the only medicines that were used before 500 B.C. since they were believed to consist of exceptional medicinal qualities and even magical powers.
Later during the period from the 1600s to 1700s, the European colonists who settled in North America brought with them some of the most useful and important plant seeds to the New World. Some of the herbs that they introduced include chamomile, thyme, lavender, calendula, parsley, and mint, to name a few.
Table of Contents
- Herbs – The Naturally Delicious Superfood
- Herb Popularity Chart
- Types of Herbs
Herbs – The Naturally Delicious Superfood
While herbs are typically associated with wellness and health due to their inherent healing and restorative properties, they are an excellent addition to food dishes and recipes. Not only do they take dietary health to a whole new level, but herbs are also a great way to add a lot of flavor, aroma, and taste to your food.
You can use both fresh herbs and dried herbs to a variety of food recipes; either way, they will take the taste and smell of the food to an entirely different level. In other words, herbs allow you to enjoy some fresh-from-the-earth taste right on your dining table.
Herb Popularity Chart
Here’s a chart illustrating the popularity of different herbs. As you can see, mint is by far the most popular herb based monthly searches online.
Types of Herbs
There is a whole list of culinary herbs you can grow in your garden. These herbs are amazingly handy to have in your kitchen pantry.
Learn about some of the most common and popular herb varieties and add some fresh, earthy flavor to your soups, stews, and pasta!
Scientific Name: Petroselinum crispum
Native to the central Mediterranean region, particularly Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Portugal, southern Italy and Morocco, parsley is one of the most widely grown herbs in the world. Over the years, the cultivation of parsley has also become popular in Europe where it is commonly used as a spice, vegetable, and herb.
Parsley is a hardy biennial herb that grows in two distinct forms – flat leaf and moss curled. The latter is popularly used for garnishing given how it produces a tightly curled rosette of leaves whereas the former type has flat leaves and is preferred for cooking since it releases more flavor.
It has a mild, bitter flavor that greatly enhances the flavor of soups, stews, casseroles, and salads. Parsley is also consumed for its natural anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that boost the immune system and aids in digestion.
Scientific Name: Mentha
Mint is an extremely hardy perennial plant and its cultivation is widely distributed across North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa. It is one of the most aromatic and fragrant herbs. This is why the essential oil from mint is popularly used in perfumed scents and fragrances.
This herb has a fresh, minty flavor which makes it ideal to be used in drinks like mojitos and mint juleps. Fresh mint is usually preferred over the dry variety because of its aromatic, warm flavor followed by a sweet aftertaste. Many people brew fresh mint leaves to make different types of teas and beverages.
Mint has long been used as an herbal remedy to treat several ailments like chest pains, stomach aches, nausea, etc. In fact, practitioners of traditional medicine have found evidence that mint might just be able to treat irritable bowel syndrome.
Scientific Name: Anethum graveolens
This is quite a tall herb with super thin and fine leathery foliage that often ranges from dark green to bluish-green in color. It is widely grown in Eurasia, where it is commonly used as an herb in foods for its incredible aroma and flavor.
Dill is extremely popular as a culinary herb in European cuisine, especially in regions including Russia, Finland, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and Ukraine. The finely cut, soft, and delicate dill leaves make an excellent addition to dishes featuring fish, lamb, potatoes, sour cream, and poultry. It has a slightly bitter and sharp taste that provides a flavorful kick to the food.
Dill has a surprising amount of health benefits, some of which include low cholesterol levels, relief from insomnia and diarrhea, ease of digestion and relief from flatulence, to name a few.
Scientific Name: Ocimum basilicum
Also known as ‘great basil’ and ‘Saint Joseph’s wort’, basil is one of the most popular and widely consumed culinary herbs. It is native to tropical regions extending from Southeast Asia to central Africa.
Basil is an annual herb that has an anise-like flavor and a very intense clove-like aroma. The leaves of this herb have a warm, spicy flavor that makes it ideal for pesto, salads, sauces, soups and various meat-based dishes. Fresh basil, in particular, is highly aromatic and is often used as a garnish on most foods to greatly enhance their smell and aroma.
