Culinary herbs are the aromatic leaves of plants that are used to flavor, or be eaten as, food. “Fresh herbs” are herbs still in their whole plant form and have not been dried or processed. Fresh herbs have been used in traditional cuisines of cultures across the world for thousands of years. Fresh herbs provide a diversity of distinct flavors and aromas and are part of what makes regional culinary traditions taste unique.
Perhaps I am biased, but I think that fresh herbs just make life better! Think about how good a really good mojito is with mint. Or basil on a ripe summer tomato. Or the incredible scent of a bouquet of lavender or roses. There are many reasons to love fresh herbs, especially from local farms and gardens!
History and Facts
Herbs have been used by all cultures since flowering plants and humans co-evolved together roughly 6 million years ago, before recorded human history. Evidence of Egyptian Schools of Herbalists dates back to 3000 B.C.E. when herbs were primarily used medicinally and in ceremonies.
It is said that Europeans first used herbs in food not to add flavor to food, but to mask the flavor of rancid food. The herbs also had preservative qualities and aided in the digestion of foods. Colonization, trade routes, and the forceful movement of people carried spices and herbs to new areas, like North America. Europeans and Western civilizations adopted the use of culinary herbs relatively late compared to other cultures in modern-day Asia and South America.
Today, there is still a misconception that herbs are an expensive luxury in the U.S. However, this is changing. As the demographics of Americans has been changing, and an increase in the popularity of cross-cultural cooking, the fresh herb market is growing in the U.S. Projections show it could potentially become a $1.1 Billion industry by 2025.
Why do herbs make us feel good?
Over the past two decades, there has been an increase in research on the impact of scent and memory. This research has become especially relevant as millions of people worldwide that have been infected with COVID-19 have lost their sense of smell and taste either temporarily or long-term. Neuroscience shows that as a scent molecule travels into our body, it’s first accessed by a part of our brain that is home to memory and emotion, then to the part of our brain that is home to thinking. So basically, smells make us feel something before they make us think something. Aromatic plants like herbs can awaken memories that we don’t even remember or understand.
Fresh Herbs in the Adirondacks
Most fresh herbs are grown on diversified veggie or flower farms in the Adirondacks. Many farms grow both perennial (plants that come back each year, like sage and thyme) and annual herbs (plants that have to be planted each year, like cilantro) either outdoors or under cover in low tunnels or high tunnels. By growing warm weather loving herbs like basil or lavender under cover, farmers are able to harvest herbs much earlier and later in the growing season.
Learn more about wild herbs and plants with Jane Desotelle of Underwood Herbs:
Learn more about how Adirondack View Vineyard and Lavender Farm grows thousands of lavender plants each year, for its flavor, scent, and medicinal properties:
Why Local Fresh Herbs?
Flavor & Quality
Forget a moment about those sad clamshell packets of “fresh” herbs from the grocery store. There is no taste or scent quite like freshly picked herbs. Enjoying bundles from a local farm, or clippings from your herb garden can be a transformational experience. After cutting herbs, the aromatic oils begin to dissipate. This is why herbs enjoyed soon after picking are more flavorful and aromatic, meaning a little goes a long way. Herbs picked in California and shipped and stored for 3 weeks will have fewer aromatic oils and will have less flavor and scent.
Like any food, a product that is grown using methods that support soil health, clean water, and is shipped a shorter distance, is going to have less of a negative environmental impact. Many bundles of herbs from local farms are sold with a single rubber band or twist tie which also decreases single-use plastic.
There are many studied health benefits of a variety of fresh herbs (that aren’t sprayed with toxic pesticides) because they are generally high in antioxidants and nutrients. If you want to learn more about the health benefits, you may find this research from Michigan State University interesting.
Recipes to Enjoy Local Fresh Herbs
Fresh herbs can offer so much more than a little garnish to add a pop of color. This summer, make herbs the star of the show, and get to know the nuances of flavor, texture and freshness they can offer. Making sauces, dressings, and incorporating fresh herbs into your food is a really delicious way to flavor food.
You will never go back to bottled ranch dressing after making a batch of it homemade with fresh herbs. And, you will absolutely never make a better cup of tea than with fresh mint picked from a local farm or your garden.
A few favorite preparations to try…
Recipes to try
- Try a tangy Chimichurri Sauce with a combination of herbs you like, such as cilantro, parsley and basil as a sauce for meat or grilled veggies.
- Make homemade mint-infused herbal iced tea for a really refreshing iced drink. Serve this to anyone and they will be impressed!
- Add them to your favorite creamy potato salad recipe to add a little more color and flavor.
- Whip up a batch of homemade ranch or green goddess salad dressing that will be both cheaper and tastier than the bottled stuff.
- Try lavender shortbread cookies to utilize fresh-picked local lavender.
Where to Buy Fresh Herbs Locally
Find farmstands, retail locations and markets selling fresh herbs: adirondackharvest.com/browse
How do you enjoy fresh herbs? Comment and let us know below!
Herbs harvested by CCE Ag Issue Leader Carly Summers. Lavender, tulsi, purple basil, thai basil, and chamomile are pictured.
Fresh herbs at the Creative Kitchen Garden in Westport, NY.
You-pick lavender in bloom at Adirondack View Vineyard and Lavender.