Herbs are well known and valued for the tasty contributions they make to cuisine. Basil, rosemary, thyme, parsley, and sage are some of the more common herbs that chefs will use to add zest to otherwise ordinary meals. Herbs also have medicinal uses. For example, sage is supposed to improve memory, and tulsi, a form of basil, not only serves as a medicinal herb but is also a sacred herb in Hinduism. Identifying herbs requires attention to details. Recognising herbs can be a daunting task, but one can at least differentiate them from other plants through a few important and easy clues.
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Look at the plant's leaves. Herbs like basil and common lemon grass are easy to spot because of their uniquely coloured leaves. While basil has distinct glossy green or purple leaves, lemon grass resembles an onion top. Rosemary has leaves that look like pine needles. Oregano's green leaves are accompanied by pink flowers. Sage has grey-green leaves and mauve flower spikes. Golden marjoram has pink flowers and its leaves will be more pointy. Parsley comes in either the curly or flat leaf variety.
Smell the plant. Herbs often have a distinctive aroma. Basil, for example, has a scent that is strong and earthy. Fennel and anise have liquorice-like aromas and mint obviously has a minty smell. Other herbs such as cilantro, also known as coriander, and dill are more subtle. It's best to get familiar with their scents by going to your local garden or grocery shop where the herbs are labelled.
Taste the plant. Break off a small portion and put it to your tongue. If the herb is fresh, it will taste much stronger than a dried one. Basil, thyme, and rosemary have strong tastes and can be easily recognised by tasting them. Chives have a mild onion flavour.
Refer to a cookbook (herb based) or herb book to keep learning about new herbs and their qualities. Not only will this expose you to more herbs, but it will also give you the directions to use them effectively.
Tips and warnings
- Keep updating yourself about herbs and once you get a little familiar with them, you can start understanding and instantly recognising the ones you are not so familiar with. For example; insects such as moths, flies, and ants actively avoid herbs like mint, spearmint, peppermint and pennyroyal. Hence, they are extensively used in pest control.
- One must remember that an herb or an herbaceous plant is any non-woody plant irrespective of its scent, flavour or other inherent qualities. Therefore, it can never be a woody plant like a shrub or even a tree.
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