This herb is often associated with several beliefs and rituals that have significantly added to its popularity. For example, the French call it the ‘royal herb’ whereas ancient Greeks and Egyptians placed the herb in the mouth of the deceased because they strongly believed that it will open the gates of heaven for the dead.
Scientific Name: Salvia officinalis
This is a perennial, evergreen shrub that is also known as garden sage and common sage. It is a member of the mint family and is particularly native to the Mediterranean region. Sage has a long, rich history and has been grown for centuries due to its incredible healing properties and culinary significance. Interestingly, sage was also used in ancient times to ward off evil and as a treatment for snakebites.
For culinary purposes, fresh sage leaves make an excellent addition to sauces, pasta, poultry dressings, seasonings, and salads. Since it belongs to the mint family, it releases a very strong, minty flavor that makes it ideal to be infused in herbal teas and beverages.
Sage-infused tea is consumed as an effective remedy to treat various gastric ailments, throat and mouth infections, as well as brain disorders.
Scientific Name: Rosmarinus officinalis
This woody perennial, evergreen shrub has to be one of the most flavourful and aromatic herbs. It is native to the Mediterranean region and is a member of the mint family. The word ‘rosemary’ comes from the Latin dictionary where ‘ros’ means ‘dew’ and ‘marinus’ translates to ‘sea’ in the English language. Together they mean “dew of the sea”.
Rosemary has an incredibly delightful scent and with a strong, astringent flavor, making it an excellent option for stuffing chicken, turkey, and lamb. It is increasingly popular in its native Mediterranean cuisine where it is typically roasted with vegetables and meats.
Other than culinary uses, rosemary is a super powerful natural remedy for relieving pain and soothing indigestion. The aroma of rosemary greatly helps relieve everyday stress, calm the mind, and release the anxiety.
Scientific Name: Thymus vulgaris
This is a delicate, Mediterranean perennial herb that has been used since the time of Ancient Egyptians and Greeks who used it for embalming purposes as well as a source of courage. Over time, the consumption of thyme spread throughout Europe, especially due to the Romans who used the herb to purify their rooms.
Thyme is very popular in Italian, Mediterranean, and French cuisines and is often paired with other herbs like parsley and garlic in order to increase the complexity of flavors. While it is used in fresh as well as a dried form, the former variety is more flavorful and releases an incredible scent.
This herb is an excellent source of antioxidants like vitamin A that is essential for nail, eye, and skin health. It also consists of anti-biotic and antiseptic properties that help combat against coughs, colds, and allergies.
Cilantro / Coriander
Scientific Name: Coriandrum sativum
Cilantro and coriander come from the plant species — Coriandrum sativum.
Cilantro is an herb (see above). Coriander, is usually referred to coriander seeds.
This has to be the most commonly and popularly consumed herb all over the world due to its amazingly versatile flavor profile and aroma. It is known by two key names, coriander and cilantro, due to the difference in its harvesting and usage. If the leaves are harvested, it is referred to as ‘cilantro’ and if the seeds are harvested, it is called coriander.
The taste of cilantro is described as lemon-like with a subtle tartness while its seeds consist of a spicy kick of flavor. This herb is great for salads, salsas, vegetable and meat-based dishes. It is native to various regions spanning from Northern Africa and Southern Europe to South-western Asia.
Cilantro is also referred to as a ‘revitalizing herb’ that helps relieve inflammation, aid in digestion, and reduce stress in the liver.
Scientific Name: Foeniculum vulgare
This herb is native to the Mediterranean region and is extremely flavorful and aromatic. It is a hardy perennial herb that belongs to the carrot family and has become highly naturalized, especially on dry soils on river banks and near the sea coasts.
Fennel is a highly prized herb that has been used since ancient times by Greeks and Romans who commonly used it as food and medicine. Fennel leaves have a sweetish flavor with a mild spice kick and a very earthy scent. They are typically used in salads, soups, and meat-based dishes.
In terms of health and nutrition, fennel is highly rich in protein, calcium, magnesium, vitamins, and iron. It significantly improves bone health, maintains blood pressure, fights inflammation, and boosts the overall metabolism of the body.
