Forget Dried Herbs, Here Is the Definitive List of Fresh Herbs for Cooking to Take Your Meals to the Next Level

list of fresh herbs for cooking

According to chef Gordon Lim, “A home cooked meal is incomplete without fresh herbs.” 

Fresh parsley, cilantro, basil and dill add bright flavors and are versatile. Keep some on hand to elevate meat, fish and vegetables with a few leaves. 

Whether seasoning chicken with lemon and rosemary or mint in hummus, herbs simply enhance dishes. 

A windowsill herb garden ensures bold flavors are always available. Learn tips for maximizing common herbs in recipes – meals become special creations.

Key Takeaway

  • Basil, parsley, cilantro, mint, and dill are 5 fresh herbs that are versatile to use in many dishes due to their strong flavors. They add great aroma and taste when used raw or cooked.
  • Thyme, rosemary, oregano and sage are woody herbs that need to be cooked to release their full potential. They work particularly well for savory dishes like pasta sauce, soup, meat dishes, etc.
  • Chives, tarragon, and chervil are more delicate fresh herbs. A little goes a long way to enhance the flavor of eggs, seafood, chicken, vegetables without being overpowering. They’re best when added at the end of cooking.

The 15 most essential culinary herbs

After years of cooking with herbs, here are the 15 herbs that I’ve found to be most versatile and essential in the kitchen:

ThymeWoody herb with a warm, earthy flavor. My go-to for chicken, fish, and vegetables.Pairs well with olive oil, bay leaves, rosemary, sage, and more.
SageHearty herb that stands up well to heat. Great for pork, poultry, stuffings.Works well with chicken, turkey, sausage, beans, and goat cheese.
RosemaryPine-scented herb. Ideal for roast potatoes and meat.Bay leaves and thyme make it sing with beef, lamb, fish, and eggs.
MintSoft leafy herb with a fresh, bright flavor. Excellent for beverages.Cukes, chickpeas, yogurt, and more benefit from a hit of mint.
DillLight, feathery herb that adds a subtle sweetness.Makes fish, potatoes, eggs, yogurt, and cucumbers shine.
CilantroBright, grassy herb used widely in Asian and Latin cuisines.Essential in salsas, fried rice, curries, and more. Also called coriander.
BasilSweet, clove-scented herb that shouts “summer”.Brings out flavor in caprese salads, pesto, tomatoes, and white fish.
OreganoSavory, peppery herb popular in Greek and Italian dishes.Pizza, pasta, grilled meats, soups, and Greek salads love oregano.
ParsleyBright, vegetable herb that adds color and vitamins.Garnish just about anything—or make chimichurri or gremolata.
ChivesMild onion flavor in an elegant package.Potatoes, soups, salads, and eggs benefit from a snipped garnish.
TarragonAnise-scented herb perfect for fish, chicken, and eggs.Try it in beurre blanc or chicken salad for an herbal lift.
ChervilDelicate flavor reminiscent of anise and parsley.Adds elegance to soups, salads, fish, and egg dishes.
MarjoramSweet, warm spices reminiscent of oregano.Tomatoes, soups, beans and vegetables love this understated herb.
LavenderFloral herb imparting a lovely aroma.Try it in shortbread, simple syrups, or herb-infused butter.

These are the herbs I’ve found to be most versatile and useful to have on hand whether using fresh or dried varieties. Experimenting with different flavor pairings will help you discover new favorite combos.

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Difference between fresh and dried herbs

There is a noticeable difference in flavor between fresh and dried varieties of culinary herbs. As an avid home cook, here are some key points on each:

  • Fresh herbs have a brighter, grassier, more intense flavor. They are generally preferable when you want the herb flavor to really shine through (1). Being fresher, they contain more volatile oils responsible for their fragrance and taste.
  • Dried herbs have a more subdued, earthy flavor due to the loss of some volatile oils during the dehydration process (2). However, their concentration has also increased. Dried herbs work well when a background earthiness is desired rather than a forward herb flavor.
  • Storage duration – Fresh herbs last around a week in the fridge while properly dried and stored herbs can maintain flavor for months or even up to a year. Drying extends the lifespan considerably.
  • Cooking methods – Fresh herbs are usually added at the end of the cooking process or used as a flavorful garnish. Dried herbs can be incorporated earlier in recipes, as they slowly infuse their flavors while cooking (3).
  • Conversions – A general rule of thumb is to use 3 times as much dried herbs as fresh due to the concentrated flavors after drying. But it still involves some experimenting to achieve your preferred balance.

