Spring Herb Guide: 11 Seasonings To Brighten Your Meals

From early spring through the summer months, you’ll find more and more varieties of fresh, seasonal herbs showing up in food markets, home gardens, and on kitchen windowsills. Some spring herbs are perennials, living for many years, while others are annuals that are planted in very early spring. Depending on where you live, some spring herbs are actually available year-round.

Every herb has its own distinct flavor and aroma that is often best suited for certain types of foods and cuisines, according to Gretchen Voyle, horticulture educator at Michigan State University Extension in East Lansing. Some culinary herbs are also used as health remedies in traditional herbal medicine, but as Voyle is quick to point out, "It’s never a good idea to self-medicate with herbs because there can be side effects and drug interactions if they are not used properly." In other words, speak with a doctor before you use any herb to treat a health condition.

Below are some guidelines to help you match spring herbs with the foods they best enhance:

  1. Chervil. Often used in French cooking, chervil is similar to parsley but with a faint, tarragon-like hint of anise, or licorice. Chervil is used in seafood, poultry and spring vegetable dishes and also added to soups, sauces and green salads. As an herbal remedy, chervil can also help promote good digestion.
  2. Chives. Chives can be used to add mild, oniony flavor to just about any dish, but are often used in egg dishes and hearty salads, such as potato, chicken, or bean salad. Garlic chives add garlicky flavor to foods. "Add either type of chives to cold dishes or at the end of cooking time for heated dishes," Voyle advises. "They lose their flavor when cooked."
  3. Dill. "The best way to describe the taste of dill is to think of a dill pickle," says Voyle. Dill is most often used with seafood, eggs, and potatoes and in such dishes as chicken soup and Scandinavian-style pork meatballs and cheese dishes. And, of course, to flavor pickles!
  4. Lemongrass. Most often used fresh or dried in Thai and other Southeast Asian cuisines, lemongrass adds very mild lemon flavor and citrusy aroma to soups, stir-fries, curries, and other stew-like dishes; it’s also used to make herbal tea. For cooking, peel away the tough outer leaves (which can be steeped for tea) and use the inner leaves from the stalk. Whether fresh or dried, lemongrass is very woody and tough, so you must chop it into very fine pieces or add larger pieces of stalk during cooking to infuse flavor. Remove the stalks before serving your dish.
  5. Marjoram. Common in northern Italian and other Mediterranean cooking, marjoram is similar in flavor to oregano and is most often used in soups, sauces, and meat dishes. As an herbal remedy, marjoram is used to treat stomachaches and relieve nausea, diarrhea and cramping.
  6. Mint. The many different types of mint—peppermint, spearmint, pineapple mint and ginger mint, to name a few—are often used to make herbal teas or to flavor lemonade, fruit punch, and fruit salads. Mint aids digestion and its antiseptic qualities and pleasant flavor also make mint a good base for mouthwash and throat gargle.
  7. Oregano. The strong, somewhat minty, and slightly bitter flavor of oregano is used in southern Italian, Middle-Eastern, Latin American, Greek, and other Mediterranean cuisines to flavor red meats, fish, roasted or grilled vegetables, and hearty salads. Oregano is often used in dried form for more concentrated flavor. In the United States, dried oregano is often sprinkled over hot pizza.
  8. Parsley. A member of the carrot family, parsley is often used as a simple green garnish on dinner plates. But when used in greater quantity, parsley adds its mildly bitter and somewhat grassy flavor to tomato or pesto sauces, grain dishes such as tabbouleh, soups, and salads. The flavor of the sweeter, Italian flat-leaf variety is usually preferred over curly American parsley as an ingredient in cooking. In traditional herbal medicine, parsley is recommended as a diuretic to flush out the urinary tract and prevent kidney stones.
  9. Rosemary. Widely used in Mediterranean cooking, rosemary is an evergreen herb with needle-like leaves that add intense, piney flavor to meat, poultry, tomatoes, mushrooms, breads, root vegetables such as onions, parsnips, and potatoes, and grilled foods. It is also used to flavor marinades and salad dressings. "It’s best to use fresh rosemary leaves," says Voyle. "Dried rosemary is a bit like dried up pine needles—woody, tough, and less flavorful." Rosemary has been used in herbal medicine to treat gas, stomach pains, bloating, and headaches.
  10. Tarragon. Fresh tarragon adds anise, or licorice-like, flavor to seafood and egg dishes and also goes well with chicken and some vegetables, including artichokes, carrots, mushrooms, and tomatoes. The flavor and aroma of fresh tarragon leaves is strong, so it is used sparingly. Tarragon is best when fresh, since the intensity of flavor is lost when the herb is dried.
  11. Thyme. Like rosemary, thyme is an evergreen plant that is often used in bean and egg dishes and complements vegetables such as mushrooms, peppers, carrots, and onions. There are many varieties and flavors of thyme, including lemon, caraway and lavender thyme, which add subtle hints of those flavors to food as well. As an herbal remedy, thyme has been used to treat symptoms of bronchitis, and to improve digestion and bad breath.

Gretchen Voyle reviewed this article.


Voyle, Gretchen. Email to author April 13, 2015.

Blumenthal, Mark (Senior Editor). Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. American Botanical Council, 2000.