Most commonly known as the pizza herb, oregano has a pungent flavor and aroma that goes very well with tomato-based dishes. It's in the same family as marjoram, which has a milder and sweeter flavor. Oregano is most often used dried, but fresh Mediterranean oregano can be found in Italian markets and some grocery stores. Try it in Greek Caponata or a Prosciutto-Mozzarella Panini.
Part of the mint family, rosemary is native to the Mediterranean but is now grown throughout the United States and Europe. Its needle-shaped leaves have flavors of lemon and pine. Fresh rosemary is available in grocery stores year-round. Store it in a plastic bag or upright in a glass of water in the refrigerator. Rosemary adds great flavor to roasted meats and a wide variety of other dishes—try Popcorn with Rosemary-Infused Oil and Rosemary Peach Lemonade.
There are two common types of parsley: curly and flat-leaf (Italian). Curly-leaf is often used as a garnish, while flat-leaf has more flavor. Parsley is sold in bunches and should be wrapped in slightly damp paper towels and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. The flavor and aroma of dried parsley bears little resemblance to the fresh. Fresh parsley has a mild peppery flavor and can be used to brighten up a wide variety of dishes, like Boiled Parslied Potatoes and Lentil, Bean and Parsley Salad.
Sage is often thought of as a "wintry" herb because of its warming, musty flavor. Though dried sage (rubbed and powdered) is common in most spice racks, bunches of fresh sage are usually available year-round in grocery stores. Look for gray-green leaves with a fragrant aroma and refrigerate, wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel, up to four days. The herb is often used in stuffings and sausages. It also pairs very well with winter squash—try Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter.
Widely used in French cooking, tarragon is an aromatic herb with a distinct anise flavor. It should be used sparingly, as it can easily dominate other flavors in a dish. Fresh tarragon is available year-round. It's an integral ingredient in classic sauces like Béarnaise and works well with chicken, fish and vegetables. It's even wonderful in cocktails, like this Siberian Sling.
Thyme is another staple herb of French cuisine. Thyme sprigs are part of the classic bouquet garni, used to flavor soups, stews and roasts. Its tiny gray-green leaves have a minty, slightly lemony aroma. Fresh thyme is sold year-round in grocery stores. Use it in Strip Steak with Brandied Mushrooms and Fresh Thyme, Soft Polenta with Lemon, Thyme and Carrots, and even an Apple and Thyme Martini.