We often use the words herb and spice interchangeably. Herbs and spices are obtained from plants. (Salt is neither a spice nor an herb. It is actually a mineral.) Herbs and spices are used primarily for adding flavor and aroma to food. And both are best used fresh but can be saved by drying. While there are similarities, there also are subtle differences between herbs and spices.
Herbs are obtained from the leaves of herbaceous (non-woody) plants. They are used for savory purposes in cooking and some have medicinal value. Herbs often are used in larger amounts than spices. Herbs originated from temperate climates such as Italy, France, and England. Herb also is a word used to define any herbaceous plant that dies down at the end of the growing season and may not refer to its culinary value at all.
Spices are obtained from roots, flowers, fruits, seeds or bark. Spices are native to warm tropical climates and can be woody or herbaceous plants. Spices often are more potent and stronger flavored than herbs; as a result they typically are used in smaller amounts. Some spices are used not only to add taste, but also as a preservative.
Some plants are both herbs and spices. The leaves of Coriandrum sativum are the source of cilantro (herb) while coriander (spice) is from the plant's seeds. Dill is another example. The seeds are a spice while dill weed is an herb derived from the plant's stems and leaves.
Examples of Herbs
Examples of Spices
- Cinnamon - bark of the cinnamon tree
- Ginger - root
- Cloves - flower bud
- Saffron - stigma (female reproductive part) of saffron crocus
- Nutmeg - seed
- Vanilla - undeveloped fruit of an orchid
- Cumin - seed
This article originally appeared in the 8/22/2003 issue.
Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Horticulture and Home Pest News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on August 22, 2003. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.