Thomas J. Story
When you shop for herbs, keep in mind that within each group - oregano or rosemary, for instance - fragrances differ widely. Some oreganos are mild, almost scentless, and not great for cooking, while others are pungent and flavorful. Rosemaries, on the other hand, can be strong and piney or have a sweet, gingery taste.
Since flavor preferences vary, the best way to know if the aroma of a certain herb appeals to you is to give the plant a touch and sniff test. When shopping at the nursery, gently run your fingers over the foliage (don't hurt the plant), then sniff them. If you like the fragrance, buy the plant.
Keep in mind that plantings are never permanent. If you don't like the flavor of a certain herb after growing it and cooking with it, you can always remove the plant and try another variety.
Buying herbs by mail is another matter; there's no opportunity to sniff the foliage before the plant arrives on your doorstep. The varieties listed under "9 essential herbs," our favorites, can help you get started.