So you know herbs are good for you, you’ve planted a few, but now what? How do you take those wonderful herbs and turn them into wonderful dishes? Do you mince, chop, grate, slice or what? While there are several methods that work quickly, each herb does have its preference. By using the right technique with the right herb, you’ll soon be on you’re way to enjoying a flavorful, speedy culinary treat!

Marjoram

Rather than pick off each little leaf of small-leaved herbs like marjoram, dwarf oregano and thyme, pinch the stems with your fingers and strip the leaves right off.

Photo Credit: Judith K. Mehl

Prepping sage

Sage, especially the large-leafed varieties, can be de-ribbed the same way you would sorrel, kale or any large-ribbed greens. Once the ribs are gone, chop or mince as desired.

Photo Credit: Judith K. Mehl

Herb mill

An herb mill can make fast work of plucking and mincing herbs like rosemary.

Photo Credit: Judith K. Mehl

Of course, the easiest way to render herbs into little pieces is to put the leaves in a food processor or blender with other ingredients like pine nuts or cheese (think basil, pine nuts and parmesan for pesto). If you want to be more precise and bring out the flavor of each herb, however, there are other methods – but first determine what you need for your recipe. Most needs fall into three categories: minced (tiny pieces), chopped (slightly bigger pieces) or whole leaves.

Now, don’t let the size of the herb trick you. I used to be put off from using thyme (Thymus) because of how long it took to pick the tiny leaves from the stems. But here’s an easy way to make use of thyme’s delicate taste (reminiscent of cloves) that doesn’t take all day: Just grasp the stem at the top, pinch lightly with thumb and forefinger, and run your pinchers down the stem quickly to remove all the leaves. Often no more needs to be done, but if you prefer smaller pieces, mince them up. Just wash the leaves and then pile them together. Then chop through them with a chef’s knife in a circular fashion until they’re fine.

Some herbs have a tough central rib, and they need this part removed before chopping. To do this individually can be time-consuming. Instead, stack the leaves on top of each other with the ribs aligned. Then just fold the pile in half along the rib. Trim the rib out with a quick knife stroke. Slice the leaves into smaller segments, then mince or chop as needed. This works great for sage (Salvia officinalis). But when even de-ribbing is too time-consuming, try rubbing the whole leaves on meat before grilling, or toss a few whole leaves into a salad for terrific flavor!

Curly-leaf and flat parsley (Petroselinum), with their gentle flavor, add more than ornamentation to a meal. High in vitamin C, both bring great taste to anything from soups to salads – but they’ll provide the most nutrition when added just before the food comes off the stovetop. Simply pick the leaves off the stems, which are too tough for most dishes. Hold several leaves in one hand and snip away at them with scissors. This causes less bruising than hacking away at them with a knife, and it makes a quick job of the chore. Basil takes well to this method, too.

Dill, or dillweed (Anethum graveolens), is another herb that shies away from the knife. Snip with scissors instead to preserve its delicate flavor. This feathery herb can be frozen on the stem, making it even easier to clip. Merely take the dill out of the freezer, snip what you need with scissors, and return the rest to your icebox. The seeds, with their stronger flavor, can be used whole in foods or ground up, especially for long-cooking casseroles.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus) is a perennial evergreen shrub with needlelike leaves. Don’t let that keep you from enjoying its pungent yet sweet taste since it enhances the flavor of most meats, chicken, fish and vegetables. Place a whole sprig in the cooking pot and remove it when the dish is done cooking. Otherwise, crush or mince the leaves before sprinkling over foods. (An herb mill helps if the recipe calls for a lot of rosemary.)

Mint (Mentha), with its many varieties, is used for numerous dishes, from flavoring candy to sauces, jellies and teas. Mint combines well with peas, lamb and chocolate – how much more versatile can you get? When possible, just toss in whole leaves, or twist or bruise them before adding to a drink.

Now that you’ve saved all that time when preparing your meals, head out to enjoy your herb garden…along with a good book and that old Southern favorite, a mint julep – no mincing required.