Scientific Name: Matricaria chamomilla
This herb comes from daisy-like flowers and is the most popular herb choice for herbal teas, especially in Europe and the United States. Chamomile tea isn’t only one of the world’s most widely consumed herbal teas but the herb has also been used since ancient times as a treatment for upset stomach, inflammation, and high fever.
The term ‘chamomile’ has been derived from the Greek word ‘chamomaela’ that translates to ‘ground apple’ in English. This is used as a reference to its fresh, apple-like scent.
Chamomile has long been associated with a multitude of medicinal benefits including improved sleep quality, better digestive system, protection against certain types of cancer, improved heart health, and controlled blood sugar levels.
Scientific Name: Artemisia dracunculus
Also known as Estragon, tarragon is a perennial herb that belongs to the sunflower family. It is cultivated for medical and culinary purposes, particularly, across much of North America and Eurasia. This herb has a strong anise-like flavor, making it a classic seasoning for chicken, egg dishes, soups, stews, seafood as well as vegetable-based dishes.
Tarragon is considered to be one of the four ‘fines herbes’ of the French cuisine and is the key flavoring component of Béarnaise sauce.
This amazing herb is a great source of essential minerals and vitamins like magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, and iron. Tarragon is also often freshly brewed to make herbal tea or any other hot beverage which is believed to relieve stress and anxiety. Chewing on fresh tarragon leaves also helps numb mouth pain and kill germs that lead to bad breath.
Scientific Name: Lavandula
This beautiful and striking purple plant is especially used as a condiment and has sprung from the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, China, Eastern Africa, Southwest Asia and Europe. Lavender is a bushy perennial with needle-like foliage and balsam-like scent.
The word ‘lavender’ has come from the Old French word, ‘lavandre’ which refers to the use of plants as infusions. This plant has a very high commercial value for its essential oils and extracts that consist of antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. The oils are also popularly used cosmetics, balms, perfumes, and salves.
It is also one of the most versatile and effective herbal remedies that help treat sleep disturbances, insomnia, and anxiety. In culinary history, the lavender jam was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth and since then, this herb has been used as a great flavorful and aromatic addition to various food dishes and recipes. Many people also use these purple lavender flowers as decorations for desserts and drinks.
Scientific Name: Allium schoenoprasum
This is a perennial herb that belongs to the same family as leeks, garlic, and onion. It is highly widespread across North America, Asia, and most of Europe. Chives grow in the form of clumps in the underground bulbs and result in round and hollow leaves that are super fine in shape and texture. Chives are popularly paired with sour cream and are considered to be one of the finest herbs in French cuisine. This herb also goes really well with salads, eggs, soups, potatoes, and other vegetable dishes.
Although the cultivation of chives began during the Middle Age, their use and consumption go back to some 5,000 years ago. Ancient Romans believed that chives help cure sunburns and sore throat and that eating chives helps control blood pressure.
Scientific Name: Laurus nobilis
Bay leaves are probably the most aromatic of all the herbs and are best known for their incredible scent that smells like a mixture of mints, cloves, and balsam. This fragrance coupled with a sharp, peppery taste has made this herb quite popular among various food dishes like rich, hearty stews and soups.
This herb comes in various varieties including California bay leaf, Indonesian bay leaf, West Indian bay leaf and Indian bay leaf. The fragrance of all these bay leaf varieties is more prominent and noticeable than the taste. It has also been used by ancient Greeks for its amazing flavor and is now featured in a variety of classic French dishes and European cuisines.
Scientific Name: Eryngium foetidum
Often confused with its cousin herb ‘cilantro’, culantro is a different and an unusual kind of herb with long, serrated leaves that look like lettuce. It is a tropical perennial herb that is also known by other names like long coriander, Mexican coriander, and shadow beni.
Although cilantro is cultivated worldwide in temperate climates, it is particularly native to South America, Central America, and Mexico. In terms of flavor and aroma, it has a much stronger profile as compared to cilantro so it is used in smaller amounts in cooking.
Cilantro is popularly used for marinating, seasoning, and garnishing purposes especially in the Caribbean, Vietnamese, and Indian cuisines. Since it has a great ability to retain good flavor and color, culantro is highly valuable in the dried herb industry.
