French herbs, spices & seasonings used in French cuisine

Want to Frenchify your herb and spice pantry? Discover the world of French herbs, spices, and seasonings used by French home cooks in French cuisine.

By Annie André ⦿ updated January 10, 2024  
French herbs and spices and seasonings used in French cuisine
French herbs and spices and seasonings used in French cuisine

Whether you’re a language learner, an adventurous cook, or planning an exciting trip to a French-speaking country, understanding the terms for seasonings, spices and herbs in French can come in handy

Not only will you have a deeper understanding of French cuisine and French gastronomy, but it will also empower you to recreate authentic French dishes. Plus, if you’re headed to France, knowing the names of herbs and spices in French can help you identify them on French menus at French restaurants.

What herbs, spices, and seasonings are used in French cuisine?

French herbs and spices used in French cuisine

Many people mistakenly assume that French cooking is restricted to certain types of seasoning, such as lavender, thyme, rosemary, or herbes de Provence. 

In actuality, French cuisine uses many herbs and spices native to other parts of the world. Similarly, certain herbs like tarragon, often associated with French cooking, are actually from other places. 

In this article, we’ll explore common and not-so-common herbs, spices and seasonings used to enhance the flavour of various French dishes, along with their French and English names and how they are used in French cuisine.

Let’s start with French herbs

French herbs that are blends

Herbs are usually the green parts of plants that are used to enhance the flavour and aroma of food that can be used either fresh or dry.  They add a distinct taste and fragrance to dishes and are often used in smaller quantities compared to other ingredients like vegetables or proteins.

There are a few commonly used French herb blends and seasonings in French cooking that are uniquely French. However, keep in mind that some herb and spice blends can vary depending on the region, the type of dish, and the personal preferences of the chef.

Fine Herbs:

French name: Fines Herbes

Fines herbes (fine herbs) is a French herb blend that usually contains chopped or minced Chervil Parsley Chives Tarragon

What is Fines Herbes?

Fines Herbes is a blend of 4 french French herbs that are usually finely chopped, which gives dishes a subtle hint of onions and anise. The 4 French herb mixture usually consists of a combination of the following:

  • Chervil
  • Parsley
  • Chives
  • Tarragon

In France, it’s easy to find “fines herbes” dried and prepackaged in French grocery stores. You can also find various prepared foods that contain this French seasoning, from fines herbes salad dressings and “fine herbes” flavoured Boursin, to “fines herbes” sandwich meat and chips flavoured with fine herbs

French dishes that use fine herbs:

Fines herbes are often used as a finishing touch or garnish for various French dishes, such as:

  • Fine herb omlette (Omelette aux fines herbes)
  • Fine herb sauce (Sauce aux fines herbes)
  • Fine herb salad (Salade aux Fines Herbes)
  • Fine herb quiche (Quiche aux fines herbes)

Herb bundle or “Herb bouquet:

French name: Bouquet Garni:

French herb bundle bouquet garni: usually contains parsley, thyme and bay leaf

What is Bouquet Garni?

“Bouquet garni” is an aromatic bundle of fresh herbs tied together with twine and sometimes placed in a cheesecloth or muslin bag. Although it’s pretty easy to make bouquet garni at home, it’s often sold prepackaged in grocery stores throughout France. 

This French bouquet of fresh herbs is added to dishes and removed before serving. This method is a convenient way to infuse dishes with the flavour of fresh herbs while also making them easy to remove. 

The herbs used in bouquet garni usually include the following herbs.

  • Parsley (or chervil)
  • Thyme
  • Bay leaf

However, there is no standard bouquet garni recipe, so the selection of herbs may include other herbs such as…

  • Marjoram
  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Tarragon
  • Savoury
  • Chervil
  • Peppercorns
  • and even whole garlic

French dishes that use French herb bundle:

Bouquet garni is commonly used to flavour stocks, stews, fish, soups, and braised dishes like “.”beef, fish or soups.

  • Flemish Beef Stew (Carbonnade à la Flamande): Onion stew made with beer and mustard that is popular in Belgium, the Netherlands and French Flanders.
  • Beef borgignon (Boeuf bourguignon): 

Herbes de Provence:

French herbs: herbes de Provence

What is Herbes de Provence?:

Herbes de Provence is an all-purpose French herb mixture of dried herbs from Provence in southern France that’s become a staple in French cuisine. 

The origins of Herbes de Provence are a bit murky.

Some say that French monks created this French herb mixture around the 13th century. Another theory is that it was first used by shepherds who picked the French herbs in the Provence region in the south of France. However, the first written mention of Herbes de Provence was in a 1910 cookbook by Jean-Baptist Reboul called “Compendium of Provençal Cooking.”

Traditionally, Provençal cuisine uses lots of herbs known collectively as herbes de Provence, but people didn’t always use them in specific combinations or buy them already mixed together.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that spice companies like Ducros, a well-known French herbs, spices, and seasonings brand in France, started selling pre-mixed herbes de Provence. Julia Child also helped to popularize Herb de Provençe in North America in her 1961 cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” 

Premixed “herbes de provence” usually contains the following herbs. 

  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Oregano
  • Savory

However, like many herbs and spice blends, the exact blend of French herbs collectively used in “Herbes de Provence” can vary, even within the Provence region. Sometimes, this French herbs mixture will also contain other herbs, such as the following.  

