What is the difference between an herb and a spice?

| 9/8/2009 4:17:00 PM


Desiree Bell is inspired by botanicals and natural materials. She is a vegetarian who has a certificate in herbal studies and a certificate from Australasian College of Health Sciences in Aromatherapy. When she isn't in her suburban garden, hiking or crafting, she is teaching pre-k with an emphasis on nature and gardening. For more ideas on Simple Living With Nature you can visit her blogs at www.beyondagarden.blogspot.com and www.kidsnaturespot.blogspot.com.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of an herb is a seed-producing annual, biennial or perennial that does not develop persistent woody tissue but dies down at the end of a growing season. They are plants or plant parts that are valued for their medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities.

The Herb Society of America says an herb is “any plant that may be used for pleasure, fragrance, or physic.” Historically, most plants categorized as herbs make it on the basis of some medicinal concoction derived from the root, leaf, bark, flower, or fruit. There are very early records of herb cultivation and use of them in Egypt, China, India, Arabia, Persia, and Greece.

Spices originated from the Asian tropics, the Americas, the Mediterranean countries and Europe. There was a time when spices were so precious they were locked in special boxes. Oxford’s Dictionary says spices can be any various aromatic, vegetable product used to season or flavor foods; a small portion, quantity, or admixture; something that gives zest or relish; a pungent or fragrant odor like perfume.

Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening (Rodale Books, 2009) gives readers the following rules of thumb for telling spices and herbs apart: