Tips for Identifying Herbs
Identifying herbs is challenging, especially if your experiences are limited to only dried culinary herbs. With practice, your powers of observation will sharpen with a few basic tips. The visual identity of fresh herb plants is determined by each plant's leaves, blossoms and stems. When familiarizing yourself with the sight of herbs, use your sense of smell and taste to identify each plant. You are probably familiar with the scent of common kitchen herbs, although you might not identify with their appearance. Your nose, sense of taste and memory are valuable clues in identifying herbs.
The herb dill consists of both the dill seeds and its thin, feathery leaves. Dill grows over two-feet tall from straight hollow stalks, and produces flat clusters of yellow flowers mid-summer. The aroma resembles hints of licorice, anise and caraway. The seeds have a sweet, yet pungent scent of caraway, while the leaves are reminiscent of licorice with a unique, spicy taste.
Cilantro is an herb associated with the leaves of the coriander plant; coriander is associated with the seeds, while cilantro is derived from the leaves. The leaves look similar to parsley with distinctively jagged edges. The white flowers resemble those of the dill plant. Its strong and unusual flavor includes overtones of anise and spicy pepper with citrus undertones.
Sage is an evergreen shrub within the mint family that has many varieties. Kitchen, or common, sage displays soft, gray-green, rounded leaves that are long and thin with a smoky and camphoric fragrance. The stems are wiry and the late summer flowers bloom purple. The strong flavor of sage is warm and slightly astringent with bitter undertones.
The oregano plant, also known as wild marjoram, is part of the mint family. It has short, rounded leaves with jagged edges. The flowers range from white to purple. The scent of the oregano leaf is warmly aromatic with a robust flavor consisting of warm, pungent overtones.
Another herb from the mint family, the rosemary plant is a small evergreen shrub with long, linear leaves resembling needles and small blue flowers. Strongly aromatic, rosemary is considered a stimulant with its combined scent and tastes of camphor, eucalyptus and pine with a hint of bitterness.
Savory grows about a foot long with slender stems and linear leaves. Small lilac-colored flowers bloom in midsummer. There are two types of savory-summer and winter-with winter savory the more pungent of the two in terms of both flavor and aroma. Savory's fragrance is strong with its scent resembling rosemary, thyme and mint combined. The flavor is pungent, resembling strong overtones of pepper with undertones reminiscent of mint and rosemary.
There are a number of varieties of basil with different leaves, sizes, flowers and flavors to identify. One of the most well-known varieties of basil is sweet, or common, basil used in cooking all over the world. Fresh basil has a sweet and pungent flavor and scent reminiscent of cloves. The plant grows up to three-feet tall with wide, dark green leaves and white flowers.
Despite the many variations of thyme plants in different regions of the world, in general the herb has a strong balsamic and smoky aroma with subtle flavors of citrus and mint. The herb has gray-green leaves, which are short and thin, similar to needles with numerous hard, spindly stems. Thyme flowers bloom in a variety of colors, from white to purple.
While there are a few varieties of tarragon worldwide, most tarragon plants are sweet and aromatic in flavor and fragrance, similar in blend to licorice, anise and fennel. The herb grows to around two-feet tall with small yellow and black blossoms, and soft, undivided, long, thin leaves.
There are many herbs, from medicinal herbs to cooking herbs. Learning to identify herbs is a daunting task. You may be familiar with common types of cooking herbs, but know little about medicinal herbs. View this herbal medicinal plants slideshow to familiarize yourself with more herbs.