Any seasoned cook will attest to the fact that fresh herbs transform a dish from cafeteria food to gourmet fare...assuming you know how to use them properly, that is. Here, a guide to the types of herbs most commonly used in cooking, complete with information on how they taste and what to do with them.

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Types of Herbs Cilantro
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1. Cilantro

What it looks like:

At first glance, cilantro looks a lot like Italian parsley; however, cilantro has slightly smaller leaves and thinner, more delicate stems. When in doubt, sniff it: cilantro has a stronger smell than parsley.

How it tastes:

Think of this herb as a more pungent version of parsley. Its flavor is bright, fresh and zesty, with notes of citrus and a subtle tanginess. It’s also worth noting that cilantro is a rather divisive herb: Some folks love the stuff, while others describe it as having an unpleasant soapy taste.

How to use it:

If you’re a fan of the flavor, you’ll find no shortage of ways to make use of cilantro. This herb makes a wonderful garnish for soups, rice dishes, pasta salads and more. It’s also excellent for giving an extra kick to anything from tacos to sandwiches and salads.

Types of Herbs Tarragon
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2. Tarragon

What it looks like:

Tarragon is an elegant-looking herb with leaves that are long, slender and slightly glossy.

How it tastes:

The sweet and subtle anise flavor of this herb can be compared to that of fennel. That said, it has a delicate taste that’s unlikely to overpower a dish, so even those who hate licorice should consider giving tarragon a try.

How to use it:

A staple of classic French cuisine and a key ingredient in bearnaise sauce, tarragon can be used to add complexity and fresh flavor to creamy soups and sauces, as well as mayonnaise-based dishes like chicken or potato salad. Tarragon can be added earlier on in a recipe or used as a garnish with considerable aesthetic appeal—just be sure not to cook it for too long, as prolonged heat can make it taste bitter.

Types of Herbs Sweet Basil
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3. Sweet Basil

What it looks like:

Sweet basil—the most common kind—has bright and glossy teardrop-shaped leaves and green stems. The leaves of sweet basil are also softer and more delicate than its Thai counterpart (but more on that later).

How it tastes:

Basil is a sweet and aromatic herb with a peppery taste that’s accompanied by subtle notes of anise and mint. Chances are you already knew that, though, given that it’s a major part of Italian cuisine and the most popular herb in the U.S. to boot.

How to use it:

Due to its mild flavor and soft leaves, basil is often enjoyed fresh in salads and sandwiches, or as a garnish for soups, pizzas and pasta dishes (to name a few). It’s also the main ingredient in pesto—an Italian sauce that goes well with pretty much everything.

Types of Herbs Thai Basil
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4. Thai Basil

What it looks like:

In terms of appearance, the key difference between Thai basil is that its serrated and slightly elongated leaves are sturdier and can be either purple or green. Plus, while sweet basil is green all over, the stems of Thai basil are almost always purple in color.

How it tastes:

Thai basil has a similar flavor profile to sweet basil, but packs a stronger, spicier punch and a more pronounced licorice taste than its sweet and mild cousin.

How to use it:

As the name suggests, Thai basil is a popular herb in Southeast Asian cuisine. This type of basil is ideal for cooking, since its tough leaves can handle more heat than those of sweet basil, but feel free to use it raw to give salads an extra kick.

Types of Herbs Curly Parsley
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5. Curly Parsley

What it looks like:

The leaves of curly parsley are bright green and (you guessed it) frilly, thus giving it a bushier appearance than the Italian flat-leaf variety.

How it tastes:

Truth be told, curly parsley isn’t big on flavor. In fact, some might say this herb is so mild it borders on bland.

How to use it:

As previously mentioned, curly parsley doesn’t make a big impression on the taste buds. As such, it's primarily used as a garnish to add texture and a pop of color to a finished dish.

Types of Herbs Italian Parsley
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6. Italian Parsley

What it looks like:

Italian parsley is also called flat-leaf parsley—a fact that should clue you into how it looks. Yep, the bright green, serrated leaves on this type of parsley are wide and flat, not curled and bushy.

How it tastes:

Unlike curly parsley, Italian parsley has plenty of flavor, boasting a clean, bright taste and peppery bite that’s sure to refresh the palate.

How to use it:

Italian parsley is a go-to garnish: Chop it up and sprinkle it on top of pilafs, pasta dishes, stews, curries or just about anything else that could benefit from a hit of light, garden-fresh flavor. We also recommend trying Italian parsley in place of basil for a perkier take on classic pesto sauce.

