Mastering the Art of Herbs & Spices


In my quest to learn to be able to excel still more in combining herbs and spices in my cooking for the best overall flavor and variety, I have wanted to explore more in detail this fine art. My question has always been: what combines well with this spice? What spice would go well with this meat, vegetable, etc? And the list goes on. I recently came across this list of herbs and their uses and wanted to share it with you. I am printing this out and taping it inside my spice cupboard. I hope it helps you out as well! Let’s explore more thoroughly the joys of creating dishes without so much dependency on a recipe!

“One secret of distinguishing oneself as a good cook is knowing how to use herbs and spices properly. When used well, herbs and spices can dazzle the taste buds, enhancing all the flavors in the food.” – Annie Berthold-Bond

Tips for Using Herbs

  • To substitute fresh for dried herbs in a recipe, add three or four times more fresh herbs than the recipe calls for, and usually add at the end of the recipe.
  • Experiment with soaking dried herbs for ten minutes or so before adding to a dish. Soak in water that has just boiled or the hot liquid used for cooking. Heat releases the flavor of the herb.
  • Rub the herbs between your fingers to release the essential oils.
  • Whenever possible, buy the whole herb lead or the whole spice plant part, to prevent flavor loss (these last between 3-5 years, if stored well). Grind at home with a mortar and pestal. (I am not quite there myself, but working towards it!)
  • Use 1/4 teaspoon of spices or dried herbs (1 tsp fresh herbs) per pound of meat or pint of soup.
  • For quick-cooking dishes mix herbs in with other ingredients, and add spices when salt would be added.
  • For long-cooking dishes add herbs or spices in the last 45-60 minutes of cooking.
  • For cold dishes, add spices and let stand for several hours.
  • Unless the recipe specifically calls for it, don’t use more than three herbs and spices in any one dish. Some Indian Recipes are an exception to the rule, as they often calls for 10 or more different spices in one curry dish.
  • Try replacing herbs and spices called for in recipes with something different such as Marjoram instead of Oregano, Savory instead of Thyme, Cilantro, instead of Parsley, Anise seed instead of Fennel. Mixing herbs and spices will provide you with a new art in food preparation by allowing you to create a variety of exciting seasoned dishes.

Herbs & Spice Combinations

This list is from The Green Kitchen Handbook by Annie Berthold-Bond:

Bouquet Garni for Soups: Thyme, parsley, bay leaf, dill, tarragon.
Cajun Spices: Paprika, chili, garlic, allspice, thyme, cayenne.
Chili Powder: garlic, oregano, allspice, cloves, cumin seed, coriander seed, cayenne, black pepper, turmeric, mustard seed, paprika.
Desserts: Cinnamon, cloves, coriander, ginger, nutmeg, mace, cardamom.
French: Chives, chervil, parsley, thyme, tarragon.
Indian: Cumin, coriander, cardamom, black pepper.
Indian Curry: Coriander seeds, cumin, nutmeg, cardamom seed, turmeric, white mustard seed, black mustard seed, fenugreek seed, chilis, ginger, peppercorns, garlic, allspice, cinnamon, cayenne, fennel.
Italian blends: Oregano, basil, marjoram, tarragon, parsley.
Mexican Combinations: garlic, cumin, black pepper, cloves, oregano, cilantro, sometimes cinnamon and coriander.
Mexican fajita: Ginger, paprika, jalepeno pepper, oregano, mustard, cumin, red pepper, parsley.

Guide to Herbs & Spices

I kept to the most common spices. She has a more extensive list in the book.

Allspice: Naturally combines the flavors of a lot of other spices such as clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Uses: Desserts, quick breads, pickling.

Basil: tomato dishes of all sorts, pesto (fresh leaves ideal), Italian, Mediterranean dishes; combines well with garlic, thyme, parsley and oregano.

Bay Leaf: Soups, sauces, stews, beans, marinades; combines well with basil, oregano, thyme, garlic, and pepper.

