Good Food,            
Good Friends,   
Good Life

Home Spice Blends Feature Articles Glossary Healthy Living Kitchen Survival Recipes

The Gourmet Cooking Place

Spice Blends
and Mixtures

What are herbs and spice?

What are herbs and spice
and what's the difference?

What are herbs and spices?
Oh, that's easy...

Herbs are, well they... er, ah, wait, spices are, well they...

Here we go, let's try this:
Herbs are fragrant, aromatic plants that consist of flower buds, bark, seeds, leaves and many other parts of a plant used to improve the flavor or taste of food.

Spices are fragrant, aromatic plants that consist of flower buds, bark, seeds, leaves and many other parts of a plant used to enhance the flavor or taste of food.

See the difference? Of course you do. That was easy.

Now for the rest of the story!
The differences may be very subtle, but the distinction is still valid.

First, here are some of the similarities between the two. The terms "spice" and "herb" have both been used to describe parts of plants (possibly dried) that are used to augment the flavor or taste of food, preserve foods and cure illnesses. In the culinary world, the terms are used almost interchangeably. Spices and herbs have been, and continue to be, common in most cultures around the world, both to flavor foods and for medicinal purposes.

The Herb Society of America says an herb is "any plant that may be used for pleasure, fragrance, or physic", while according to the American Spice Trade Association, spices are "any dried plant product used primarily for seasoning purposes."

But, what's the difference you ask. With the passage of time; the definitions for spices and herbs have changed. Once herbs were considered primarily as a medicinal while spice referred to rare and expensive food preparations. Today, their definitions are more diverse.

Spice from the Oxford English dictionary
- Middle English: shortening of Old French espice, from Latin species 'sort, kind', in late Latin 'wares'
- an aromatic or pungent vegetable substance used to flavour
- make more interesting or exciting:she was probably adding details to spice up the story
Herb from the Oxford English dictionary
- Middle English: via Old French from Latin herba 'grass, green crops, herb'. Although herb has always been spelled with an h, pronunciation without it was usual in British English until the 19th century and is still standard in the US
- any plant with leaves , seeds, or flowers used for flavoring, food, medicine, or perfume:
- Botany any seed-bearing plant which does not have a woody stem and dies down to the ground after flowering.

When cooking, the important difference between herbs and spice is how to use them and what part of the plant is used. Herbs come from the green parts of a plant such as the stem and leave and are used in generally larger portions, while most spices come from the root, seeds, bark or flowers of a plant and are commonly stronger tasting and are used in much smaller amounts.

Some plants can be both an herb and a spice. Dill for instance; using the stalk in soups and stews is an example of an herb while the use of the seed in most commonly considered a spice. Cilantro too provides both herb and spice. The fresh or dried leaves and called cilantro or Chinese parsley but, the whole or ground seed is called coriander spice.

Another important characteristic when distinguishing herb from spice is in knowing where the plant species originates. Spices tend to come from plants grown in tropical climates. Herbs, on the other hand are easily grown and found in many climates.

Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening (Rodale Books, 2009) describes some rules of thumb for telling spices and herbs apart:

  • "Leaves, both fresh and dried, are normally called herbs, while seeds, roots, fruits, flowers or bark are spices.
  • Herbs more frequently grow in temperate regions, while spices come from the tropics.
  • Herbs are green and often have more subtle tastes; spices tend to be shades of brown, black or red, with dramatic pungent flavor."


Spices can be in the form of seeds, roots, bark, leaves, or vegetable matter placed in foods in small amounts in order to flavor, color, or to prevent the growth of bacteria.

Many spices are also used in medicine, religion, perfumes, beauty products, and for eating as well. One example is turmeric being used to preserve things, another is licorice which is used for medicinal purposes, and garlic as a vegetable. These are referred to by different terms in some instances. When used in the kitchen, spices are different from herbs.


Generally, herbs are leafy, green parts of plants and valued for flavor, scent, or other qualities. Like spices, Herbs are used in cooking, as medicines, and for spiritual purposes.

Some herbs, like basil and oregano, may be fresh and are usually chopped into small pieces.

Culinary use of the term "herb" typically distinguishes between herbs, from the leafy green parts of a plant, and spices, from other parts of the plant, including seeds, berries, bark, root, fruit, and even occasionally dried leaves or roots.

Well, anyway you slice it; herbs and spice are quite remarkable. For thousands of years, mankind has used herbs and spice not only as flavoring, but for their medicinal and healing qualities. Many of the compounds found in these plants may even prevent cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Cooks and chefs everywhere will agree that herbs and spices lend flavor, texture, complexity and aroma and are indispensible.

A sprinkle of this and a dash of that; PRESTO your world tour has begun! Different cuisines have preferences for the herbs and spices and by exploring these exotics you can be swept away to lands yet unseen.

We invite you to enjoy the wonders of the herb and spice world ay My Spice Blends...

Good Food, Good Friends, and Good Life.