Herbs Herbs, Leaves & Flowers
Herbs are generally fresh or dried leaves of low growing plants. While there are a vast number of herbs of medicinal interest, this page is about those of culinary interest, though most have medicinal properties as well.

Spices are generally dried barks, berries, buds, seeds and other non-leafy plant parts and are to be found on our Spices Page but this page includes links to related spice items..

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Major Herb Families

Most of the culinary herbs belong to one of just a few major families, like Mints and Parsleys. Here we have links to pages for those major families. Below this section will be found those from minor families, or major families that include few herbs - and a few unusual ones you might not think to look for in the major familys.

Mint Family   -   [family Lamiaceae of order Lamiales]
Growing Mint plant

The Mint family is a large and diverse family of aromatic herbs, shrubs and trees. The herbs in particular are important in culinary and medicinal use. It does, however, provide little in the way of fruit or vegetables. This family has its own Mint Family page detailing its members. Important members of the family include:

Basil Perilla Savory
Mint     Rosemary     Thyme
Oregano     Marjoram Sage
Teak Za'atar Many More

Basils   -   [genus Ocimum of family Lamiaceae]
Growing Basal plant

A genis within the Mint family (Lamiaceae), there are so many important basils they have their own Basil Page detailing its members. Important members of the genus include:

Italian Basil     Thai Purple Basil
Purple Basil     Thai Lemon Basil
African Basils     Holy Basil

Basil Seeds

Lamiales (other than Mints and Basils)   -   [Order Lamiales]
Lamiale Flowers

While the mints and basils are the Lamiales most widely used as herbs, there are other herbs in the order, and some plants very important for their fruits and seeds used as flavorings. Order Lamailes has its own page detailing its members. Important members of the order include:

Verbinas     Mexican Oregano
Sesame     Olives

Parsleys & Aralias   -   [family Apiaceae (formerly Umbelliferae)]
Flat & Curley Parsley Fronds

The Parsleys are a large family of aromatic herbs many of which also provide fruits for spices and roots or stalks as aromatic vegetables. This family has its own Parsley Page detailing its members. Important members of the family include:

Cilantro Fennel     Pennywort
Coriander     Lovage Culantro
Parsley Celery Dill
Chervil Angelica     Gensing

Daisy Family   -   [family Asteraceaed alt Compositae]
Chamomile flowers

While the Dasies are a huge family (23,000 species) only a few species are of culinary use, but a number of these are herbs. This family has several pages of its own, including one for Daisy Family - Herbs. Important members of the family include:

Calendula MarigoldChamomile
Pineapple Weed     Stevia Tarragon
Mexican Tarragon     Wormwood    

Mustard Family   -   [Family Brassicaceae (formerly Cruciferae)]
Arugula Leaves

The huge Cabbage / Mustard family is best known for the leafy and root vegetables that got humans through the winter in earlier times, but this family also produces some popular herbs and flowers. This family has its's own Mustard Family - Herbs page. Important members of the family include:

Arugula / Rocket     Persian Broadleaf Cress
WatercressGarden Cress
Pepper CressNasturtium

Other Varieties

Banana Leaf   -   [Musa acuminata, Musa paradisiaca (plantain)]
1/2 Fresh Banana Leaf

Bananas are the largest of the herbs, up to 40 feet tall. Their leaves are used in many tropical cultures as a flavoring wrapper for steamed and baked foods. The photo shows a typical half leaf (split down the spine) 6 feet long by 10 inches wide. Banana plants grow all over Southern California as tropical decoratives, but are generally not suitable as wrappers because the leaves have been split up by the Santa Ana winds. Details and Cooking.

Camellia   -   [Tea, Cha, Chai, Camellia sinensis (Camellia family)]
Growing Camellia plants

This Southeast Asian camellia, source of the green, white, black and oolong teas of commerce, is closely related to camellias grown as decoratives. In fact, when European traders tried to buy tea plants in China, the Chinese, not realizing tea couldn't grow in Europe, substituted decorative camellia plants useless for tea. The Europeans, realizing they'd been tricked, grew the plants in controlled greenhouses and developed fancier decoratives, some of which were sold back to Chinese flower fanciers at premium prices.   Photo by Axel Boldt contributed to the public domain.

Curry Leaf   -   [Chalcas koenigii (Citrus family)]
Fresh Curry Leaf branch

This member of the citrus family produces aromatic leaves much used in India, particularly southern and central India and Sri Lanka and essential to authenticity in those cuisines. There is no known substitute so if you don't have them you just have to leave them out. They have an aromatic and slightly camphorous taste and are generally used in small quantity, fried in oil with the cumin or mustard seeds before adding the onions or other main ingredients. Details & Cooking

Epazote   -   [Stink Weed, Jesuit tea, Chenopodium ambrosioides (Goosefoot family)]
Growing Epazote plants

A common weed in southern Mexico, Central and South America, Epazota is now grown in the warmer parts of North America and sometimes becomes an invasive weed here. Its main culinary use is for flavoring black beans and to a lesser extent other recipes from southern Mexico and Central America. It is reputed to prevent flatulence from eating beans and to relieve a number of medical conditions. An oil extracted from the seeds kills intestinal worms and is also an antispasmodic and abortifacient.

