Mexican Aromatic Herbs
Written in Colaboration with Chef Manuel Arciniega.
What are the aromatic Mexican herbs that are commonly sold at Mexican markets? Here we will explain what they are, how they are used, and how to store them.
In Mexico, whether it be in your mother’s or grandmother’s kitchen, there was always an assortment of aromatic herbs that are essential for preparing different dishes, and giving them that unique touch needed to create authentic Mexican flavors.
When you go to the supermarkets in Mexico, you can generally find these herbs sold separately, but when you go to a traditional Mexican market in some areas of Mexico, you can sometimes find a lady walking around selling a bundle for about $10 pesos (about $0.50 USD). The bundle can include things like cinnamon, garlic cloves, matches, and an assortment of herbs. The most common herbs are Bay Leaf, Marjoram, and Thyme.
Bay Leaf Mexican Herb
Bay leaf (also known as Bay Laurel) is used in Mexican cuisine to give a unique flavor to dishes like Chicken Tinga and Pescado a la Veracruzana, and it is also used in many soups and broths. Additionally, it is often added to meats like beef and chicken when they are cooked in a slow cooker or pressure cooker (one example is barbacoa).
With the scientific name Laurus nobilis, bay leaf is of Mediterranean origin and has been an important herb since the time of ancient Rome. In fact, there are many awards named after it, using the name “laurel” for the award and the term “laureates” to those who receive them.
In traditional French cooking, bay leaf is a component in a bundle of herbs known as bouquet garni, which is commonly used when preparing poultry, meats, broths, and soups. Bay leaf is also used to prepare several “escabeche” dishes in multiple cuisines. One of the benefits of bay leaf (in both fresh or dried form) is that it can keep its flavor even after being stored for months.
Additionally, bay leaf is a source of folic acid, A and B vitamins, and minerals like iron, zinc, magnesium, and manganese. It is also believed to have several health benefits, including helping to protect the heart and to regulate glucose levels. Bay leaf has been used to treat wounds and is used in infusions to help relieve indigestion and muscle pain.
Having the scientific name Origanum majorana, Marjoram is an herb that is native to the island of Cyprus and several areas of the Mediterranean and Middle East. It is often confused with oregano, but while they do look very similar, they have very different qualities and flavors, with oregano being a bit stronger than marjoram.
Marjoram is a component in the mixture of dried herbs known as Herbes de Provence, and is an easy herb to plant and grow at home.
Marjoram works really well with seafood and with dishes prepare with vinegar, like cow feet or pig feet in vinegar. In these concoctions, marjoram is used to add an aroma and to take away some of the intensity of the protein.
While marjoram works really well in other cuisines like French and Italian, it is in Mexican cooking that it represents a vital ingredient for adding aroma to dishes.
Marjoram tea is sometimes used to stimulate appetite, alleviate insomnia and anxiety, and also to help cure the common cold and respiratory infections.
One fun fact about Marjoram: the Spanish word for Marjoram (“Mejorana”) is also the name of a musical genre in Panama, as well as the special guitar used to play it, called a Mejorana or Mejoranera.
Thyme, with the scientific name Thymus vulgaris, is indigenous to the Mediterranean region and is also an important member of the group of herbs we use in Mexican cuisine. There are actually many different variants of thyme, but they are all known for the distinctive flavor that is derived from the chemical compound Thymol (which is also present in oregano).
Thyme is often used in dishes that are slow-cooked, like Barbacoa, and also when cooking proteins with strong flavors, such as rabbit, mutton, or lamb. Besides red meats, Thyme also works well in mushroom soups, and it plays well with butter, too.
Thyme can also be integrated into soups, salads, and fish dishes. It is one of the herbs used in the bouquet garni and is also used for medicinal purposes, specifically for helping treat indigestion and inflammation.
Uses of Aromatic Herbs
One main advantage of these herbs is that, once dried, they can be easily stored in glass jars (the preferred method) to preserve their flavor. This way they will be accessible and ready to be used in the next dish you prepare.
How to Store Fresh Herbs
If you have these herbs and want to store them while they are still fresh, first wash them and dry them using a paper towel. After that, roll them up in a clean, dry paper towel and place them inside a plastic bag, then store them in the refrigerator. The herbs will stay fresh for up to a week.
How do I Dry Herbs?
The most common method for drying herbs is placing them in a place with very little humidity.
You must first wash them and dry them with a paper towel or kitchen napkin to remove any excess water. Next, you tie them together in a bundle using a piece of string or kitchen twine, and hang them in an area of your kitchen to dry. This drying process can take up to 3 weeks.
After this drying time, you can remove the leaves from the stems, and store them in glass jars. The herbs can be stored like this for up to a year without losing their aroma.
Recipes in which you can use these Mexican herbs:
Pickled Jalapeño Peppers (This recipe uses the 3 herbs)