7 Unusual Culinary Herbs You May Never Have Cooked With…Yet

lavender cupcakes

There’s a world of unusual culinary herbs out there waiting to be explored that goes far beyond rosemary and thyme. This summer, try out a few new ones and expand your herb repertoire.

There’s nothing like cutting stalks of mint and basil from your own pots of kitchen herbs (doable in even the smallest of spaces) to add in to whatever you’re cooking. Fresh herbs can make all the difference in a dish after all. But why stop at the good old standards? Check out these culinary herbs worth adding into the mix.

red basil

1. Red Basil

Popular in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, red basil has a bit of a stronger, spicier taste to its more popular counterpart. Like the more common sweet basil, it’s rich in vitamins and minerals which means you can’t go wrong adding it into your food. The easiest use is adding it fresh to salads, but it can also easily be used in making infused simple syrups, or for a summery treat, make a batch of Thai Basil and Coconut Ice Cream.

lemon verbena

2. Lemon Verbena

This perennial herb is known for its delicious citrus smell. Common in soap and shampoo, if you’re looking for a citrus flavor that’s a little different than the average lemon, lemon verbena should be your go-to summer herb. Add it to whipped cream for summer cakes or make a flavored vinegar. The ultimate summer treat? A glass of lemon verbena lemonade.

scented geranium

3. Scented Geranium

There are more than 400 types of geranium plants, and with the scented versions you’ll get everything from rose to nutmeg smells, which can be used in a variety of dishes and drinks. Add it to a summer berry compote, infuse vodka or gin, or make a flavored sugar for sprinkling on baked goods.  And as it turns out, the plant even works as a mosquito repellent, pulling double summer duty.


4. Lovage

Some people mistake lovage for celery leaves. The herb has a very similar smell and flavor, which makes it a good base for soups and stocks, and anything savory. How about a Lovage and Lettuce Soup? And since it’s summer, you’re probably guzzling water; use lovage and make your own herbal essence to add just a little flavor when staying hydrated.

chocolate mint

5. Chocolate Mint

A lot of people keep mint on hand, but if you’re going to add another herb to your collection, make it chocolate mint. It has a strong flavor, so you want to choose carefully where you use it. Steep a tea, chop finely and add to strawberries, whip up a chocolate moussemake ice cream or even serve yourself a chocolate mint mojito.


6. Sorrel

Slightly tart and with a little bite, sorrel is one of those herbs that doesn’t make it onto most people’s ingredient list. And that’s a shame, because paired well it has a distinct and delicious flavor. There’s also a wild version that can easily be foraged. Start with beets and grapefruit and make a salad, for a variation on pesto, use sorrel instead of basil, or pair with strawberries for a smoothie.


7. Culinary Lavender

Lavender isn’t unusual in and of itself, but as it’s more commonly used in soaps, potpourris and the like, not typically found among the culinary herbs. Yes, you can in fact eat lavender. Most varieties of lavender can be used for cooking but Lavandula angustifolia is the most prominent one; try to find an organic version. Lavender’s taste is strong, so start off easy and and taste as you go along before adding in more. Throw it on salads, use it as a meat rub, make a lavender aioli for serving with potatoes, or make a lavender simple syrup and indulge in a lavender margarita.

Images: hozinjaDan Hurt, jacqueline, zormasa, thevonDOOMs, Jake, Theresa, Walter Smith


Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.