In the end, using a combination of fresh and dried herbs is often best to get complexity and depth of herbaceous flavors in dishes.

How to clean and store fresh herbs

Here are my favorite methods for properly cleaning and storing fresh herbs to enjoy their peak flavors:

list of fresh herbs for cooking

Cleaning : 

  • Place herbs in a colander and rinse thoroughly under cool running water, gently rubbing leaves if needed to remove any dirt or debris.
  • For delicate leaves like basil, spin dry or pat completely dry with a clean dish towel.

Storing in the fridge:

  1. For hardy herbs like rosemary, thyme and oregano: Place stems in a glass of water, as you would cut flowers, covering the opening with a plastic bag secured by a rubber band.
  2. For soft herbs: Place wrapped in a paper towel, then inside a partially closed plastic bag or container.
  3. Alternatively, store soft herbs loosely in an herb keeper in the fridge.

Storing on the counter:

  • Place herbs in a jar or glass partially filled with one inch of water. Change water every 2-3 days. Best for shorter-term storage of a week or two.

With proper cleaning and storage, fresh herbs will remain vibrant for 5-7 days – just long enough for me to use them in multiple dishes!

Common culinary herbs used in cuisine


Thyme is one I always keep stocked both fresh and dried. Its woodsy flavor pairs well with olive oil, roasted meats and veggies, and it works in both Mediterranean and European-inspired recipes. 

I love using fresh thyme in pan sauces or simply rubbing sprigs over fish or chicken before roasting. Dried thyme is great for sauces, braises and winter stews where its flavor holds up well.


Sage lends itself to robustly-flavored dishes, working especially well in those featuring pork, turkey or beans. Dried sage retains its strong flavor well. 

I enjoy using fresh sage leaves in pesto or stuffing for poultry where its earthy qualities really shine through. Chopped sage adds depth when sautéed in olive oil before other ingredients.


Among its best uses, I find rosemary to be a classic with roasted or grilled potatoes, lamb, beef and fish. 

With an incredibly aromatic and piney essence, it stands up well to high heat methods. I like to use sprigs to baste meats or to skewer and grill alongside protein. The dried form works into winter braises or soup stocks where its resinous character blooms.


Always thinking of new ways to use mint, I add it to tabbouleh, pea salads, beverages and yogurt sauces for its bright yet delicate notes. 

It’s also lovely with new potatoes, cucumbers, carrots or green beans. Quickly chopping and stirring mint into dishes right before serving helps maintain its lovely fragrance.


Dill is one herb I associate with summer. Used heavily in Scandinavian cooking, it brings out natural flavors in fish, potato salads, deviled eggs and creamy dips. 

I enjoy tossing dill fronds into homemade tzatziki or using it to top salmon before baking. Its feather-light substance and hints of caraway enhance without overwhelming other ingredients.


As cilantro’s flavor polarizes people, I tend to use it judiciously, such as in salsas, curries, fried rice and Asian soups where its fresh green qualities lift other elements. 

Finely chopping cilantro and mixing it in at the last step keeps its character from dominating. I sometimes substitute it in part for parsley or mint when I want a more assertive herbal note.


Nothing says summer like the aroma of basil! I find its warm, clove-like spice works especially well with tomatoes, olive oil, mozzarella and light proteins. 

Fresh basil enhances caprese or pesto recipes where its bright essence really sings. I like using whole leaves sandwiched between tomatoes or layered onto chicken before grilling.


Does bay leaf add flavor to foods?

Bay leaf can add subtle flavor to foods when used fresh or dried. The essential oils in bay leaf are very aromatic but also very delicate. 

Adding one or two whole bay leaves to soups, stews, braises and other long-cooked dishes allows the flavor to infuse over time without overpowering other ingredients. Bay leaf is commonly used in red wine braises and meat stews.

Can I use red wine instead of water or broth in a recipe?

Red wine can add deep flavor but the alcohol content means it shouldn’t always be substituted directly for water or broth. 

In recipes where the liquid isn’t cooked for a long time, using all or mostly red wine can make the dish too strong or alcoholic tasting. 

It’s best to substitute a portion of the liquid, often 1/2 to 2/3, with wine and use water, broth or another non-alcoholic liquid for the rest. Longer cooking helps the alcohol burn off.

What is the difference between flat leaf and curly parsley?

The two main types of fresh parsley are flat leaf and curly leaf. Flat leaf parsley, also known as Italian parsley, has a stronger, more intense herbal flavor than curly leaf parsley. 