Types of Herbs Sorrel
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7. Sorrel

What it looks like:

Sorrel is a perennial herb with vibrant, emerald-green (and sometimes red-veined) leaves that can be slender and arrow-shaped, small and bell-shaped or tapered, depending on the variety. Due to its leafy appearance, it can be mistaken for spinach and is sometimes sold alongside other such greens in the grocery store, as opposed to in the herb section.

How it tastes:

Herbaceous, slightly astringent and intensely sour, sorrel is guaranteed to make you pucker. In fact, its bright, acidic flavor is so zingy and tart that it can either lend balance or completely overwhelm a dish depending on how you use it.

How to use it:

Sorrel is a bold and seriously sour herb that, when used sparingly, can elevate any dish that would benefit from a squeeze of lemon. As such, it’s a good fit for rich and creamy soups and pastas, and decadent, savory egg dishes. It’s also the star ingredient in sorrel sauce—a classic French sauce that’s often paired with salmon (but works well with many types of fish and chicken).

Types of Herbs Oregano
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8. Oregano

What it looks like:

Oregano has flat, oval leaves—either fuzzy or smooth—and bears a strong resemblance to its close relative, marjoram. The key difference when it comes to telling these two herbs apart is that oregano tends to be olive-green, while marjoram leaves have a slightly gray hue.

How it tastes:

Oregano is a particularly pungent herb with an earthy, savory flavor profile that features subtle notes of camphor and a hint of bitterness.

How to use it:

The complex, bold flavor of oregano is best-suited to tomato-based recipes (think: pizza and pasta sauce). It also shines in marinades for lamb, beef or chicken, and can be used fresh as a garnish for hearty vegetable dishes as well.

Types of Herbs Rosemary
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9. Rosemary

What it looks like:

In terms of looks, rosemary is unlike any other herb on our list. In fact—with its thick, branch-like stem and sharp, silvery green needles—you could say that rosemary looks more like something trimmed off a Christmas tree than it does an herb.

How it tastes:

This exceedingly fragrant herb boasts a pine-like aroma to match its unique appearance, as well as a strong lemon-pine flavor that’s woodsy, peppery and somewhat astringent.

How to use it:

Rosemary is a very versatile herb that can be used to flavor roasts, soups and casseroles. It works well with oily fish and poultry, grains and a wide range of vegetables. In other words, you’ve got options.

Types of Herbs Thyme
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10. Thyme

What it looks like:

The appearance of thyme differs slightly depending on whether it's English, French or German thyme. Both English and French thyme have leaves that are tiny, green and pointed, which are attached to a reddish stem. German thyme, on the other hand, is completely green in color and has rounded leaves.

How it tastes:

The flavor profile of thyme is typically described as minty, earthy and lemony—much like rosemary, but slightly less potent. Nevertheless, the sharp, woodsy taste of thyme is strong enough to make an impression when used on its own or in conjunction with other herbs.

How to use it:

Thyme is an essential ingredient in two popular French seasoning blends (i.e., herbs de Provence and bouquet garni), an important component in Middle Eastern favorites like za’atar, and a go-to herb for adding flavor and depth to a wide range of savory recipes from any region. When cooking with thyme, you can pick the dainty leaves from the thick, twig-like stem and chop them up, or opt to use whole sprigs instead—either way, the finished dish will be infused with the herb’s signature flavor.

Types of Herbs Dill
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11. Dill

What it looks like:

Dill is a green herb with soft, feathery fronds that sometimes develop yellow-green blossoms at the tip. Due to the delicate nature of its fronds, dill is easily bruised and should be handled with care.

How it tastes:

A fresh-tasting, aromatic herb—dill boasts a grassy flavor balanced with sweet and subtle notes of anise. Many compare the taste of dill to that of caraway, though the former is considerably milder than the latter.

How to use it:

It’s best to avoid cooking with dill, as too much heat will render this herb flavorless. Instead, use small sprigs of dill as an elegant and aromatic garnish on a finished dish, or an interesting addition to green salads. This herb is also a common feature in savory spreads, yogurt dips (think: tzatziki) and cold, but creamy sides like potato salad.

Types of Herbs Marjoram
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12. Marjoram

What it looks like:

Marjoram looks nearly identical to its cousin oregano, with leaves that are flat, green and oval-shaped. Don’t be fooled by the similar appearance, though—these two herbs have very little in common when it comes to how they taste.

How it tastes:

Unlike oregano, marjoram boasts a flavor profile that’s delicate, mild and slightly sweet. (Marjoram does have a bit of spice to it, but it’s a warm and gentle kind.) Notes of pine and citrus are also present in this aromatic herb.

