Naturally Sweet Herbs That Can Replace Sugar

White Sugar

 saraidasilva / Getty Images

We all know that Americans indulge in too much sugar. Even those of us trying to avoid it have a difficult time because manufacturers put so much unnecessary sugar into foods, often in the form of glucose corn syrups or fructose fruit syrups. Hidden sugar additives are so prevalent that unsweetened foods may even taste bland or unfinished because our palates have become used to the overly sweetened flavor of prepared foods.

The dangers of hidden sugar are numerous, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a study documented by the Journal of the American Medical Association. A high sugar diet is also known to affect liver function and is a risk factor for developing diabetes. 

If you are making an effort to avoid added sugar in foods but still feel the need for added sweetness, you'll be happy to know about herbs you can use which have a naturally sweet flavor. You can use them in recipes that need a bit of sweetening, although you should recognize that herbs don't offer quite the same flavor offered by sugar or artificial sweeteners. But sweet herbs are lovely and natural. Once you give yourself some time away from high fructose corn syrup and other unnaturally sweet additives, you might come to find that these sweet herbs are just right for your recipes. 

  • 01 of 07


    Wild Angelica (Angelica sylvestris)

    Phil Sellens / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Angelica is sweet on its own (perfect for making candied treats), but it is also a perfect addition as a sweet ingredient in salads. Since it isn't often found in stores, you'll probably need to grow your own.

    All parts of the plant are used in cooking. The seeds are used in cookies and candies, and the young leaves and flowers can be sprinkled over salads.

  • 02 of 07

    Bee Balm

    Bee Balm

    raymondgobis / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Bees and butterflies absolutely love bee balm. And the same is true of people, once they realize how sweet these blooms taste. Use bee balm in your summer beverages to add a hint of natural sweetness, plus beauty! 

    The blossoms of bee balm have a sweet minty flavor that is excellent for salads, while the leaves have a lemon-orange flavor that is good for sweetening teas and drinks.

  • 03 of 07



    Edsel Little / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Mint of all kinds are easy to grow and extremely flavorful. Try experimenting with sparkling water and assorted mints. They add a naturally sweet flavor (some more than others) and provide a refreshing treat on a hot day. 

    Mints are best used by finely chopping the leaves. Its strong flavor can overwhelm other herbs, so it is best used alone. 

  • 04 of 07

    Lemon Balm

    Lemon Balm

    Quinn Dombrowski / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Lemon balm is simply a heavenly flavored herb. Use it alone or in combination with other sweet herbs. It is strongly scented with lemon, but the sweetness of the herb is still obvious. 

    Make a charming summer sipper using lemon balm mixed with a few other mints to make an infusion. Serve it ice cold—it's tremendously refreshing. 

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Lemon Verbena

    Aloysia citrodora (Lemon verbena, lemon beebrush)

    Forest and Kim Starr / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Although not as bushy and attractive as lemon balm, lemon verbena still deserves notice. It's a sweet-tasting herb that packs quite a lemony flavor. You may not find lemon verbena available in your area, but it is often sold from online nurseries and can then be grown in a greenhouse.

    Use leaves of lemon verbena in cool teas and sparkling waters. Lemon verbena is excellent when combined with blueberries and other fruit flavors. 

  • 06 of 07



    slgckgc / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    You can tell that violets are sweet tasting the first time you get a whiff of the blooms. Enjoy these delicate, pretty blooms in your herbal ice cubes for a decorative touch. Try using naturally sweet violets in a simple herbal iced tea. You will love the unusual taste, which is very sweet and delicate. 

    Both the blossoms and leaves of violet are edible. While the blossoms are mostly used as a garnish or in syrups, the leaves are excellent in soups and salads. 

  • 07 of 07



    Alden Chadwick / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Roses are more than just a richly scented bloom. Rose blooms are naturally sweet, so the flower petals are a wonderful ingredient to add to your ice teas and herbal tea blends. 

    Do be certain that your roses are heavily scented. Most roses today are cultivated, which means they have beautiful blooms but very little fragrance—or taste. 

    Wild roses are perfect for this use. Harvest tight buds and individual petals. They dry easily and keep their flavor as long as you dry them in the dark or in a dehydrator with fan only (no heat). 

    Remember that roses purchased from a store are always treated with chemicals and should never be used for eating. Always harvest your own roses for use in recipes or salads. Even rose petals that you buy from the store are suspect—be safe by growing and harvesting your own roses. 

    Rose hips—the small fruit that remains after the rose blooms have faded—are naturally sweet and tart, and can be used in jellies and sauces, or in herbal teas. 

Naturally Sweet Herbs Instead of Sugar

Use naturally sweet herbs instead of unhealthy sugars in your food whenever possible. You will enjoy a more flavorful dish.

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  1. Mitka M. New Dietary Guidelines Place Added Sugars in the Crosshairs. JAMA. 2016;315(14):1440-1.  doi:10.1001/jama.2016.1321