culinary herbs

It’s just about garden season, and whether you’re growing basil on your windowsill or religiously buying parsley at the farmers market, you’ve committed to having fresh herbs in the kitchen at all times. But, just like other vegetables in our lives, we’ve gotten used to the same ol’ modern varieties—basil, parsley, cilantro, rosemary, thyme—and have maybe forgotten about other traditional American herbs. Here are the five best culinary herbs you’ve never heard of, or maybe just didn’t realize were edible. Check them out here, and enjoy using them fresh in your spring cooking adventures this season.

Angelica

You’d maybe recognize angelica as a common garden flower. It’s a tall, hovering plant that sprouts multiple shooting clusters of tiny yellow or white flowers at its tips (as displayed in the photo above). It’s often seen in the summer months as a garden border crop or growing wild in parts of California and the Southwest, towering tall above nearby flowers and grasses. The stems have a robust celery-like flavor and can be used sparingly as chives would be, or perhaps roasted in a hot oven to mellow their intensity. The leaves, more delicate in flavor, can be used raw in salads or cooked with fish and light poultry dishes.

Borage

Borage is well-known to herbalists and users of natural medicine; its seed oil is used for its anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties, as well as a supplement for heart-healthy omega fatty acids. As a culinary herb, borage is just as useful. The fresh leaves are rich in vitamin C and trace minerals, and they’re a welcome addition to any raw diet or cleansing regime. The young leaves have a pleasant cucumber-like flavor and can be used raw in salads and salad dressings. The older, large leaves are slightly more robust in flavor and do well in cream and egg-based dishes—egg salad, vegetable gratins, and summer soups are great recipes to try it in.

Lemon Verbena

What yerba mate is to coffee, lemon verbena is to the lemon. This wildly fragrant and delicious herb has the bright, energizing aroma of pure lemon zest, but also an inherent relaxing quality that soothes you upon inhalation—it’s pure aromatherapy. This heat-loving herb is native to South America and can be difficult for home gardeners to grow successfully unless you live in a hot, sunny climate. If you’re lucky enough to grow or find fresh lemon verbena, you’ll have no shortage of finding ways to eat it. Use it in place of lemon zest in virtually any recipe. Combine a few handfuls of it with sugar in a mason jar to make your own infused sugar—the stuff will be wonderful in baking and in hot teas. Use it in combination or in lieu of rosemary and thyme in your savory recipes for fabulous results.

Lovage

The name says it all. You’ll fall head over heels with this essential culinary herb. It thrives in sunlight with moist soil and will grow large and tall. The leaves have a celery-like flavor that’s not quite as strong as angelica, and it can be used in more summery, raw dishes. Tomato salads, poached chicken, cheese dishes and pickled foods will all be complemented by this old-fashioned culinary herb.

Savory

Used prolifically in France and Mediterranean countries, savory is called “the bean herb” because of its amazing flavor pairing with bean dishes. There are two varieties of savory, winter and summer, and both offer a pleasantly strong flavor with a slight peppery kick. Centuries ago, peasants and home farmers who ate a largely starchy diet (potatoes, parsnips and breads) enhanced these otherwise bland dishes with the ample usage of savory. Today, savory not only complements these foods, but it can help you cut back on salt in your recipes by adding a natural flavor-enhancing touch. When cooking with savory, think Mediterranean ingredients. It pairs perfectly with lemon, olives, olive oil, whole grain breads, rustic garden vegetables and, of course, all beans.

Image: onigiri-kun