Herbs and Spice and Everything Nice

What is a great way to add flavor and health benefits without the extra calories and sodium? Try experimenting with a variety of herbs and spices! Herbs and spices have been around for centuries as way of flavoring and preserving food and can enhance the taste of your favorite dishes.

Herbs vs. Spices

What is the difference between an herb and a spice? The leaves or stems of the plant is usually referred to as an herb while the fruit, seed, nut, bark or root of a plant can be used to create a spice.


Herbs and spices can be stored between 4 to 6 months; add a bit more of older flavorings to make up for intensity loss.2 For dry, chopped herbs and spices, place in a cool, dark place and make sure they have a tight fitting lid.


Fresh chopped herbs: “rinse, blanch, then chop or puree in blender with a little water; freeze in ice cube trays to be added to use in soups, sauces, and stews.2

Fresh whole herbs: “blanch leafy herbs quickly by pouring boiling water over them, then plunging in ice water to protect the color; dry well and place in zipper bags; squeeze out all the air with your hand and seal; do not thaw before using, as herbs may turn black; break off needed amount, chop whole (frozen), and add directly to recipe.”2

Refrigerating: May be refrigerated for weeks in jars (1” of water in bottom-change every few days) with plastic bag over top or in zipper bags (inner wrap in moist paper towel); hot spices such as peppers, curries and chili powder, may be kept refrigerated up to 6 months or more in closed jar.”2

For a sure fire way to add some pep to your meals, try experimenting with the following herbs and spices! (courtesy of a Chef’s Guide to Herbs & Spices by Jim Ashley)

Common Herbs

Name Description Flavors Forms Uses Comments
Basil Leaf of plant of mint family Sweet, minty, clove-or licorice-like; also lemon & cinnamon varieties Whole, fresh; dried, flaked Pasta sauces; tomatoes, seafood, vegetables Called “herb of kings” & “royal herb” by the Greeks; the “tomato herb” by the Italians
Chive Leaf of the plant of onion & leek family Mild onion Whole, fresh; dried, chopped Garnish; soups; stews; eggs; cheeses; salads Appetite enhancer; add at the end of cooking to enhance flavor
Cilantro Leaf of coriander plant (carrot family) Pungent, parsley-like Whole, fresh; dried, flaked Mexican & Asian dishes; a must for salsa Also called Chinese or flat-leaf parsley
Oregano Leaf of oregano plant (also called wild marjoram); related to thyme Aromatic, slightly bitter, pungent; Mexican is stronger than Mediterranean Whole, fresh; dried, flaked Tomato sauces; chili; BBQ sauces; soups; eggs; cheese; Italian & Mexican dishes Used in German sausage (wurst); Greek for “joy of the mountain”
Rosemary Leaf of plant of mint family Sweet, piney Whole, fresh; dried, ground Pork; lamb; poultry; seafood; vegetables Latin ros maris means “dew of the sea”; like little pine needles


Common Spices

Name Description Flavors Forms Uses Comments
Cinnamon Bark of tree of laurel family Spicy but sweet, mildly pungent Dried as rolled-up “quills” or ground Breads, cakes, cookies, pastries; pumpkin, squash; apple and other fruit dishes Quill (stick) used as stirrer in hot spiced cider of mulled wine
Cumin Seed of plant of parsley family Strong, pungent, savory Seeds & ground Chili & curry powders; BBQ sauce; marinades, salad dressings; beans A must for Mexican cooking
Garlic Bulbous root of plant of lily family Strong, pungent Fresh bulbs of cloves, juice, powdered, minced Sauces; soups; dips; marinades; salad dressings; garlic bread; garlic butter “A clove a day keeps the doctor away”
Ginger Root (rhizome) of ginger plant Spicy, sweet, hot, savory Roots, crystallized, candied or ground Marinades; cakes, cookies; sauces; Oriental dishes; curries; poultry; seafood; squash Rhizomes vs. dried & ground are entirely different flavors
Turmeric Root of plant of lily family Musky, slightly bitter and peppery Ground Salad dressings; breads; soups; rice, pasta; seafood; curry; pickles, relishes Used mostly as a yellow coloring

Heather Shasa MS, RD


1Morgan, Catherine. Spicing Things Up. Core Food Information. http://www.ifis.org/resources/features/spicing-things-up!/

2Ashley, Jim. Quick Study Home. Chef’s Guide to Herbs & Spices. BarCharts, Inc.