A guide to the most commonly used herbs

A guide to the most commonly used herbs

  • 30 March 2020
Even though they’re used in such small quantities, herbs have a huge impact on a dish, and they can make a meal go from ordinary to extraordinary. They add a depth of flavour, freshness, and aromas to a dish, so it’s useful to know how best to use them and what flavours specific herbs work well with. Here are some of the most commonly used herbs and how to cook with them.

Fresh or dry?

Both fresh and dry herbs are useful in cooking, but some herbs are better used one way or the other.

Dried herbs are more potent and concentrated than fresh herbs, so you should be careful not to add too much as it can overwhelm the dish with flavour. As a rule of thumb, you can replace the amount of fresh herbs a recipe calls for with a third of the amount of dried herbs. Although their flavour can be more powerful than fresh herbs, dried herbs flavours do fade over time so don’t leave them stored at the back of your cupboard for years. Old herbs won’t be as potent - or have much flavour at all. When opening a jar of dried herbs, first take a whiff. If you don’t smell anything, it's time to get some new stock. Dried herbs flavour can develop during cooking, so they can be added earlier on than fresh herbs. One major benefit is that dried herbs are usually much cheaper than fresh herbs.

Fresh herbs add a fresh flavour, and they are also good sources of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. However, fresh herbs can be expensive and they go off quickly. Generally, fresh herbs should be added near the end of cooking time so their flavour isn’t destroyed during cooking.


Basil is sweet, with a slightly peppery flavour and floral aroma. It pairs very well with tomato and is usually associated with Mediterranean dishes, like pesto. It also goes great with cheese, omelettes, pasta and pizza. It has a delicate flavour so should be added at the end of cooking to get the most out of it.


Rosemary is a woody, very fragrant herb. Its strong flavour means a little goes a long way. It is delicious with lamb and roasted vegetables, especially potato. It’s also great in breads, like focaccia.


Parsley is a very common and versatile herb. It has a lightly peppery and bitter flavour, it’s most popular use is fresh as a simple garnish for most dishes, sprinkled over food just before serving. It can be used with roast meat, salads, omelettes, pasta, and many more.

Bay leaf

Bay leaves have a woody, astringent flavour and they are usually the whole, dried leaves are used in soups, stews, sauces. curries. Their flavour goes a long way, so you only need to add a few when cooking with them.


Oregano is a strongly flavoured herb, pungent and peppery, very popular with Italian dishes. It preserves its flavour very well when dried. It is used in many Italian recipes, like tomato-based pasta sauces and pizza, and it’s also great with most meats.


Thyme is a very popular herb to cook with. Its lemony, slightly peppery flavour pairs well with almost any vegetable, meat or fish dish. Both fresh and dried thyme is fine to use. When using fresh, the leaves should be stripped from the woody stems before use. It is usually used for stews and soups, and with roasted vegetables.


You either love it or you hate it. Coriander has a citrusy, refreshing, light flavour. It is a staple herb in Asian cooking and is great in spicy food, like curries, soups and broths. Coriander leaves are best used fresh, and the stalks can also be used in curries, as they pack even more flavour than the leaves. Coriander seeds are used dry and they give boerewors its distinctive flavour.


Dill is sweet and grassy with a fresh flavour. It is often used in mayonnaise and sour cream-based dishes, and is great with fish, like smoked salmon, and potatoes and salads.