-Herbs and their effects

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Intro > Food as medicine > -Herbs and their effects

Herbs and spices

Asian cuisine is as varied as its continent. Many things influence the preparation of its dishes, including familiar or regional traditions, accessibility of various ingredients, and others. Oriental cuisine is however most known for its use of a large amount of fresh herbs and spices such as cilantro, lime juice, galangal or ginger.

Lemongrass (Takrai)

In Thailand, lemongrass grows everywhere almost like a weed in huge clusters. It is very easy to cultivate, even in the west and more temperate climates. The lower lighter part of the stem is used in curry pastes as well as soups or fried dishes, usually inserted whole during cooking and taken out before serving. Dried lemongrass can also be used, however it has to be soaked in water for 30 minutes beforehand to make it fresh again.

Galangal root

A relative of the ginger with a more citrus fragrance, its aroma and flavor is a lot sharper than that of the ginger. It can be acquired in both fresh and dried forms, but dried galangal has to be soaked in hot water before cooking. It’s used in soup, fried dishes, and is also a part of very popular Thai curry pastes.

Kaffir lime (Markut)

So-called kaffir limes have a dark green skin with bumps, and within is a strong aroma and taste. The peeled skin is used due to its aromatic oil contents, the leaves of the plant are used in salads or curry. These can be whole or ground. Kaffir lime leaves have a very long lasting life, if kept in the freezer.

Cilantro (coriander, Pak Chee)

Its strong and spicy taste will freshen up any meal. The whole plant is used, including seeds and roots. The whole thing can be ground up and then added to curry paste. To keep it fresh for longer, cilantro can be cleaned, dried and placed in a plastic bag. This lets it stay fresh for up to 6 days in a refrigerator.

Thai basil

It is used very frequently in most dishes. There are three varieties: Bai Horapa has a light anise taste and is used in red and green curry. Its leaves are reminiscent of mint. Bai Manglaek has a citrus taste, and its thin leaves are used in soups or salads. The purple leaves of Bai Grapao have a carnation taste.


Leguminous fruits whose skin can be consumed whole fresh, cooked or dried. Its skin can also be used to create refreshing drinks.

Wood ear

Its main feature is a pleasant crunchiness, while not having a very distinct scent or aroma, which lets it be used in various foods. It can also be used to create a color contrast with the other ingredients in a dish. The mushroom can be used fresh or dried. Fresh ones have to be cooked for 10-20 minutes before adding to food, while the dried variant has to be soaked for 1-2 hours.


In cooking, only the root is used. Its taste is strong and spicy, and is used mostly in its fresh state. Other than cooking, ginger is used to make teas, juices and other beverages.


This green Japanese root is always included in a huge portion of Japanese dishes. The freshly peeled root has a green color, sticky texture, fresh aroma and a spicy taste. Other than its root, its stem, flowers and leaves are also used, as a side with vegetables or soup.

Sesame oil

Sesame was one of the first ingredients that was processed into oil. In Asian cuisine, the oil is used for its strong sesame taste and aroma, as well as its dark color.

Szechuan spice

An aromatic, spicy, almost taste-numbing spice. Its seeds are recommended to roast, to increase their aroma, or roast and then grind into dust. When used as a spice, only very minute amounts are used. In China, green tea is sometimes spiced with these roasted Szechuan seeds. Before usage, it is recommended to find and remove all freed dark seeds, which are quite bitter.