Herbs are magical; they have the potential to turn good food into something great or awful. I'm not referring to the sprig of parsley or fresh coriander used strictly as garnish, to add a bit of green to an otherwise bland-looking plate. I'm talking about herbs used to give flavour to food, something to add layers and depth to a dish.
While food snobs like to use only fresh herbs (organically homegrown, of course), there are occasions when certain types of dried herb are just as good. With oregano and hard-leafed herbs with firm stalks, such as bay leaves, rosemary, thyme and lavender, the flavour actually intensifies with drying - if using them in a recipe that calls for fresh herbs, you only need to use about half to one-third the quantity of the dried type. Dried herbs are best used in dishes that need to be cooked: the heat and moisture soften their texture and infuse their flavour into the food. They do not work as well when they are sprinkled over a dish at the last minute: the flavour seems harsher, stronger and less nuanced. If you want the flavour without the harshness, infuse dried herbs in oil (olive oil or a neutral-tasting oil such as grapeseed) then drizzle the oil sparingly over the dish.
Drying these types of herbs yourself is easy and the results are usually much better (and cheaper) than anything that can be bought in a jar. Tie a string around the base of the stems or stalks of a bunch of fresh herbs and let them hang upside-down until dry, then store them in an airtight container. Before using any dried herb, crumble some between your fingertips and sniff: if the scent has gone, so has the flavour.
Soft-leafed herbs such as basil, tarragon, mint, parsley and coriander are difficult to dry without major loss of flavour (although some freeze-dried brands are passable).