The smell of epazote is quite strong but extremely difficult to describe. Leading spice expert Gernot Katzer says it smells to him like epazote. Details and Cooking.

Fenugreek   -   [Methi (Hindi, Urdu, etc.); Shanbalileh (Persia); Hilbeh (Arabic); Utakbo suneli (Georgia); Trigonella foenum-graecum, also Trigonella cerulea]
Fenugreek Springs and Seeds This plant, a bean related to clover, has apparently been cultivated for over 6000 years in the Middle East, and was also well known to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. Both seeds and greens are used.

In India, fenugreek seed is toasted and included in a number of important masalas (spice mixes), and it is also used in the cuisines of the Middle East, Persia and Greece. The fresh green leaves and stems are used as an herb in these same regions, and dried leaves in Georgia and India.

Fenugreek seed is also considered an important medicinal, particularly for increasing lactation in nursing women.   Details and Cooking.

Miner's Lettuce   -   [Winter Purslane, Spring Beauty, Indian lettuce; Claytonia perfoliata]
Miner's Lettuce

This herb, native to the western mountain and coastal regions of North and Central America, is the only member of the purslane family (Portulacaceae) other than Common Purslane used for food in North America and Europe. It is also now fairly widespread in Western Europe.

Named for the California Gold Rush miners who ate it to prevent scurvy, miner's lettuce can be used raw in salads or cooked like spinach which it somewhat resembles in taste. The photo shows round form of leaf with a flower dot at the center which will grow into a stem with a bunch of flowers at the tip. The normal leaves are heart or spade shaped - all those other leaves belong to other weeds. This herb does best in moist shady locations. Photo by Antandrus - public domain.

Ngo Om   -   [Ngo Om, Ba Om, Rau Om (Viet); Phak Kayang (Thailand); Tian Xiang Cao, Zi Su Cao (China); Soyop-pul (Korea); Shiso-kusa (Japan); Limnophila aromatica of family Plantaginaceae (Plantains)]
Whole Ngo Om plants

This aquatic herb is native throughout Southeast Asia, extending into southern China, Japan and Australia. After the Vietnam war, it was brought to North America by refugees, and is now easily available in the Asian markets here in Southern California. This plant grows well in still water, such as found in rice paddies. It's particularly popular in Vietnam, but is also used in China and Japan. In Chinese, Japanese and Korean, the name of this herb is the same as for Perilla, a very distantly related herb. It is made specific with a suffix meaning green leafy plant (see names above).   Details and Cooking.

Purslane   -   [Verdolagas (Mexico); Sanhti, Punarva (India); Pigweed, Little Hogweed, Portulaca oleracea]
Purslane Stems with Leaves This succulent weed common in California vineyards is actually native to India and the Near East. It was extensively used in ancient Greece and still appears in Mediterranean cuisines. There is evidence it had already migrated to the New World well before Columbus. The only other member of the Purslane family (Portulacaceae) used as food in North America and Europe is Miner's Lettuce, also known as "Winter Purslane".

Purslane is used raw in salads, as a cooked green similar in taste to spinach. It is also used in soups where it's slightly mucilaginous nature acts as a thickener. It can be found in markets serving a Mexican community.

Purslane is unusually high in Omega-3 fatty acids and is also a source of vitamin C and dietary minerals. It also contains powerful antioxidants which may have anti-cancer properties. In India it is used as a liver tonic. Detail and Cooking.

Rau Dang   -   [(Viet), Foo Yip (Cantonese), Glinus oppositifolius]
Rau Dang Leaves, Flowers

This strong flavored somewhat bitter herb does not yet have a common English name, but is popular for certain fish soups and stews in Vietnam. Elsewhere it's use is mainly medicinal. A related herb, G. lotoides, also native to Africa and Southeast Asia has recently been found as an invasive weed in California as well as Louisiana and other southern states. Photo borrowed from Can Tho University, Vietnam.

Rocket - see Arugula.

Rue   -   [Ruta graveolens Citrus family)]
Growing Rue Plant

An intensely bitter herb, rue has faded from the culinary scene except in Ethiopia. Once widely used in the Mediterranean region and an important herb during the Roman Empire, it is still occasionally called for in traditional recipes and also appears as a flavoring in some distilled beverages. It should always be used fresh, so you will need it in your garden if you wish to use it. A common decorative, it can be found in the herb section of most well stocked nurseries and is easy to grow in temperate climates. The blue-green leaves are very small, about 3/8 inch long. Detail and Cooking.

herbs* 2006   -   www.clovegarden.com
©Andrew Grygus - agryg@clovegarden.com - Photos on this page not otherwise credited are © cg1 - Linking to and non-commercial use of this page permitted.