Different types of herbs are a very intricate part of Indian cuisine from time immemorial. Herbs are a broadly distributed and comprehensive group of plants devoured for macronutrients. It has savoury or aromatic properties that are used for flavouring and garnishing food, for medicinal purposes or for fragrances.
Imagine if the herbs no longer exist on earth. The taste of your food will be so bland. Herbs enhance the flavour of most dishes, and they can also be used in medicines, cosmetics and even in our teas. The fact is that humans and herbs have a strong connection going back centuries. Here, we will discuss what herbs are and their uses and their different types.
What are herbs?
Herbs are the leaf part of a plant which is used in cooking- either fresh or dried. Any other part of a plant, which is normally dried, is referred to as spices. For example, barks (cinnamon), and berries (black pepper). Herbs are a great way to add flavour, colour and aroma to any kind of dish or drink, either sweet or savoury dish. Besides, flavour and aroma, they also have health-promoting properties. Thus, herbs have a diversity of uses including culinary, medicinal, fragrances and in some cases, spiritual too.
History Of Herbs
Our ancestors used herbs due to their antibacterial properties. People used them for healing ointments to oil. Herbs in history were grown by several of the early immigrants to season their meals as well as for their medicinal powers. Herbs were commonly utilised by American Indians for tanning and colouring leather. Some of the herbs which they brought included curly parsley, thyme, chamomile, mint, and many more.
Ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus divides the plant world into trees, shrubs and herbs. Herbs came to be studied in three groups, namely pot herbs (e.g. onions), sweet herbs (e.g. basil), and salad herbs (e.g. wild celery).
During the Middle Ages, when humoral theory-guided medicines, it was put forward that foodstuffs process the humoral temperaments of people. Parsley and sage were frequently used together in medieval cookery, for example in chicken broth, which had developed a reputation as a therapeutic food by the fourteenth century.
As time goes by, herbs become a natural, delicious superfood with healing and therapeutic properties. When added to dishes, it adds an intense flavour with an endless aroma to make your mouth drool.
Cooking with herbs
You are only limited by your imagination when it comes to using herbs in the kitchen as they can be added to any recipe. Try adding herbs to:
- Stews and casseroles
- Salad and salad dressings
- Deserts and beverages.
Uses of Herbs
As Culinary Herb
Herbs that are used in flavouring the food are called Culinary herbs. These are differentiated from vegetables in that, like spices, they are used in small amounts and flavour rather than food substances.
Some plants are used as both herbs and spices, like dill weed or coriander leaves and seeds. There are also some herbs, like those in the mint family, which are used for culinary and medicinal. Some of the culinary herbs are Stevia, Lemongrass, Garlic, Bay leaf, and Parsley, Oregano.
Some herbs can be infused in water to make herbal teas. Typically, dried leaves, flowers or seeds are used for teas, and dried herbs are used similarly. Herbal teas tend to be made from aromatic tea might not contain caffeine, and are not typically mixed with milk. For example, chamomile tea, or mint tea. Herbal teas can be a great way to relax.
As Medicinal Herb
Herbs were used in pre-historic medicine. The Ayurveda medicinal system is predominantly based on the use of herbs. Medicinal use of herbs is also found in western culture too. Some of the medicinal plants are Feverfew, Jewelweed, and Elderberry. Herbs such as river mint, wattle and eucalyptus were used for coughs, fever and headaches.
The use of herbal cosmetics dates back to six centuries ago in European and western countries. Mixtures and pastes were usually concocted to whiten the face. Herbal cosmetics come in many forms, like face creams, scrubs, lipstick, natural fragrances, powders, body oils and sunscreens. Ayurvedic oils are widely used in India and cherished for their natural health-giving properties.
Characteristics Features of herbs
1. Lack of woody stem-
Herbs are plants whose stem is soft and green and which shows little growth or no growth of wood.
2. The limited life span of stems and leaves-
Herbs can be annual, perennial or biennial. Herbs have leaves and stem that dies at end of the growing season to soil level but parts of the plant survive under or close to the ground from season to season.
3. Production of secondary metabolite
All plants produce chemical compounds as part of their metabolic activities. These are divided into Primary metabolites, like sugar and fats, found in all plants, and secondary metabolites compound not crucial for basic function found in a smaller range of plants. It is the secondary metabolites and pigments that can have therapeutic actions in humans and can be refined to produce drugs.
4. Small size
Herbs are mostly smaller in size with very few exceptions like the Musa genus, to which the banana belongs.
