Sorrel, lovage, savory, chervil, borage. What is the deal with these lesser-known herbs and what are they good for?

I see them sometimes at the farmer's market and am curious to know if people use them in recipes, and are there any other under-appreciated American herbs I forgot?

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Anitalectric March 6, 2011
@mainecook61 Thanks for the idea of subbing chervil for parsley. I love parsley, but good parsley is difficult to find, commercially or at the farmer's market. To me, fresh, mass-produced parsley always has an unpleasant aroma/aftertaste.

Also, I LOVE bush basil. They always have it at the farmer's market in summer. Delicious in salads (and also because it is a powerful aphrodisiac).

I can't grow herbs because I live in a fourth floor Brooklyn walk up. The only thing I have growing is a pot of my Grandma's 'oregano de bruja', which grows to be huge in its natural environment, but for me, the few leaves I can coax are about 1" in diameter.

Thanks for all the advice, everyone! Soups, salads, sauces, is going to be a very interesting spring/summer.
Grey May 14, 2014
I'm a landscaper/horticulturist which brought me to being a foodie from the other direction; I love the colours, textures and scents of the herb garden and rather as an afterthought started to use them in my cooking, but that was many decades ago. These days I'm a legend :-)

French Sorrel, not to be confused with the common weed, remains a beautiful soft clump that can be picked every day. Its tart lemony flavour can be used as the base ingredient for salads without fear. Also look for potato and sorrel soup recipes.
Basically celery comes in three forms, for the stem-celery, for the huge stem base-celeriac and for flavouring stocks-lovage. I love lovage.
Savory, hmmmm possibly I should try harder, but as far as I'm concerned you're not missing much.

Chervil, is just soo pretty, it's certainly a great substitute for parsley but I can never bring myself to cut it.
Borage, candy flowers for decorating cakes, use the plentiful flowers for decorating the top of the salad and grow in hanging basket above head height to see that glorious blue. Great for attracting bees too. Many strawberry growers still swear by it.

Other under-utilized herbs include tarragon, great for flavouring bland veg like zucchini and making herb vinegar.

Horseradish, use young leaves in salad and a handful of older boiled in the milk of a white sauce for fish dishes. Grate the root for beef of course.
Laksa, (vietnamese coriander) an always there substitute for cilantro with peppery and lemony notes.
And there's those that are more vegatable than herb but often overlooked. Stinging nettle dipped in boiling water loses all pain but makes the tastiest and most nutritious spinach. It's so well protected because everything wants to eat it. Then there's the goosefoots. I'm a recent flabbergasted convert to Chenopodium murales, (nettel leaf goosefoot) and Good King Henry . NB another chenopodium is quinoa :-) Then there's Portulaca oleracea for putting some crunch into your salad. Amazingly in countries where portulaca is still, and rightly so, a prized vegtable there are something like 60 varieties grown.
sheredel March 6, 2011
check out a recipe for schav.
Greenstuff March 6, 2011
I second mainecook's pushing of chocolate mint--just the slightest hint of chocolate--anise hyssop, and nasturtiums, both the flowers and the leaves. I'll warn you that one year I grew and ate so many kinds of spicy basils that they kind of got to me, and I couldn't stand pesto for a few years. It was a bit of a problem, because my husband loves basil.

Another one that I remembered that I wanted to share--lemon balm. It's great as an herbal tea and phenomenal when steeped in alcohol and made into a liqueur.
mainecook61 March 5, 2011
Chervil: so much more delicious than parsley. When I've got it, I put it in everything. It collapses in late summer heat, loves late spring and early summer. Easy to grow--one of my favorites. Ferny leaves are pretty in a border, too.

Borage: Delicious in a Pimm's Cup on the porch on a hot day. I never plant it; it seeds itself quite promiscuously in the garden. Lovely blue flowers, too--a good ornamental.

Lovage: once you've got it growing, it will never leave you, even if you want it to because it takes up so much space. (Cut back, it returns in force.) Use it sparingly; it's assertive. The lovage and I ---well, we respect each other but we don't love each other.

Under-appreciated? Chocolate mint. Yes, it's a mint and wants to aggressively take over your herb garden. And it's not terribly chocolate-y, although it has dark stems. But it seems to take the heat of summer in good stride, so in the fall, if you're making mint jelly, it hasn't gone to flower like the other mints; it even seems to make a comeback.

Also under-appreciated: anise hyssop. It's a lovely flowering plant, plus the blue flowers and the leaves are a nice surprise in a salad or as a tea. Super easy to grow.

And how about the pepper-y bite of nasturtium flowers in a salad?

The savories: nice with fresh beans and in a summer salad. Fussy growers for me.

Last, try some Spicy Bush basil---it has teensy leaves, unlike the regular stuff, makes a neat little shrub that can grow in a pot, and has lovely flavor.
Johnnys Selected Seeds has all of these.