Scientific Name: Anthriscus cerefolium
Chervil is a delicate annual herb with fine green leaves that are highly similar to finely cut parsley leaves. Perhaps, that is why it is also known as ‘French Parsley’. This herb is native to the Caucasus but later became popular throughout most of Europe.
This plant produces light green and flat lacy leaves that have a taste and aroma similar to that of anise. This makes Chervil a great option for enhancing the flavor of chicken, salads, eggs, vegetables, and fish. It is quite a staple herb in the French cuisine and is also one of the four traditional French ‘fines herbes’.
Aside from being popular in the culinary world, chervil is also used as a useful digestive aid, for lowering blood pressure, curing hiccups, and as a mild stimulant.
Scientific Name: Satureja Montana
This is a perennial, semi-evergreen herb with dark green leaves and beautiful summer flowers. It is native to warm temperate regions of Africa, the Mediterranean, and Southern Europe. Winter savory can usually be found growing in old walls, alkaline soils, on rocky mountain slopes, dry banks, and hill slides.
This herb is one of the most delicious and spicy culinary herbs that add intense flavor and aroma to any recipe. Since it belongs to the mint family, it carries the similar fresh, minty flavor which makes it ideal for salad dressings and to flavor liqueurs. It also holds a reputation for pairing really well with meat and beans, as well as in sauces and soups.
Winter savory contains a multitude of health benefits due to its antiseptic, digestive, carminative, and aromatic properties. It is often used as a cure for flatulence, colic, nausea, sore throat, diarrhea, and bronchial congestion.
Scientific Name: Mentha × piperita
This type of mint is a cross between spearmint and watermint, making it a hybrid mint variety. It is cultivated in various regions of the world but is indigenous to the Middle East and Europe. This herb naturally occurs in moist habitats that typically include drainage ditches and streamsides.
Peppermint is quite popular as a breath-freshening agent as well as an effective aid for digestion-related problems. It is commonly used in the culinary world as a garnish for salads, and in various cold beverages for its strong and refreshing minty aroma and taste.
Peppermint oil is also used by many people to treat irritable bowel syndrome where it has shown to reduce its effects to a great extent. Not only this, but peppermint herbal tea is also famous for treating digestion problems and other similar health ailments.
Scientific Name: Stevia rebaudiana
Stevia is best known as a natural sweetener that is extracted from the plant species, Stevia rebaudiana. This herb is native to Paraguay and Brazil and is part of the sunflower family. In its native regions, the leaves of the stevia plant are typically used to sweeten local teas and medicines.
You can use stevia as a natural substitute for sugar in teas and a variety of sweet treats. The best part about its natural sweetness is that it contains absolutely no amount of calories. In traditional medicine, stevia has also been found to be a great treatment for stomach problems, burns, and colic.
According to a research article published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2017, stevia also has the potential to treat endocrine diseases like hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.
Scientific Name: Cymbopogon
Also known as barbed wire grass and silky heads, lemongrass is a perennial that looks similar to a grass-like plant due to its long and slender foliage. It is one of the most popular culinary herbs featured in most Asian cuisines.
Lemongrass consists of a strong lemony and citrusy flavor which makes it ideal to use in a variety of stews, soups, and curries. Lemongrass herbal tea is also particularly famous and is often consumed as a remedy for coughs, sore throat, and digestion problems.
Lemongrass stalks are an excellent source of key antioxidants, like beta-carotene which protects eye inflammation and cancer. It is often consumed as a tea to relieve anxiety in Brazilian folk medicine.
Scientific Name: Monarda didyma
Scientific Name: Origanum vulgare
This is a loose, open perennial plant that belongs to the mint family and is also known as ‘wild marjoram’. Oregano is native to the Mediterranean region, temperate Western and Southwestern Eurasia. Although it is a perennial, it can also be grown as an annual plant in colder climates.
Oregano is one of the most common and a staple herb in almost all of the Italian-American cuisine where it is popularly used as seasoning pasta and pizza. Interestingly, this herb gained significant popularity after World War II after which the soldiers came back with this weird craving for the ‘pizza herb’.
Oregano leaves also release distilled oils that are used as an effective remedy for indigestion, respiratory ailments, skin conditions, and fungal infections.