  • Sage
  • Basil
  • Bay leaves
  • Tarragon
  • Fennel
  • Lavender (mainly used in the North American market) 

French dishes that contain herbes de Provence:

Herbes de Provence is commonly used in Mediterranean cooking, such as grilled meat dishes, roasted vegetables, skewers, grilled fish and stews. Here are a few examples. 

  • Ratatouille
  • Roasted potatoes with herbes de Provence
  • Vegetable gratin with Provence herbs
  • Bouillabaise: A tomato-based Provençal fish soup from Marseille, France. 
  • Provençal Tomato Tart (Tarte à la Tomate)


What is persillade?

persillade is a french recipe for french herb mixture of chopped parsley and garlic

Persillade is a traditional French seasoning made from chopped parsley and garlic that’s very similar to Italian Gremolata, which incorporates lemon zest into the garlic and parsley mixture. Many recipes call for additional ingredients such as olive oil, vinegar, and even breadcrumbs. 

The word “persillade” is formed from the French word for parsley “persil” and the suffix “-lade” which in this case is used to refer to a sauce or condiment such as “remoulade.”

Some classic French dishes that use Persillade:

In French cuisine, Persillade is used to flavour or garnish various dishes as a topping or marinade for grilled proteins, such as fish, steaks, and even sauces. 

  • Escargots de Bourgogne: Snails cooked with “beurre de Bourgogne” (butter, garlic, parsley, shallots, and sometimes other herbs and seasonings.
  • Snails in parsley sauce: (Escargots en persillade)
  • Coq au Vin: A traditional chicken dish where the chicken is braised in red wine and finished with a garnish of persillade.
  • Pork chop with persillade (Côte de porc à la persillade)
  • Moules Marinières: A classic French dish consisting of mussels cooked in a flavorful broth which usually contains parsley. 
  • Montpellier butter (Beurre de Montpellier): A flavoured classic French compound butter that originates from the city of Montpellier in the south of France.

French spices and spice blends

Spice blends are magical mixtures of ground spices and herbs combined to create different flavour profiles.

Spice blends can be regional or cultural and can be borrowed into other cuisines. For example, the French spice blend called “Vadouvan” is actually a French spice blend based on Indian curry.

Here are some French spice blends well known throughout France. 

Espelette pepper

French name: Piment d’Espelette

French basque dried Espelette pepper

What is Espelette pepper?

The Espelette pepper is slightly fruity and smokey-tasting chilli with a rating of 4000 Scoville, making it a mildly hot chilli pepper. It’s named after the town of Espelette, from the Basque region of France in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. 

Like paprika, Espelette chilli peppers are usually dried and ground into a powder.

How Espelette pepper is used in French cuisine. 

Piment d’Espelette is commonly used as a spice in French cuisines, such as Basque-style stews, grilled meats, sauces, and egg dishes.

  • Axoa: A traditional Basque stew typically made with minced meat such as veal, onions, peppers, tomatoes and Piment d’Espelette to add a mild heat and enhance the flavours.
  • Piperade: French Basque dish similar to ratatouille. It contains sautéed onions, red or green bell peppers, tomatoes, and sometimes ham or eggs. Piment d’Espelette is a key ingredient. 
  • Basque Chicken
  • There are also espelette-flavoured potato chips sold in French grocery stores.

Four Spices aka French allspice:

French name: Quare Épices

French four spices: Quatre épices: a blend of 4 or more spices depending on the recipe.

What is French four spice?

Of all the French spice blends, “Quatre épices,” which means “four spices” in English, is probably the one most associated with French cuisine for French people. This is ironic since the spices used in this four spice blend mixture are all spices that come from other countries.

Nevertheless, this blend is uniquely French and has been used in French kitchens since at least Medieval times, over 400 years ago. In France, it’s also known as “Parisian spices” (Épices Parisienne.)

In English, it’s sometimes called French allspice or French four spice. 

This French spice blend originally contained four spices, but in the modern ready-to-use prepackaged recipes, you may find five spices. But no matter how many spices are in the blend, it’s still called four spices. 

Here are the ingredients usually found in French four spices

  1. Nutmeg
  2. Cloves
  3. Ginger
  4. Pepper (sometimes)
  5. Cinnamon (sometimes)

In the US and Canada, there is something called allspice, aka Jamaican pepper. It’s made from the dried berries of the Pimenta dioica tree. This spice is sold in France where its also called “quatre épice” which can be confusing. The berries of the this plant have an overlapping flavour profiles of pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg, hence the name “allspice” in English and “Four spice,” in France. Source: 

French dishes that use the French quatre épices:

Four spice is often used in savoury recipes such as soups, stews, pâtés, terrines, sausages, and other charcuterie, as well as in certain sweet dishes. 

  • Spiced bread (Pain d’épices)
  • Duck confit from Périgord (Confit de canard du Périgord): A traditional dish from the Périgord region of France.

Rébelais spices:

French name: Épices Rabelais

Epices Rabelais spices are a special French herbs and spice mixture from Marseille France created in 1880

What are Rabelais spices?