Importance of Herbs
Herbs are accustomed to preparing exotic, gourmet dishes, and cultural meals. Herbs add flavour and aroma to the food.
Herbs are also used in producing various medicines and have a long history as herbal remedies.
Herb’s moderate dietary levels of sugar and sodium as the calories in herbs are far less than in loaves of bread and fried foods.
Many herbs possess phytochemicals. Phytochemicals usually have antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-fungal properties. Sick animal fodder on these plants to heal themselves.
Herbs also help in getting sleep, regaining lost, memory and relieving many other sicknesses.
Flowering herbs like lavender, sage, rosemary, and bee balm are also often used for decoration in gardens and parks. They grow rapidly and take well to shaping with careful pruning and clipping.
Health benefits of Herbs
Consuming herbs helps to prevent and manage heart disease, cancer and diabetes. It also helps in reducing blood clotting and prevents anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour properties. The following are some known benefits:
Garlic, fenugreek and lemongrass help in cholesterol.
Garlic is useful for people with mildly elevated blood pressure.
Fenugreek can help in controlling blood sugar and insulin activity.
Garlic, onion, chives, basil, leeks, mint and many other herbs can help protect against cancer.
Herbs are rich in antioxidants, especially cloves, cinnamon, sage, and oregano.
Fresh herbs are rich in higher antioxidant levels compared to processed or dried herbs. Herbs are used to harness their health benefits aspects. To do this add the fresh herbs at the end of cooking or before or as you serve the meals to preserve their antioxidant property.
Different Types of Herbs and How to Use Them
Scientific name: Ocimum basilicum
Basil is a member of the mint family have glossy, deep green, pointed leaves and a sweet and savoury flavour with hints of anise, mint and peppery taste. Different kinds of basil include sweet basil, Thai basil, lemon basil and holy basil (tulsi).
Its edible parts are leaves and young stems. Basil is used in both dried and fresh form to give the dishes flavour like in Italian sauces, meat dishes to Asian curries. Basil plant is native to Southeast Africa and Africa.
It makes a great element for garnishing. It also provides medicinal benefits with its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K.
Scientific name: Mentha arvensis
Mint has a subtly sweet flavour and releases a distinct cooling sensation due to the menthol in the herb. This mint family is widely distributed across the world. Commonly named as Mintha and pudina.
Mint is the aromatic and fragrant herb that intensifies the flavour of foods. It is used for a variety of culinary and medicinal purposes. Mint has tender, bright green leaves that it is used in beverages like mojitos, mint juleps and dishes like Vietnamese pho and Thai stir fry. It is also found in essential oil, fragrances and perfumed scents.
The fresh taste of mint is warm with a hint of sweetness, making it favourable for teas and beverages. Its growing requirements are partial shade, mildly acidic soil, regular pruning, weekly watering and organic fertiliser. Its medicinal properties help in curing stomachaches, chest pain, and nausea. Suitable dishes are salads, drinks, ice cream, tea, and deserts.
Scientific name: Petroselinum crispum
Parsley is a member of the Apiaceae family of plants, a herbaceous herb with a bright, slightly bitter taste that emphasises other flavours. It is commonly added at the end of cooking as garnish.
Parsley has different varieties including flat-leaf parsley (Italian parsley), curly parsley and Japanese parsley (Chinese parsley). Italian parsley provides a peppery taste while curly parsley provides a bland taste. It’s beneficial as it has vitamin K that prevents blood clots. Its growing requirements are the full sun to partial shade, evenly moist and mildly acidic soil, and feeding with slow-release fertiliser before and during planting.
Suitable dishes are foods containing heavy garlic content, grilled meat, roasted chicken/lamb, and vegetable curries of the French cuisine.
Scientific name: Coriandrum sativum
Also known as coriander leaf. It is a citrusy herb with delicate bright green leaves most commonly used fresh and added at end of the cooking process. It is a member of the parsley family. It is commonly used in Mexican and Middle Eastern cuisine, as well as in Indian cuisine too. It can be added in both pre and post preparation of meals.
The seeds of the coriander plant are used to make a ground spice. It can be used in veggies, salads, meats or salsas. It has medicinal properties which help in the digestive system and inflammation. Its growing requirements are partial sun, moist and rich soil, and nurtured water-soluble fertiliser after two weeks of growth. It is suitable for dishes like soups, salads, curries, vegetables, fish and meats.