Scientific Name: Origanum majorana
Marjoram is a very tender annual plant with gray-green, velvety leaves that are really soft to the touch. It is also called pot marjoram and belongs to the oregano family. Due to its similarity with oregano, both the herbs are often used interchangeably in some Middle Eastern countries.
Marjoram is native to Southern Turkey and Cyprus and was used as a popular symbol of happiness a long time back by the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. It was often used in love spells where women used to keep marjoram leaves under their pillow in hopes of finding her future spouse.
In today’s time, this herb plays a key role in the Middle Eastern and Italian cuisine. Its flavor is quite similar to that oregano, except a few complicated flavor notes that are described as ‘sweeter and more delicate’ by most people. The herb is best suited for light and mild dishes due to its delicate flavor profile.
Scientific Name: Melissa officinalis
This is an upright herbaceous, bushy perennial with light green leaves and a coarse texture. It belongs to the mint family and is native to Central Asia, south-central Europe, Iran, and the Mediterranean basin. However, the cultivation of lemon balm has been naturalized throughout America.
The medicinal use of lemon balm goes back to some 2,000 years where it was used for medicinal purposes by Greeks and Romans. It has also been deemed to be the “elixir of life” by ancient herbalists and physicians due to its ability to reduce anxiety, alleviate insomnia, treat gastrointestinal problems, and even possibly cure the Alzheimer’s disease.
Lemon balm is also quite popularly used as a culinary herb to flavor ice creams, and both hot and iced teas. It is also often paired with sweet fruit dishes and is the key ingredient in ‘lemon balm pesto’. The essential oil from lemon balm plant is often featured in perfumes for its incredibly rich lemon-like scent.
Scientific Name: Myrtus
This herb holds a great historical significance and is mentioned a number of times in the bible, as well as in the ancient mythology of Greece and Rome. Myrtle is a hardy evergreen shrub with a strong fragrance and dark green foliage. It is native to the Middle East, the Mediterranean region, and North Africa.
Myrtle has always been widely valued in traditional herbal medicine and has been commonly prescribed for fever and pain by numerous ancient physicians. Myrtle essential oil is also used to combat several skin conditions.
Dried myrtle leaves are commonly used in Turkey to prepare a soothing herbal tea that helps diabetics in lowering their blood pressure. In terms of their culinary use, myrtle leaves are used like bay leaves due to their intense, spicy flavor that is similar to allspice powder.
Scientific Name: Aloysia citrodora
Also known as lemon bee-brush, this herb is native to the western regions of South America. It was initially brought to Europe by the Portuguese and the Spanish people.
Lemon verbena is a woody perennial shrub with pointed leaves and a very powerful lemon-like scent. It is often used as a great substitute for lemon in dishes that require a strong lemon taste, for instance, salad dressings, beverages, vegetable marinades, and poultry dishes. Many people also feature lemon verbena in flavored sorbets and herbal teas.
This herb has several impressive health benefits like fighting inflammation, easing digestion, promoting weight loss, relieving nasal congestion, and preventing muscle damage, to name a few. The strong lemony scent of this herb has also been said to be really beneficial for relaxing tensed nerves.
Scientific Name: Myrrhis odorata
Cicely is an herbaceous perennial plant that is also known as sweet chervil, sweet cicely, and garden myrrh. The term ‘Myrrhis’ in its genus name is derived from a Greek word that refers to the aromatic oils from Asia, whereas ‘Odorata’ is a Latin word that means ‘scented’.
This plant produces fern-like leaves that are feathery and finely divided with white-colored patches. When the leaves are crushed, they release a strong smell that is quite similar to that of aniseed. It is native to the mountains of central and southern Europe but has been naturalized in various parts of the world, particularly, in grasslands, woodland margins, river banks, and cultivated areas.
Cicely leaves are used in both raw and cooked form, either way, their taste, and aroma is highly reminiscent to that of anise. They also have a rich history of being used as a very effective medicinal herb.
While many people associate the flavor of spearmint with chewing gum, it is also a great flavor enhancer for teas, herbal soups, and salad dressings.
Now that you know some of the most common and popular varieties of herbs, you can grow your favorite herbs indoors and enjoy a fresh year-round supply. Fresh herbs not only truly enhance the flavor and aroma of the food but they also take it to a whole new level!