Essential Herbs and Spices for Springtime Cooking at Home

3 years ago / by Melanie Fourie
Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices add more than distinct flavors and zing to South Asian foods and beverages. These botanical ingredients also are surefire ways to supercharge health and longevity, as some have a plethora of therapeutic benefits. No South Asian kitchen  should be sans these spice-rack essentials for home cooking creations.


Coriander grows throughout the year, so is available as fresh bunches in the produce section of many grocers, or dried seeds in the spice aisles. This plant’s leaves are called cilantro or kothmir and are used as a primary aromatic garnish in South Asian dishes. Kothmir leaves are also the main ingredient for the popular snack, Maharashtrian Kothimbir Vade and salads.


This key ingredient in Indian cooking is often paired with turmeric for vegetable dishes or dal. It adds richer flavor to meals, as it imitates the taste of meat, onions, and even garlic. This aromatic marvel originates from giant fennel.


Cumin seeds are derived from a plant within the parsley family that grows between Central Asia and the Mediterranean. Cumin boosts flavor in meat and vegetable dishes and is the go-to spice for jeera rice, a popular rice and cumin seed mixture. Cumin improves cholesterol, assists with diabetes control, and promotes digestion.


These flower buds of the clove tree can be used whole or as a ground powder. Clove trees grow in Indonesia’s Maluku Islands. Cloves are used in garam masala powder, which is ideal for curry dishes, added to pilafs with spring vegetables and essential for chai.

Bay Leaves

These aromatic leaves help detoxify the body, improve cardiovascular health, and improve respiratory problems. From the bay laurel tree, which can be found in the Mediterranean, these leaves flavor chicken korma with vegetables and pyaazkikachori.

Curry Leaves

Curries originate from the curry leaf tree in India. It’s a staple ingredient for Indian cuisine, and the leaves can also be ground into powder. The leaves add zing to dals and stews.


This spice comes from the saffron crocus flower.  These fine, reddish threats are highly prized to color and season foods. Use it in refreshing beverages like Kesar badam milk, also known as Indian almond milk.


This herb forms part of the carrot clan. It’s perennial and grows primarily in the Mediterranean. Fennel seeds often are used to prepare garam masala. These seeds, which look similar to that of cumin, add nuances of a distinct licorice or aniseed taste to South Asian dishes. It also freshens breathe after meals.


This spice blend is a fragrant mixture of fennel seeds, pepper, nutmeg, coriander, cardamom, and jeera, although home cooks usually add ingredients to create their own versions. There are several types of masala, including sambhar, chaat, chole, chicken, garam, fish, and tandoori masala. Masala is the key ingredient in many tantalizing South Asian fish, chicken, and meat dishes.


This staple South Asian spice originates from the ginger clan and can be used ground or whole. It grows in Indonesia and India and is richly fragrant with undertones of mint and citrus. It’s used in curry, basmati rice, and desserts like rice pudding with coconut milk. It can also be used with or as a substitute for nutmeg or cinnamon. 


This wonder spice is derived from the turmeric plant of the ginger family. It adds flavor and yellow color to pickles, salad dressings, mustard and chutney. It has a highly active compound called curcumin, which serves as a potent antioxidant, plus it has anti-inflammatory effects.