Waldito March 5, 2011
Oh, Greenstuff! Marvelous info, and thanks to anitalectric for kicking this whole thread off. I TRIED summer in pots, and it died an early death on more than one occasion. Will attempt again, with your good advice in mind. As for burnet ... it grew beautifully in upstate New York (a hundred zillion years ago), and it's impossible to find here in Italy. Will ask next friend coming over to clandestinely smuggle seeds ...
Greenstuff March 5, 2011
If you're growing savory from seed, that can be tough. They're slow to sprout. Hmm, I do know that both types are slow to germinate, so buying a plant or plants instead of growing it from seed. Summer savory does well in pots, so you might want to keep it potted. Keep picking it as it grows. Florence may be too cold for winter savory to survive the winter without protection. And you should keep it well pruned.

I also wanted to put in a plug for another favorite little green to add to salads--salad burnet. It has cute little toothed leaves that add texture as well as flavor.
Waldito March 5, 2011
Greenstuff: how I love the idea of starting out every meal with soup! I had horrible luck with both savories while living in upstate New York. Now I live in Italy -- sort of near Florence -- and honest to goddess, I kill all the savory -- regardless of the season - I attempt to grow. If you have any tips/pointers, I would be thrilled, as everything else to make herbes de Provence grows totally successfully in my garden.

And I've never thrown chervil sprigs into a salad but my ... what a great idea.
Greenstuff March 5, 2011
I've grown all those herbs and mostly used them as additions to salads. I really like the celery taste without the celery stalk of lovage sprigs and the tang of the sorrel. When I lived in Belgium and had soup as a starter for every dinner, my favorite was chervil soup. But my crops have never been successful enough to have sorrel soup regularly. It's really good in sauces. Another Belgian favorite was eel in green sauce, and the green was chervil.

What's your question about growing savory, waldito? There are two kinds of savory--summer savory is an annual, and winter savory is perennial. They're easy to grow (I bought the winter savory I have now in a pot). And I didn't notice this info above--savory is a traditional herb for beans.
Waldito March 5, 2011
Oh, this thread just gets better and better. Thanks, lastnightsdinner. (And if you have any successful tips re: growing savory ...) How do you mix up the pesto? Sorrel (raw, cooked?) and what else?
lastnightsdinner March 5, 2011
Sorrel also makes a wonderful bright and citrusy pesto. That's probably my favorite use for it. I adore chervil and use it with fish and egg dishes, or combined with soft lettuces for sping salads. It's particularly good with peas, too. I use savory year-round, anywhere I'd use thyme or marjoram. As mentioned above, borage leaves and blossoms are another great addition to salads. And I have not worked with lovage in the kitchen, but now I have ideas how to! Thanks for the question and the answers, 'picklers!
Waldito March 5, 2011
HellonKitchen: WOW! Thank you. More, please.
Anitalectric March 5, 2011
HellonKitchen I love the idea of using a locally-grown leaf to cook something in. To date, I have only used banana leaves, which do not grow anywhere near New York! I will have to try grilling with herbs when the weather is warm.
Helen's A. March 5, 2011
Lovage is a great herb and easy to grow. You need a lot of room for it though since it gets rather big, bigger than me! It is a perennial – comes up every year.

One of my favorite ways to use lovage is with swordfish on the grill. Line one of those fish baskets that you can use on the grill with sprigs of lovage leaves. Salt and pepper a swordfish steak or two. Brush with some olive oil and place on top of the lovage leaves so that you have leaves on either side of the fish. Close the basket. Brush the lovage with additional olive oil – not too much or you’ll flame everything. Grill over medium or medium low coals or on a gas grill until the fish is done to your liking, turning once, about 8 – 10 minutes or so. Don’t grill on too high a temp or too close to the flames as the lovage will burn. Garnish with lemon.
Waldito March 5, 2011
I didn't realize you are vegan, Anitalectric. If you whip up that recipe, please post it, as I want to eat it!
Anitalectric March 5, 2011
All of those sound amazing, Waldito. I love all the sauce ideas. I don't eat eggs, but I can imagine all kinds of comparable dishes they would work for, like maybe a hollandaise-like sauce for tofu benedict.
Waldito March 5, 2011
Sorrel makes a fantastic soup -- you can mix it up with leeks and potatoes (and broth, of course), whirl it in the blender. It also pairs beautifully with lentils (again, as a soup). Raw: you can mix it up with mayonnaise, tip it in a blender, and pour it over hard-boiled eggs. It grows like a weed in our garden, so I have devised all sorts of ways to use it ... including making sorrel fritters.

Lovage works the same way celery works, and tastes terrific in potato salads. As for savory: I've never successfully grown it.

Chevil works beautifully in sauces, especially with fish. It's light, and delicate, with an anise-like aroma. You can also mash it with butter to put on a baked potato (or as part of a filling for hard-boiled eggs).

To add to Hardlikearmour's tip for borage: it makes terrific tea, too.

Anitalectric March 5, 2011
A cucumber-y herb sounds incredible! I can imagine using it in a California roll or other veggie sushi. I have to find some borage this spring. Thanks hardlikearmour!
hardlikearmour March 5, 2011
Sorrel is primarily used as a green - it's tangy, and can be added to salad or soup.
I haven't used lovage - but thirschfeld has and he may toss in some advice here.
Savory is commonly used with legumes and poultry.
Chervil is lovely, sort of like tarragon parsley.
Borage - pretty blue flowers with a cucumbery flavor. I nibble on them straight or add them to salads.
Next time you see one that strikes your fancy you should get it!
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