Épices Rabelais is a secret mixture of ground herbs and spices created in Marseille, France, in 1880 by Reynaud de Mazan. Inspired by his travels to Africa, Reynaud had the idea to combine traditional provencal herbs with African and Asian spices

Reynaud named his French herbs and spice blend after French writer François Rabelais to pay tribute to his spirit of creativity, adventure, and exploration.

The exact recipe or mixture of spices in Rabelais has not changed since it was first created in 1880, but the formula is a guarded secret. 

Some say the Rabelais spice contains Jamaican pepper, nutmeg, and curry. Others think it’s similar to the famous French “quatre épices” blend mixed with other spices such as cloves, rosemary, anise, bay leaves, savory, fennel, coriander, ginger, nutmeg, and pepper. 

How is it used in French cooking?

Rabelais spices can be used to season pork dishes, roasts, stews, paté, terrines, black pudding, soups, broths, and sprinkled over pasta. 

The Rabelais website has a lot of recipes using their unique Rabelais spice

  • Rabelais-style consommé (Consommé à la Rabelais)
  • Rabelais-style quenelles (Quenelles à la Rabelais)


French name: N/A

Vadouvan: A mild French version of Indian masala curry powder mixture

What is Vadouvan?

If you like Indian curry but don’t like how spicy it is, then you’ll love Vadouvan, also known as French curry or French masala curry. Vadouvan is a French version of the Indian curry spice blend masala, also known as vadavam, vadagam, or vadakam. 

It’s called French curry because it’s much milder than the original Indian version. 

Vadouvan is believed to have been brought back by the French colonists, who were living in Pondicherry, India, which France colonized in the late 1600s to the 1950s. 

The exact blend of spices in vadouvan can vary, but it typically includes: 

  • onion
  • garlic
  • fenugreek seeds
  • cumin
  • curry leaves
  • turmeric
  • mustard seeds
  • black pepper.
  • shallots
  • cardamom (sometimes)

You can find this French Indian spice blend prepackaged ground or unground in French stores and markets throughout France. 

Dishes that use Vadouvan:

Vadouvan is often used in French dishes with poultry, lamb, seafood, vegetables, and pasta and to make French-style curry, which is not spicy at all. 

Spiced bread spices

French name: épices à pain d’épices:

Spiced bread spice mixture for spiced bread

What is Spiced bread spices?

Spiced bread spices refer to a blend of spices commonly used in making spiced bread or “pain d’épices,” which is a traditional spiced French loaf cake similar to gingerbread. It’s sometimes referred to as French gingerbread.

This spice blend typically includes the quatre épices blend and other spices such as cardamon and sometimes star anise, depending on the region and recipe. 

  • Four spice blend: Cloves, nutmeg, powdered ginger, cinnamon
  • Some recipes also include one or more of the following spices: coriander grains, star anise, Green anise, or cardamon. 

This spice mix adds warm and aromatic flavours characteristic of gingerbread desserts and other baked goods.

French Aromatic blends

Aromatics are ingredients that add delicious flavours and smells to dishes. In French cuisine, the most common aromatics used are onions, garlic, shallots, leeks, 

These ingredients are often chopped or sliced and cooked in a bit of oil or butter at the beginning of a recipe to form a base. 

Here are a few distinctly French aromatic blends.    


French name: N/A

Beef wellington with French Duxelles mushroom in pastry


Duxelles (pronounced /dook-sel/) is a classic blend in French cuisine of finely chopped mushrooms, typically button or cremini mushrooms, which are sauteed with shallots, garlic and herbs.

Everything is cooked down in butter or oil until the mushrooms release their moisture and the mixture is reduced to a thick paste. 

French chef François Pierre de La Varenne invented this mushroom paste creation in the 1600s. He was the chef for the Marquis d’Uxelles, to whom he dedicated this unique mushroom sauce mixture. 

How is Duxelles used in French cuisine?

Duxelles can be used as a mushroom spread (mushroom tapenade) or as a flavouring and filling in stuffings, sauces, and savoury pastries. 

  • Beef Wellington: although this is a British dish, it incorporates the French duxelles sauce as part of the recipe. 
  • Crepes filled with duxelles:
  • Foie gras and duxelles on polenta


French name: N/A

Mirepoix is a French flavour base that consists of three aromatic vegetables: onions, carrots, and celery.

What is mirepoix?

Mirepoix is a French flavour base that consists of three aromatic vegetables:

  1. onions
  2. carrots,
  3. and celery.

These three vegetables are finely chopped or diced into uniform pieces to ensure even cooking and distribution of flavours.

Like Italian Soffrito and Cajun holy trinity, when the French Mirepoix of vegetables is cooked together slowly, usually in butter, oil or lard, they create a rich flavour base and foundation that elevates many dishes, including soups, stews, and sauces. Sometimes, additional herbs and spices are added to the mirepoix for extra flavour. 

“Mirepoix” is also a culinary term that refers to dicing vegetables into small, uniform pieces. 

While the exact origins and concept are unclear, the term “mirepoix” is believed to have originated around late 1700, named after the first Duke of Mirepoix. According to legend, the Duke’s personal chef popularized the recipe of mirepoix. 


Truffles are technically not an herb or spice; however, it’s often used similarly to spices in small quantities, shaved, grated, and minced and then added during the final stages of cooking to preserve the flavour of the truffle.

Black Truffles:

French name: Truffe noir

Italian style tartare from Italy: Carne Cruda all'Albese

What are Black Truffles?

