Herbs de Provence might be one of the most underutilized spice blends, at least here in the U.S. But no more, I say.
What is Herbs de Provence?
It is a blend of spices that varies slightly from house to house in the Provence region of France. The most common ingredients are savory, rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, and lavender.
Savory, summer savory in this case, is a perennial soft-leaved herb that can be hard to find, dried or fresh in US grocery stores. However, it is used extensively in France, Atlantic Canada, and Bulgaria. Savory makes a nice substitute for sage, and you can use it in many of the same dishes like stews and sausages.
Rosemary is a woody, somewhat piney, perennial herb that is very heady and fragrant. In Latin, rosemary means dew of the sea, and it was a sacred plant to the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. According to a legend, the Virgin Mary spread her blue cloak over a white-blossomed rosemary bush when she was resting, and the flowers turned blue. The shrub then became known as the “Rose of Mary.” Rosemary is one of my all-time favorite herbs that pairs well with veggies, breads, chicken, pork, beef, and fish.
Thyme is another one of my favorite herbs. It is woody, too, but less so than rosemary. It is also a perennial herb, so it’s great to plant in your garden because it will return year after year. Thyme is a relative to both mint and oregano. Thyme is equally good fresh and dried, and pairs beautifully with chicken, fish, and veggies. Ancient Egyptians used it for embalming, ancient Greeks believed it to be a source of courage, and was used in the Middle Ages to ward off nightmares and aid in better sleep.
Oregano is another great perennial herb, that is an annual in colder climates. A relative of both thyme and marjoram, two other herbs in herbs de provence, you can find also find it in Italian, Greek, Phillippino, and Argentian foods. I prefer to use dried oregano over fresh, as its flavor is stronger when dried, but you can find it pretty easily in both forms.
Marjoram isn’t a very commonly used herb in America, but is loved in Southern Europe and the Middle East. In addition to being in herbs de provence, it is also a staple ingredient in za’atar, a spice blend from the Middle East. It was a source of happiness to the Greeks and Romans, too. It can be used anywhere you would use oregano, though it is slightly less sweet in flavor.
There is some debate as to whether or not lavender is traditional to herbs de provence or if it was added in to Americanize the spice blend since lavender fields are so known to the Provence region of France. However, I find it to be essential to the blend. Lavender is a woody perennial herb that loves dry, poor soil. It has many uses and benefits, from relaxing you and inducing sleep, to helping the body heal. Plus, it smells divine.
How to use Herbs de Provence
You can use it on fish, chicken, veggies, grilled foods, stews, and infused into oils and butter. It is best to let foods marinate in the spice blend rather than adding it after the food has been cooked. You want to let the flavors infuse slowly into the food so that you can taste all the layers. It has a gentle yet distinct flavor and aroma that is unlike anything else you’ve likely tried.
Up your summer food game and give herbs de provence a whirl around your kitchen.