How to use it:

Marjoram can be found both fresh and dry, with the latter being the most potent. To protect the delicate flavor of fresh marjoram, avoid extensive heating (i.e., add it towards the end of the cooking process). As with oregano, marjoram is a perfect match for tomato-based dishes and a popular seasoning for meat to boot.

Types of Herbs Savory
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13. Savory

What it looks like:

Savory—another member of the mint family, along with oregano and marjoram—is a delicate herb with small, light green leaves and an almost vine-like appearance.

How it tastes:

There are two types of savory—winter and summer savory—and both taste quite different. Winter savory, the less common of the two, has a robust, earthy flavor that’s significantly stronger than its summer counterpart, whereas the relatively subdued taste of summer savory is best described as peppery, bright and ever-so slightly sweet.

How to use it:

When using savory to season food, it’s important to consider which type you’re working with. The pungent taste and aroma of winter savory is ideal for adding flavor to stuffing, stew, roasted root vegetables and other hearty recipes. Summer savory, on the other hand, works best with lighter fare, like egg dishes, salads and summer vegetables.

Types of Herbs Chive
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14. Chive

What it looks like:

At first glance, chives look a whole lot like blades of freshly cut grass. Upon closer inspection, though, you’ll notice that the light-green stems of this herb are cylindrical and hollow.

How it tastes:

Given that chives are related to onion and garlic, it should come as no surprise that this herb boasts a similar flavor profile. Indeed, chives are known for their mild, onion taste and are often compared to leeks—another mellow member of the fam.

How to use it:

The entire stem of these bulbless wonders is edible and downright delicious when used as a garnish. Sprinkle chives on scrambled eggs, baked potatoes, seafood dishes and just about any other savory dish you can think of.

Types of Herbs Sage
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15. Sage

What it looks like:

This herb has white-green, oval-shaped leaves that are slightly fuzzy and oh-so soft.

How it tastes:

Sage has a rich, savory flavor with hints of eucalyptus, lemon and mint. (Hint: There’s nothing subtle about this fragrant herb.)

How to use it:

As previously mentioned, sage has a habit of making its presence known. For this reason, it’s often featured in rich sauces and decadent meat dishes, or paired with copious amounts of butter. (Yum.) It’s also worth noting that, despite its seemingly delicate texture, sage can handle long cooking times—so feel free to add it early on in any recipe that calls for it.

Types of Herbs Chervil
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16. Chervil

What it looks like:

Green, delicate and leafy—this tender spring herb bears a close resemblance to Italian parsley, which makes sense since chervil (i.e., French parsley) is actually a member of the same family.

How it tastes:

Some describe chervil as a cross between tarragon and parsley, in that it has the fresh, bright character of the latter, but with a warmer and more understated flavor profile that includes notes of anise.

How to use it:

The dried herb is a common component in French seasoning blends, while the delicate flavor of fresh chervil makes a lovely addition to spring salads, omelets and other egg dishes.

Types of Herbs Mint
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17. Mint

What it looks like:

Mint is a broad category that refers to any of the aromatic herbs that come from the Mentha plant, but spearmint is the kind most commonly used in cooking. Spearmint has jagged, green leaves that may or may not be curled at the edges, but always feel rough and slightly fuzzy to the touch.

How it tastes:

Mint is a fresh, sweet tasting herb that’s known for the tingly chill it leaves in the mouth—an effect of the menthol content in the leaves.

How to use it:

There are myriad ways to use mint in savory and sweet recipes alike. It serves as a key flavoring ingredient in an array of desserts, ranging from baked goods to ice cream. Mint is also a favorite in marinades and sauces for lamb dishes, and frequently makes an appearance in beverages both hot and cold. (Mojitos and mint juleps come to mind.)

Types of Herbs Bay Leaf
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18. Bay Leaf

What it looks like:

Fresh bay leaves are green with a glossy sheen on top and a paler underside, while dried bay leaves have a muted green color and more uniform appearance.

How it tastes:

Fresh bay leaves are considerably stronger than dried ones (so adjust your recipe accordingly), but this sharp and bitter herb isn't particularly tasty on its own. Once simmered in liquid, however, bay leaves develop a more pleasant aromatic quality and subtle minty flavor.

How to use it:

Bay leaves are not meant to be consumed. Instead, this herb is used early on in the cooking process to add complexity and a barely-there menthol bite—typically in recipes that call for plenty of liquid and gentle simmering. As such, bay leaf is most often used when preparing soups, curries and the like. Just be sure to discard the leaves before serving.

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