What Makes a Culinary Herb a Culinary Herb?
Answered by: Yvonne Tremblay
Question from: Jacq Bradbury
Posted on: October 16, 2003

What makes a culinary herb a culinary herb?

The term culinary herb is used to distinguish herbs used for cooking from those used for medicinal use. Culinary herbs impart a distinct flavour to foods, enhancing or accenting them. Medicinal herbs can be used either as an infusion that might be consumed (as a tea), placed over a wound as an antiseptic or for healing, or for skin cleansing or treatment. Some medicinal herbs do not taste very good and may in fact be bitter so are not good for cooking. Some culinary herbs may also have medicinal properties.

Herbs are the leafy greens of herbal plants, shrubs or tree (bay leaves) and come from temperate climates. Spices, on the other hand, are usually the bark, flower buds, fruit/seeds or root bulbs of trees or plants that grow in arid climates. Herb seeds, such as coriander (cilantro), would then be considered a spice.

The main culinary herbs are: basil, bay leaves, chervil, chives, cilantro/coriander, dill, lavender, lemon balm, lovage, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon and thyme. Usually only a small amount of the herb is needed to add flavour (a tablespoon or two), it is normally chopped or torn up to release the flavour and would not be eaten by itself.

Other greens such as arugula, sorrel, mache, watercress, endive, etc. are considered to be salad herbs and are not technically culinary herbs. They are more a main component to the dish.

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