Scientific name: Origanum vulgare
In Greek, oregano means “joy of the mountain”. Oregano is a fragrant herb in the mint family with a sweet and slightly peppery flavour. Its common names are wild marjoram, sweet marjoram and origanum Majorana. This herb is used mostly in its dried form throughout cooking in dishes like tomato sauce and is a staple in Turkish, Mexican, Greek and Italian cuisine. The herb is native to western and southwestern Eurasia and thrives in Mediterranean temperatures.
It is a staple herb found in American and Italian dishes as seasonings for pasta and pizza. Its growing requirements are direct sun, warm indoor temperatures, adequate watering, and monthly feeding. Suitable dishes are all kinds of meats, cheese and sauces.
Scientific name: Thymus vulgaris
Thyme is recognisable by its small, pale green leaves and pungent aroma. Fresh thyme is a hearty herb that holds up well to heat and can be used throughout the cooking process. It has three common varieties i.e. French thyme, English thyme and English thyme.
Thyme is frequently added to dishes like pork loin, lemony chicken breast and meats. It has a powerful scent and is rich in vitamin A and helps with nails, skin and eye health. Its growing requirements are loamy and sandy soil, even watering, trimming, prevention of root rot, and light mulching in winters. Suitable dishes are scalloped potatoes, bread, and French cuisine.
Scientific name: Artemisia dracunculus
Tarragon is a savoury herb that belongs to the sunflower family. It is known for its stronger flavour with bittersweet notes of anise, licorice and chervil. With three varieties- French tarragon, Mexican tarragon and Russian tarragon.
It was used and liked by the ancient Roman soldiers to boost vitality. Its herbal tea relieves anxiety and stress. Its growth requirement is well-drained soil with full sunlight to partial shade. It’s suitable for dishes like soups, salads, sauces, and meat.
Scientific name: Laurus nobilis
Bay leaf has a very pungent aroma with a slightly bitter taste, it is generally used in dried, whole form for the soups, stews, and sauces to infuse its deep herbaceous flavour.
It is a traditional ingredient of French bouquet garni and is frequently used in Indian cuisine and Asian cuisine. Its growth requirements are full sun exposure and well-drained soil with a good amount of compost.
Scientific name: Rosmarinus officinalis
Rosemary is cherished for its sturdy, aromatic whole sprigs and its rosemary oil for many centuries. It is known for its needle-like leaves, woody stems and herbaceous aroma.
Rosemary works well with stuffed chicken, lamb or turkeys and even roasts with veggies. It also has a natural remedy to soothe indigestion and relieves pain. Its growth requirements are sandy and loamy soil with full sun, regular pruning and watering.
Scientific name: Salvia officinalis
Sage is known for its fuzzy, grey-green leaves and earthy, sweet and savoury flavour. It’s one of the most expensive herbs.
It has a strong minty flavour, which makes it work well in beverages and herbal teas. It gives amazing flavour to pasta, sauces and poultry. Its growth requirements are well-drain soil with full sun and pruning.
Scientific name: Anethum graveolens
Chefs refer to dill spice as dill leaf or dill weed. It is known for its grassy flavour, bright green colour, and slender stems. Dill is often used in pickling mixtures, dressings, egg dishes, and creamy salads like potato salad.
It also has many health benefits like relieving insomnia, easing indigestion and helping in lowing cholesterol. For growth requirements, full sun with loamy soil and protection from winds are needed.
Scientific name: Lavandula angustifolia
The term lavender comes from a French word, “lavendre”, which refers to infusion. It is a floral member of the mint family best known for its fragrance.
It is used in dishes like grilled pork chops, lavender jam (which is a favourite of Queen Elizabeth), lavender roasted potatoes and lavender ice cream. The commercial value of this plant is high and used in products like essential oils, teas and medicines.
Scientific name: Allium schoenoprasum
A perennial herb normally used in Asian cooking, which has a subtle onion flavour with hints of garlic.
It is used to replace leeks, garlic and onion for food preparation. Identifiable by its thin, grass-like leaves and bright green colour. This herb tastes divine in sour cream and is a fine French cuisine herb.
Culinary herbs are herbaceous plants which are used to add flavour, aroma and colour to all types of meals.
Herbs have been used for more than thousands of years to add flavour to meals, as medicine and as a preservative.
If any food is found bland and unflavoured, the use of herbs will enhance the flavour of any dish and even adds the aroma to food and even in the desserts.
Fresh herbs are usually added last before serving as they are often eaten raw due to their flavour and aroma.
Herbs are used in every cuisine (e.g. Italian, French, Indian, etc.) as they make meals flavourful.