Truffles are mushrooms or fungi that grow underground near the roots of certain trees, such as oak and hazelnut.

Black truffles have a unique flavour that is difficult to describe and compare to other ingredients. Some say black truffles have a robust, earthy, musky flavour that gives dishes a burst of umami flavour. 

For some, it’s delicious; for others, it’s an acquired taste. 

How black truffles used in French cooking:

Truffles are used sparingly in French cuisine, but they are often used the same way they are used in Italian cuisine, such as in risotto, pasta, and truffle-infused sauces.

  • Soupe aux Truffes Périgourdine
  • Infused with oil
  • In mushroom or olive tapenades. 
  • Steak tartare topped with truffles.
  • Quenelles in Morland sauce (Quenelles à la Morland): French chef August Escoffier’s recipe: Morland is a French sauce, and Quenelles is a dumpling or patty made from a mixture of minced meat, fish, or vegetables that are bound together with eggs, breadcrumbs, and cream. The mixture is typically seasoned with herbs, spices, and other flavourings.

Herbs in French cooking

French herbs used in French cuisine

Herbs typically refer to the leafy green part of various plants, which can be used fresh or dry for cooking, medicinal, or aromatic purposes. 

Some examples of herbs include basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and cilantro. Most of the herbs on this list are also used in other cuisines. 

Arugula / Rocket

French name: Roquette

Pizza with Burrat Prosciutto and arugula Roquette

What is Arugula?

Arugula, also known as rocket, is a leafy green herb with a distinct peppery flavour with a slightly bitter note. Unlike other herbs such as basil or thyme that can be used dried or fresh, rocket is always used fresh. 

How rocket/arugula is used in French cooking:

In French cuisine, rocket is often used for salads, as a pizza topping, garnish, or ingredient.

  • Arugula pesto (pesto de roquette):
  • Creamy Rocket (Arugula) and Parmesan Soup ( Velouté de roquette et parmesan)
  • As a topping for pizzas and tarts
  • In Salads
  • As a garnish


French name: Basilic

Provencal stuffed style tomatoes Tomates style provençal

What is Basil?

There are quite a few varieties of basil, such as lemon basil, Thai basil, Holy basil and Greek basil, each with its unique characteristics and flavours.

The basil most commonly used in French cuisine is Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum), especially in French Provençal cooking in the southeastern part of France, which is considered part of Mediterranean cuisine.

French dishes that use basilic:

Sweet basil has a mild, sweet taste with pepper and mint undertones. Although basil is used in a variety of French dishes, many of them are French provencal dishes, which include:

  • Ratatouille
  • Pistou aka Pesto Provençal: Similar to Italian pesto, but does not have pine nuts or parmesan cheese.
  • Pistou soup (similar to Italian minestrone soup) but topped with French pistou.
  • Tomato Provençal: A tomato dish stuffed with a mixture of breadcrumbs, garlic, herbs (including Sweet Basil), and olive oil. 
  • Niçoise salad: A hearty provencal salad from Nice France with a vinaigrette that includes basil or tarragon. 
  • Pissaladière: A type of thin-crust tart or pizza from Nice topped with caramelized onions, anchovies, and black olives. It’s usually garnished with a sprinkle of fresh basil leaves,

Bay Leaf, aka Laruel leaf

French name: Feuille de Laurier

Bay leaves aka laurel leaves are called Feuille de laurier in French.

What is Bay leaf?:

There are several types of bay leaves, including Indian bay leaf, Mexican bay leaf and California bay leaf. 

However, the bay leaf most used in French cuisine is the Mediterranean Bay Leaf from the Bay laurel tree (Laurus nobilis). It has a strong aroma with a slightly bitter, herbal flavour.

In ancient Greek culture, bay leaves were woven into wreaths or crowns, known as “bay laurel wreaths and were considered a symbol of honour and achievement for victorious athletes, military commanders, and scholars.

French dishes that use bay leaf:

Laurel leaves are frequently used in French stews, soups, stocks and braised dishes such as:

  • Bouillabaisse
  • Coq au vin
  • It’s often included in the French herb mixture called “bouquet garni.”
  • Stews
  • Ratatouille
  • Beef bourguignon


French name: Cerfeuil

Chervil is a French herb that tastes a lot like parsley

What is Chervil?

Chervil is a delicate herb native to the Mediterranean commonly used in French cuisine for sauces, salads, as a garnish and in various dishes to add a fresh herbal note. It has a slight anise flavour that tastes like a cross between parsley and tarragon.

French dishes and sauces that use chervil:

  • Ravigote: A tangy French sauce or garnish that can be served hot or cold. 
  • Salads: You can add fresh chervil leaves to green salads.
  • Chervil is a key component of the fines herbes mixture in French cuisine.


French name: Ciboulette

chives- ciboulette in French

What are Chives?

Chives, native to Northern Europe, are a common herb used in French cuisine. It has a mild onion-like flavour and is often used as a garnish or as an ingredient in sauces, soups, salads, and omelettes to add a fresh herbal element.

French dishes that use chives:

  • Vichyssoise” (potato and leek soup).
  • sauce béarnaise

Dill: The herb, seed, and vegetable

French name: Aneth

Dill leaves are considered an herb. They are called Aneth in French.

