Learning to use both fresh and dried herbs in your cooking will allow you to brighten and flavour any dish. Long before they were used in catering, herbs were first used in medicine as remedies for various ailments. The medicinal properties of herbs were first discovered when animals that normally ate meat were noticed eating plants to help ease symptoms of illness or pain. One early example would be eating sage with wild duck and geese, which was discovered to ease the symptoms of indigestion caused by the very high fat content of the meat.
Army chefs use herbs in abundance and are used to compliment the flavour of foods and to make dishes look appetising. Many herbs are available in dried form and are therefore available all year round. Of the thirty known types of herbs used in cooking (many more are used in medicines and health shops) you will need to familiarise yourself with eight to begin with.
Oregano is the wild version of marjoram. The flavours are very similar but the oregano is much stronger and is used in soups, pastas and veg and egg dishes. Marjoram tends to be used in its leaf form for fresh salads and garnishes, although it can also be used in the same dishes as oregano.
Mint was probably one of the rst herbs you would have encountered, in the form of chewing gum. The flavouring of gums originally comes from the mint plant. Today we also use mint with fresh green peas, with roasted lamb joints and new potatoes to get that fresh taste.
Taken from the Bay Laurel (a Mediterranean species), bay leaves are used to flavour soups and stews, among other things, and are one of the three herbs used in a Bouquet Garni.
Probably the most commonly used herb in the UK, it can be finely or roughly chopped and cooked in sauces, deep fried or used to decorate dishes.
Sage is a strong, bitter and pungent herb and is the main thing that you can smell in sage and onion stuffing. It is used in very careful amounts and is mainly served with rich fatty foods.
Tarragon tastes like aniseed and should always be used when as fresh as possible. Because of its characteristic flavour it is used in some of the more classier sauces, as well as in larder work for cold presentation dishes. Note: If used in large quantities it can be overpowering.
Fresh thyme is as good as dry. Due to its strong aroma it is most commonly used in sauces, stews and soups.
Rich in iron, watercress is used either whole leaf in salads, shredded in soups or as a garnish for large joints of meat.
We look forward to seeing you use herbs in your competition entry.