Curly leaf parsley has a milder flavor that works well for garnishing but may get lost among other ingredients. In cooked dishes, flat leaf parsley generally holds up better to the cooking process since its flavor is more pronounced.

Can dried herbs be substituted for fresh herbs in recipes?

Dried herbs can often be substituted for fresh herbs in recipes, but use 1/3 of the amount listed for fresh herbs as dried herbs are more concentrated in flavor. Dried herbs also lack the moisture of fresh herbs. 

Account for this by reducing the amount of other liquid in the recipe if substituting dried for fresh. The flavor of dried herbs will also be less vibrant than using fresh, so you may want to add a bit more than 1/3 the amount.

Do fresh herbs add much flavor compared to dried?

Fresh herbs have a much brighter, grassier flavor than dried herbs. They contain volatile essential oils that provide much of their flavor and aromas. 

These oils dissipate quickly when the herbs are dried. So in general, fresh herbs provide a lighter, fresher, and more complex flavor than dried herbs. 

A rule of thumb is to use 3 times as much dried herb as fresh due to increased concentration of flavor in the dried form. Fresh herbs are particularly wonderful in salads, pasta dishes, and uncooked applications when you want the liveliest herbal flavor.

What is the best way to store fresh herbs?

The best way to store fresh herbs depends on the type of herb. Woody-stemmed herbs like rosemary and thyme are fairly durable and can be placed in a plastic bag with a paper towel to absorb moisture and refrigerated for 1-2 weeks. 

More delicate soft-leaf herbs like basil are best stored upright with their stems in a jar or bowl of water, covered with a plastic bag. Change the water every 2-3 days. 

Herbs can also be frozen by blanching the leaves in boiling water and then placing in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag. This helps maintain their flavor when adding them to recipes later.

Why do recipes call for chopped fresh herbs?

Many recipes call for fresh herbs to be chopped because it helps release more flavor from the leaves. 

Chopping or tearing herbs ruptures the plant cells and exposes more surface area to the air and other ingredients. This allows the volatile aromatic oils within the herb leaves to evaporate and disperse more readily. 

Finely chopped herbs also blend more evenly into foods like salads, sauces, sandwiches and other applications where an even distribution of flavor is desired throughout the finished dish. Chopped herbs also tend to wilt faster than whole sprigs so the fresh flavors are retained.

What kinds of dishes are bay leaf, thyme and oregano commonly used in?

Bay leaves, thyme, and oregano are commonly used in robust meat dishes, soups and stews that involve long, slow cooking methods where their flavors can develop fully. 

Bay leaves are a classic addition to braised meat stews, noodles with red sauce, and rice and bean casseroles that simmer for an hour or more. 

Oregano and thyme are essential herbs in Italian and Mediterranean tomato-based sauces, chili, soups and meatloaf, and chicken or pork roast. 

Their woody stems and resilient nature make them well-suited to long braises and pot roasts where their woodsy notes meld with the other ingredients.

What fresh herbs pair well with tomatoes?

Many fresh herbs complement the bright acidity of tomatoes. Basil is a classic partner, its hint of anise and clove enhancing pasta and pizza sauces as well as fresh caprese salads. 

Oregano, rosemary and thyme also marry beautifully with tomatoes, their woodsy tones balancing the fruit’s tang. Parsley adds brightness, while chives deliver a subtle onion flavor. 

For North African-inspired dishes, cilantro and mint are excellent foils. Experimenting with layering different herbs brings out varied nuances in tomatoes. 

In general, soft leafy herbs like basil should be added at the end of the cooking process, while hardier herbs like oregano can be added earlier.


After years of experimenting with fresh herbs in my cooking, I’ve found them to be a versatile and flavor-building ingredient. 

Whether using well-known herbs like basil, oregano and thyme, or exploring more unique varieties like lemon balm or winter savory, herbs allow me to infuse loads of taste into all types of dishes without much effort. 

I especially enjoy mixing and matching different types of fresh herbs in the same meal, like thyme with parsley in scrambled eggs, or cilantro with mint in potato salad. It’s always fun coming up with new herb combinations to complement ingredients. 

Whether enjoying fresh herbs’ bright green flavors or learning about their roles in classic French or Italian recipes, I hope sharing some of my personal experiences and lessons has inspired readers to get exploring herbs fresh!

Please feel free to share any favorite herb pairings you enjoy cooking with, or stories of experimenting with new fresh herbs in the comments. I love discovering new ways others are putting fresh flavors to use!



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