What is Dill?:

Dill belongs to the celery family and is native to the Mediterranean region and Southwest Asia. 

Dill leaves are considered an herb and have a fresh, grassy or herbaceous flavour. 

Dill seeds are considered a spice and are harvested from the dried flower heads of the dill plant. These tiny, oval-shaped seeds have a slightly sweet flavour that tastes a bit like anise or licorice. They are commonly used in and reminiscent of anise or licorice. Dill seeds are commonly used as a spice in various cuisines to add a unique and aromatic touch to dishes. They are particularly popular in pickling recipes, as well as in bread, soups, and seafood dishes.

How is dill used in French cuisine?

Dill is not commonly used in French cooking, but it can be found in some French dishes, especially sauces, fish dishes and pickling recipes. 

  • Dill sauce (sauce à l’aneth)
  • Pickled Cornichons (cornichons)
  • Dill-cured salmon gravlax (Saumon marine à l’aneth)

Fennel: Fresh, dried and grains

French name: Fenouil

fennel is called fenouil in French: fresh dried and seeds

What is Fennel:

There are three parts of the fennel commonly used in French cuisine. The herb, the spice, and the bulbous part which is considered a vegetable. 

How fennel is used in French cuisine:

Fennel the herb: The leafy feathery fronds or leaves of fennel are considered an herb and have a hint of anise or licorice flavour. 

Fennel the spice: The tiny oval-shaped fennel seeds are considered a spice and have a slightly sweet and licorice-like taste. Fennel seeds can be used whole or ground. They are often used as a seasoning in sweet and savoury dishes, including bread, desserts, sausages, curries, and pickles. They can also be brewed as herbal tea.

Fennel fronds can be chopped and sprinkled over salads, soups, or roasted vegetables to add a fresh, aromatic element. They can also be used as a decorative garnish for seafood dishes. Fennel is also one of the herbs in the French herb blend called “fines herbes.”


French name: Lavande

French lavender ice cream

What is Lavender?:

Lavender is often associated with the purple fields of Provence. However, it’s not commonly used in everyday French cooking. 

Lavender is believed to be from the Middle East, India and the Mediterranean region. It can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians more than 2500 years ago, who used it in their mummification process and perfumes. 

There are many varieties of lavender, but not all lavender should be used in cooking because they can give your dish a soapy or perfumy flavour. The only lavender that you should be using to cook with is culinary lavender:

  • (Lavandula angustifolia) Also known as English lavender, fine lavender, or true lavender has less camphor than other lavender varieties. Camphor has a bitter taste that makes lavender taste like soap or medicine.
  • French lavender (Lavandula dentata) is also edible. However, they aren’t as sweet as English lavender. It’s better for potpourri and flower arrangements. 

French dishes that use lavender:

Lavender is not a common herb used in French cuisine, but when used, it can be used in sweet and savoury dishes, such as desserts, baked goods, roasted meats, sauces, and even in certain beverages. It adds a distinct floral and herbal aroma. 

  • Honey infused with lavender
  • Lavender ice cream (it’s even purple coloured)
  • Lavender cake
  • Lavender chicken
  • Chicken with honey and lavender
  • Lavender is also used to flavour herbal teas and can be used to infuse syrups, cocktails, and jams.


French name: Livèche

Lovage, (Livèche in French) is an plant that tastes similar to celery whose leaves can be used like an herb and step used like a vegetable and seeds used like a spice

What is Lovage?:

Although not as popular today, lovage was common in medieval European kitchens when people ate all parts of this plant, including the flowers and leaves, which were eaten like herbs in soups and stews. The stems can be eaten like a vegetable, and the seeds can be used like a spice. 

The lovage plant has long hollow stems that look similar to celery and taste like a cross between celery and parsley, with a hint of anise. The leaves resemble parsley but are larger in size. 

French dishes that use lovage:

Lovage is not that common anymore in French cooking, but you can use it like you would use parsley in soups, stews, and herb blends. 

  • Pot au feu à la livèche: Pot au feu is literally “pot on the fire” or “pot on the stove” in English. It is a traditional French cooking method where a large pot is filled with various meats, vegetables, and seasonings and then simmered slowly over a low-fire
  • Velvey lovage soup (Velouté à la livèche)
  • Lovage pesto (Pesto à la livèche)


French name: Marjolaine

Marjoram is called Marjolaine in French.

What is Marjoram:

Marjoram entered the French language in 1398 and is a key ingredient in many European and Mediterranean dishes including Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Egypt.

As part of the oregano family, it can generally be used interchangeably in cooking. Oregano (Origanum vulgare) has a stronger, more intense flavour compared to marjoram (Origanum majorana), which has a milder and sweeter taste.

How is marjoram used in French cuisine?

In French cuisine, marjoram is often paired with other classic herbs like thyme and parsley or used as part of herb blends, such as “Herbes de Provence” and “bouquet garni” to create flavour profiles that are integral to traditional French dishes such as roasts, stews, grilled meats, marinades, soups and vegetable dishes. 

  • Zucchini with Marjoram
  • Marjoram can be added to cake salé recipes. Caké salé, which means savoury cake, is a French specialty often served during the French apero
  • Herb fritters (Fritelles d’herbes): A mixture of any fresh herbs mixed with a batter and then deep-fried until golden and crispy.
  • Tournedos in the Provençal style (Tournedos à la provençale): A tournedos is a thick cut of beef, usually from the tenderloin.


