Consumers are on track to spend about 46 million on basil, coriander, parsley and other fresh herbs this year, according to the market analyst Mintel - an increase of more than 50 per cent in the past five years.
The figure is forecast to rise by another 55 per cent by 2012, Mintel says. But lack of knowledge means many budding cooks are buying too much and end up throwing fresh herbs away.
Shoppers must also decide whether to choose supermarket herbs, which are often imported from overseas, or to support produce from local or organic farms. Oregano, sage and rosemary are often imported from Israel; thyme and curly parsley from Spain; and bay leaves from Colombia.
The popularity of fresh herbs has been driven by the growing trend for using fresh, natural ingredients and cooking more meals from scratch, according to food analysts.
Supermarkets yesterday agreed sales of fresh herbs were outstripping dried herbs in terms of growth.
"Sales of fresh herbs are up year on year," a spokeswoman for Waitrose confirmed. "Our five biggest-selling fresh herbs, in no particular order, are parsley, coriander, basil, mint and rosemary."
Katy Child, a senior analyst with Mintel, said shoppers are concerned about the pitfalls of hidden ingredients in food not prepared from scratch.
"There is no doubt that the market has also benefited from celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver championing the benefits of buying British and even growing your own produce."
But she added: "Despite the growing interest in using fresh herbs, it seems many of us still lack the knowledge and confidence to use them extensively.
"Budding chefs are often scared of bad results and wastage because they are confused about which herbs to use and how much.
"Educating consumers about how to use fresh herbs in cooking could grow the market further and help encourage more people to give them a go."
Sales of dried herbs, frozen herbs and meat seasonings are on track to hit 73 million this year. But the growth rate is much slower than that of fresh herbs, with an increase of just 14 per cent between 2002 and 2007.
Dried herbs and seasonings will see a spending increase of about 12 per cent by 2012, it is predicted.
The Fresh Herbs group, which represents some of the UK's main suppliers, says using herbs can avoid the need for pre-made cooking sauces, which are often high in salt or sugar.
It also claims eating herbs can help aid digestion and increase vitamin intake.
BASIL: A CURE FOR MANY ILLS?
BASIL is variously credited with helping to reduce coughs, depression, diabetes, insect bites, muscular tension, nausea, stress and anxiety. It tastes best in tomato and pasta dishes but also gives a sweet aroma when crumbled over baked chicken, lamb or seafood. Adding basil towards the end of cooking will serve to retain its aroma and flavour.
ROSEMARY: STRONG, SO USE SPARINGLY
THE flavour of rosemary is strong and unsubtle. It is not diminished by long cooking, so it is best to use rosemary sparingly, even in slow stews. It is used in Mediterranean cuisine and is ideal with roasted or fried vegetables and olive oil. Whole sprigs of rosemary are good in marinades, especially for lamb, and will give a subtle, smoky flavour.
MINT: COOL COMPLEMENT TO YOUR ICE CUBES
MINT sauce goes with lamb cutlets and potato rostis. You can make mint sauce easily by mixing malt vinegar, granulated sugar and finely chopped mint. Mint can also be used in ice cubes to provide flavourings to cold, summer drinks. When having strawberries, add a few sprigs of fresh mint leaves before sprinkling with sugar.
PARSLEY: A PERFECT PARTNER FOR FISH
PARSLEY is rich in vitamin C, iron and carotenoids which help the skin as well as being a good digestive. It is easy to grow, freezes very well and tastes much better when fresh rather than dried. Parsley is also a natural breath freshener. It is perfect as part of a lemon and herb butter sauce for fried or steamed fish.
CORIANDER: LIVELY LEAVES AND SPICY SEEDS
CORIANDER'S zesty, lemony flavour gives an aromatic quality to Indian and Thai curries. It is known in North America and Spanish-speaking countries as cilantro, and although it is the leaves and dried seeds that are most commonly used in cooking, all parts of it are edible. It blends well with garlic and chili and is best for seasoning lamb and sausages.