Caraway Seeds: Commonly added to breads, vegetables, eggs, and cheeses.

Cardamom Seeds: Soups, stews, sweet potatoes, yams, white and red potatoes, and pastries; combines well with cumin and coriander.

Chives: Potatoes, leek, or onion dishes; garnishes for vegetables and soups, bean dishes, salads; combines well with garlic, dill, marjoram, tarragon, and dairy products.

Cinnamon & Cloves: Squashes, apples and other fruits; combines well with nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and cardamom.

Coriander (also known as cilantro): Salas, beans (mexican dishes), Indian cuisine, salads, vegetables

Cumin: Beans, vegetables, curries

Dill: Soups, salads, vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers, dairy products, crepes, bland-tasting foods such as cauliflower, potatoes; dill stands alone and does not need other herbs

Ginger: Baked goods, desserts, ethnic cuisine from Asia and Africa.

Marjoram: Italian and Mediterranean dishes, but it can be added to most vegetables, salad dressings, stews, and sauces; combines well with oregano, basil and tarragon

Nutmeg: Desserts such as pumpkin pie, puddings, cakes, cookies

Oregano: Tomato sauces, cheese, minestrone-type soups, vegetables; combines well with garlic, parsley, thyme, basil, tarragon, and marjoram

Parsley: Garnish, grain and potato dishes, pastas, pesto, salads

Pepper, Cayenne: Sauces, soups, beans, chilies; Mexican, Cajun, and Creole dishes; combines well with chilis. Very high in vitamin C and vitamin A, becomes more flavorful when it is frozen.

Paprika: European, African, Portuguese, and Spanish recipes.

Rosemary: Bread stuffing, vegetables, salad dressings, sauces, soups; combines well with thyme, parsley and bay leaf.

Sage: Mostly used on meats but also on potatoes and in stuffings and breads

Tarragon: Mushrooms, leeks, potatoes, peas, dairy products, salad dressings

Thyme: Beans, soups, stews, vegetables, garnish, dairy products

Check out this website for further suggested use ideas.

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays!

About Lindsay

Lindsay Edmonds is first a lover of Jesus, wife, mother of four, homemaker, and writer. She loves inspiring women around the world toward simple, natural, and intentional living for the glory of God.

9 Responses to Mastering the Art of Herbs & Spices

  1. Bill August 24, 2013 at 5:26 pm #

    Would really like to know of ‘complimentary herbs’ as in which one(s) would bring out the best in the/any others? For instance Skyline Chili adds Cinnamon to THEIR chili sauce, some may like it, some may not-but the point is it distinguishes theirs from everyone elses. I make a Chicken Paprikas (Hungarian) that uses a lot of’sweet’ Paprika, so would Dill or Cardamom ‘compliment’ or detract from the signature of this dish?

  2. C August 15, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

    Lindsay-could you share any tips on where to find glass spice containers?

  3. C August 15, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

    Lindsay-could you share any tips on where to you find glass spice containers?

  4. Christa February 26, 2008 at 7:50 pm #

    I LOVE Nutmeg, besides desserts it is fabulous in white/cream sauces with a dash of paprika and cayenne.


  5. Risha February 19, 2008 at 6:56 pm #

    Thank you so much for posting this! I am always wanting to learn to be more creative in the kitchen.

  6. holly February 19, 2008 at 4:07 pm #

    Ha, reminds me of Peru. Spices sure spice up life! Thank you God for taste buds…And tongues for that matter.

  7. Amy Best February 19, 2008 at 3:00 pm #

    Awesome, thanks.

  8. Mrs. Taft February 19, 2008 at 11:02 am #

    I have found that tarragon and marjoram go together quite well, especially in sweet/savory dishes.

  9. Kathleen February 18, 2008 at 11:37 pm #

    Mmmmm…wonderful! I’ve wanting to work on this lately as well. I’m glad you posted it!