French name: Menthe

Mint is called Menthe in French

What is Mint?

The origins of mint are debated, but some believe it may have originated from Eurasia and or the Mediterranean. From there, it spread to other parts of the world. 

The English term “mint” and French term “menthe” are of Greek origins. According to Greek mythology, Minthe, or Menthe, was the name of Pluto’s mistress. Pluto’s wife became jealous of his mistress and transformed her into a Mint plant. Pluto couldn’t restore Minthe to her original form, so he gave her the ability to release a pleasant fragrance when her leaves and stems were crushed. 

How is mint used in French cuisine?

Mint is used in savoury and sweet dishes in French cuisine, including salads, sauces, and desserts.

  • Mint tart (tarte à la menthe)
  • Mint syrup (Sirop de Menthe): a sweet mint syrup added to water to make a refreshing drink.
  • Zucchini omelette (Omelette aux courgettes)
  • In Tabbouleh recipes:  Tabbouleh is a traditional Middle Eastern salad made with bulgur wheat that is extremely popular in France.
  • Stuffed zucchini with goat cheese and mint (Courgettes farcies au chèvre et à la menthe)
  • Savory tart with zucchini, feta, and mint (Tarte salée aux courgettes, feta et menthe)


French name: Ortie

Nettle is a leafy herb called Ortie in French

What is Nettle?

The French word for nettle, “ortie,” comes from the Latin term “Urtica,” which comes from the Indo-European root word “u̯rti̯ek,” which means “to burn” or “to sting.” Nettle is a plant known for its stinging hairs on its leaves and stems. 

French dishes that use nettle:

Nettle leaves have an earthy, grassy, and slightly nutty flavour. Although nettle is not used as much as some other herbs in French cuisine, when it is used, it’s usually Fresh and not dried. 

  • Nettle soup (potage à l’ortie)
  • Nettle potato soup (Velouté de pommes de terre aux orties)
  • Oysters with Camembert cheese and nettle (Huîtres au camembert et à l’ortie)
  • Roast pork à la limousine (Rôti de porc à la limousine)
  • Savory cake with nettle, feta, and olives (cake salé orties, feta & olives)


French name: Origan

Oregano is called Origan in French. It's used fresh and dry in French cuisine.

What is Oregano?

There are several types of oregano, but two of the most commonly used varieties are Mediterranean oregano (Origanum vulgare) and Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens). However, Mediterranean oregano is generally considered the most widely used variety globally.

It’s a staple herb in Italian, Greek, and other Mediterranean cuisine, including French Provençal cuisine. 

While primarily associated with Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, oregano can also be found in some French recipes, particularly those influenced by the Provençal region.

How is oregano used in French cuisine?

Oregano has an earthy flavour that is slightly bitter and minty, which is why it’s often used in tomato-based sauces, pizzas, grilled meats, and various Mediterranean dishes. 

  • Tian de légumes: Tian is the name of a dish and the earthenware it’s cooked in. Recipes vary, but it usually consists of layered summer vegetables sliced thinly and arranged in an overlapping pattern.
  • Salad dressings


French name: Persil

parsley is called persil in French

What is Parsley?

There are two main types of parsley commonly used in cooking: curly and flat-leaf.

Both curly parsley and flat-leaf parsley can be used interchangeably in many recipes. However, flat-leaf parsley, which has a more robust flavour than curly parsley, is generally the type used in French kitchens. 

How is it used in French cuisine:

Flat-leaf parsley can be used as an herb and a garnish in countless French dishes. 

  • Escargots (snails)
  • Quiche Lorraine
  • Filet of sole (filets de soles): Parley is often used as a garnish in this dish. 
  • Bouillabaisse:
  • Parisienne Risotto (Rissotto à la parisienne):
  • Parisian pilaf or Parisian rice (Pilaf à la Parisienne):


French name: Romarin

Rosemary is called Romarin in French

What is Rosemary?

The French word “romarin” for rosemary is from the Latin term “rosmarinus,” meaning dew of the sea. The Romans probably named it this because the rosemary leaves were thought to resemble dewdrops, and the plant was often found growing near the sea in coastal regions with high humidity, such as the Mediterranean coast.

Rosemary is commonly used in French cuisine and French Mediterranean dishes. It adds a fragrant and pine-like flavour to roasted meats, potatoes, and bread.

French dishes that use rosemary.

Rosemary can be used in both sweet and savoury French dishes. 

  • Rosemary shortbread cookies (Sablés au romarin)
  • Roast pork with rosemary (Rôti de porc au romarin)
  • Roast Leg of Lamb (Le Gigot D’Agneau)


French name: Sauge

fresh sage leaf called feuille de Sauge in French

What is Sage?

Sage is native to the Mediterranean region, specifically around the Mediterranean Sea. It is often described as earthy, slightly peppery, and aromatic.

The French word for sage, “sauge,” is from the Latin word “salvia,” which comes from the Latin verb “salvus,” meaning “healthy” or “safe.” It most likely got its name because of its medicinal properties and health benefits historically associated with sage. Over time, the word “salvia” evolved into “sauge.”

How is sage used in French cuisine?

Sage pairs well with chicken, roasted meats, sausages and creamy or buttery sauces. 

  • Roasted chicken in butter sage sauce
  • Provencal garlic soup (soupe à l’ail provence)


French name: Sarriette

savory is called Sarriette in French. It's one of the herbs in the French herbs de Provence blend

What is Savory?:

Savory is part of the Mint family. There are two varieties of savory, summer and winter, both of which have their place in French cuisine.

Winter savory, also called mountain savory, has a strong peppery flavour, historically used as a substitute for pepper in certain when pepper was not available or too expensive. Due to its stronger flavour, it’s used mainly in heartier dishes. 

Summer savory leaves resemble thyme. It has a sweet, milder peppery flavour compared to winter savory that tastes like a cross between Sage and Rosemary. It’s commonly used in sausages, stews and sauces. 

French dishes that use savoury:

  • Daube Provençale: A French provencal stew that calls for herbs de Provence, the French herb mixture that contains savoury. 
  • Herbes de Provence: Summer savory is one of the herbs used to make the “herbes de Provence” blend. 
  • Boullabaisse à la Marseillaise


French name: Sorel

French Sorrel is a French herb that has a tangy lemony flavour

What is Sorrel?

Sorrel is a leafy plant used as an herb like you would use basil or parsley, chopped in recipes. It’s known for its bright green colour and distinct sour and lemony flavour, that’s great for balancing out rich flavours. 

There are several sorrel types, but two of the most common varieties are Garden Sorrel, or Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus).  

French sorrel has a milder, more delicate flavour and lemony tang than common sorrel, which makes it great in salads, cream sauces and fish dishes. 

French dishes that use Sorrel:

Both dry and fresh sorrel leaves are used in French recipes. 

  • Soupe à l’oseille (sorrel soup)
  • Saumon à l’oseille (salmon with sorrel sauce).  
  • Herbed butter (Beurre d’Herbes)


French name: Estragon

 French tarragon is called estragon in French

What is Tarragon?

There are three types of tarragon: Mexican, Russian and French tarragon (Artemesia dracunculus). All three types of tarragon belong to the same plant family but come from different places and taste very different. 

French tarragon, which is believed to have originated from Siberia, Mongolia and southern Russia, has a much stronger licorice and Anise flavour than the other two types of tarragon.

It was brought to Europe during the medieval period and eventually found its way to France.

Tarragon’s popularity in France took off in the early 1900s thanks to Auguste Escoffier, considered one of the greatest chefs of all time. Escoffier used tarragon as a critical ingredient in many traditional French recipes in his influential 1903 cookbook “Le Guide Culinaire.” He’s also credited for popularizing steak tartare in France

French dishes that use tarragon:

French tarragon is often used in poultry, fish, vegetables, and sauces. French tarragon is a key ingredient in classic French sauces such as Béarnaise sauce and fines herbes mixtures.

  • roasted tarragon chicken
  • Coq au vin
  • Chicken tarragon
  • Bearnaise sauce
  • Beurre blanc sauces
  • Chateaubriand: A classic French dish consisting of tender beef filet,  usually cooked medium rare, and served with a rich Chateaubriand sauce, which features tarragon.
  • One of the ingredients of “fines herbes” along with parsley, chervil and chives.


French name: Thym

The herb thyme is called Thym in French

What is Thyme?

Thyme is a popular herb native to the Mediterranean region, which belongs to the mint family. It’s also one of the ingredients that can be included in both Herbes de Provence and Bouquet Garni. 

French dishes that use thyme:

  • Pissaladièr: A traditional savoury tart or pizza-like dish with anchovies and onions commonly associated with the cuisine of Nice, a city on the French Riviera.
  • Beef Bourguignon (Boeuf Bourguignon): A French beef stew from the Burgandy region of France. 
  • Lamb stew (Navarin d’agneau): A French lamb stew that typically contains peas, carrots, potatoes, turnips and herbs


French name: Cresson

watercress is a leafy green aquatic herb: In French it's called Cresson

What is Watercress?

Watercress is a crisp, leafy green aquatic plant commonly used in salads or as a garnishment. However, it is also used and categorized as an herb in French cooking, which adds a slightly peppery element to dishes. 

Young watercress, or “baby watercress,” tends to have a milder, more delicate flavour than fully grown watercress with larger leaves and a stronger peppery flavour. 

French dishes that use watercress:

Although watercress is commonly used in salads, it is also used in French soups, sauces and other dishes in French cooking or as a garnish.

  • Watercress salad (salade de cresson): or used as a garnish for various meat and fish dishes.
  • Watercress soup (Soupe cressonnière)
  • Watercress sauce (Sauce cressonnière)
  • Spring Canapés (Canapés Printaniers)

Spices in French cooking

spices used in French cooking

Spices come from different parts of plants, such as the bark, seeds, fruits, roots, or stems and tend to have a stronger flavour and aroma than herbs. Spices are typically dried and ground before being used in cooking. 

Examples of spices include cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, cumin, and paprika.  


French name: Clous de girofle (literally means “clove nails)

vin chaud is French hot spiced wine similar to gluhwein

What are cloves?:

Cloves are the dried flower buds of the Syzygium aromaticum tree, native to the Maluku Islands in Indonesia, also known as the Spice Islands. They add a rich, deep, and slightly woody taste to sweet and savoury dishes. 

How cloves are used in French cuisine:

  • Spiced bread (pain d’épices): similar to ginger bread
  • Hot wine (Vin Chaud) similar to Glühwein
  • Traditional beef borgignon (Bœuf bourguignon traditionnel)
  • Pot au feu: French style beef stew.
  • Mornay sauce: A variation of béchamel sauce made by incorporating grated or shredded cheese, such as Gruyère or Parmesan, into the béchamel base. Mornay sauce is one of the five classic French mother sauces. 
  • Provencal garlic soup (soupe à l’ail provence)


French name: Gingembre:

fresh and ground ginger (gingembre in French)

What is Ginger?

Gingerroot needs no introduction. It’s one of the most used spices in the world that can be used fresh, dried, powdered, and even candied. 

Ginger is believed to have originated in Southeast Asia, specifically in the tropical regions of India and China, where it’s been used for thousands of years.

And while ginger is not used as much in French cuisine compared to other spices, it still manages to find its way into a French kitchen.

French dishes that use ginger:

Ginger is sometimes used in fusion dishes that blend French and Asian influences. In modern French cuisine, you may also find ginger incorporated in dishes like ginger-infused crème brûlée or ginger-spiced macarons. 

  • Confit of ginger (Confit de gingembre): Ginger that has been cooked and preserved in sugar, similar to candied fruit.
  • Lamb with ginger (Agneau au gingembre):


French name: Macis

Mace is the outer membrane of the nutmeg see.

What is Mace?

Mace is a spice that comes from the delicate, lace-like membrane that covers the nutmeg seed. When the fruit ripens and splits open, the nutmeg seed and the reddish brown-coloured membrane known as mace are revealed. This membrane is carefully removed and dried before being ground. 

How is mace used in French cuisine:

Mace can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes. It tastes similar to nutmeg but milder and more delicate. It is commonly used in baking, soups, stews, and spice blends to enhance the overall flavour profile of the dish.

  • Hot spiced wine (vin chaud)
  • Lamb curry (Cari d’agneau)
  • Pears in wine (Poires au vin)


French name: Noix de muscade

Nutmeg: noix de muscade

What is Nutmeg?

Nutmeg is the seed of the nutmeg fruit from the nutmeg tree. 

French dishes that use nutmeg:

  • Quiche Lorraine
  • Hachis Parmentier: A traditional French dish similar to shepherd’s pie.
  • Nutmeg is one of the spices in the French spice blend called “Quatre épcies” (four spices.)
  • Béchamel Sauce


French name: Safran

Saffron is called Safran in French

What is Saffron?

The French word for Saffron (Safran) is borrowed from the Arabic word زعفران (za’farān), which means yellow or golden. 

Its Arabic name describes the long, slender, golden, bright red threads of saffron that are the dried stigmas of the purple Crocus sativus flower. Each flower produces three strands which are laboriously handpicked, dried and sold as a dried floral spice. This is one of the reasons why saffron is the world’s most expensive spice. 

The origins of saffron are debated, but it’s thought to have originated and been first cultivated in Greece, Iran or India.

Today, Saffron is produced in many countries, including France, where it’s an important component in several French dishes, especially dishes from the south of France along the Mediterranean. 

French dishes that contain Saffron:

Saffron has an earthy flavour and imparts a rich, golden-yellow colour to food when used in cooking

  • Bouillabaisse: a traditional Provençal fish soup originally from Marseille.
  • Scallops with saffron: des noix de st Jacques au safran
  • Saffron risoto: Risotto au safran

Star anise:

French name: Badiane or anis étoilé

poached spiced pears with star anise

What is Star Anise?

Star anise is a spice that comes from the fruit of the Illicium verum tree native to China. The spice has a strong, licorice-like flavour and is commonly used in cooking and baking, particularly in Asian and Indian cuisines.

How is star anise used in French cuisine?

While not a staple in French cooking, creative chefs may experiment with star anise to add an interesting touch to their dishes to desserts like custards, creams, or poached fruits to impart a delicate anise note. 

  • Spiced wine aka mulled wine (vin chaud)
  • Spiced bread (pain d’épices)
  • Leg of lamb with orange and star anise (Gigot d’agneau à l’orange et à l’anis étoilé)
  • Spiced Plum Compote with Star Anise
  • Roasted Figs with Star Anise and Honey


French name: Curcumin

What is Turmeric?

Turmeric is a root that looks a lot like Ginger. It has a deep yellow colour called Curcumin which has healing properties such as helping inflammation. 

How is it used in French cuisine?

Turmeric is not a traditional spice commonly used in classic French cuisine. It is more common in Southeast Asia, India, and the Middle East cuisines. However, the landscape of French cuisine is changing, and it is sometimes used in French fusion dishes and French interpretations of exotic dishes. 

  • Vegetable Tagine (Tagine de Légumes): French version of the Moroccan tagine dish.
  • Curried Chicken Salad
  • Honey and turmeric chicken (Poulet au miel et au curcuma)

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Annie André

Annie André

About the author

I'm Annie André, a bilingual North American with Thai and French Canadian roots. I've lived in France since 2011. When I'm not eating cheese, drinking wine or hanging out with my husband and children, I write articles on my personal blog for intellectually curious people interested in all things France: Life in France, travel to France, French culture, French language, travel and more.

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