Herbs are usually the leafy parts for plants and can be sweet or savoury in flavour. Some other parts of the plant such as bark, seed, berries, root etc. are also considered herbs and used for medicinal purposes. Spices are seasonings obtained from bark, root, buds, fruits, flower parts or seeds of plants, used in food for flavour, color or as a preservative.
Types and Uses of herbs vs. spices
According to the various uses, herbs can be classified into different types such as culinary, medicinal, sacred and those used for pest control.
Culinary herbs are mostly from the leaves from plants and used for providing flavor in cooking. Examples include thyme, lavender, coriander leaves (Note: seeds from this plant can be used as spices), mint, parsley, basil etc.
Medicinal effect of herbs has been documented in many old scriptures. Examples include mint, herbal extracts used to treat depression ands stress (St John’s wort and Kava), "shilajit" is used for diabetes, and various Chinese herbs are also used for health purposes.
Examples of sacred herbs include "tulsi", which is a form of basil, neem, sage and cedar used by different cultures all over the world.
Gardeners use herbs such as mint, spearmint, peppermint and other for pest control. The use of these herbs keeps lice, ants, fleas, moth and ticks away.
Spices can be used to add color, flavour and taste to food. Spices are derived from different parts of a plant such as fruits and seed (coriander, fennel, mustard), bark (cinnamon, mace), dried buds (clove), stigma (saffron), roots and rhizomes (ginger) and resin (asafoetida). Besides flavouring food, spices are also used as a treatment for ailments. For example, asafoetida is used for cough or stomach ailments, bay leaf oil possesses antifungal and anti-bacterial properties, cinnamon is believed to be reduce blood cholesterol, cloves are used to relieve tooth ache, cumin keeps the immune system healthy, fenugreek is beneficial to treat diabetes and lower cholesterol, turmeric is good for the skin and so on.
Herbs and Spice Mixtures and Rubs
Herb and spice mixtures are available which are native to certain parts of the world. For example, herbs de provence (basil, fennel, lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, savory and thyme) is commonly used in Southern France and spice mixes such as Moroccan mix (cumin, ginger, salt, pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cayenne, allspice and cloves), garam masala (peppercorn, cloves, bay leaves, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, star anise and coriander seeds) is used in India, Jerk spice in Jamaica, panch puran, and barbecue mix (pepper, salt, oregano, garlic, cumin, paprika, cayenne) is used all over the world. You can make you own herb or spice mix according to your taste. In order to make your own spice mix, roast the spices a little on a hot skillet. Grind the mixture finely and store in a container till used.
Herbs and spices should be kept in a cool and dry location. Exposure to heat, light or dampness destroys their flavor. Dry herb sand spices should be stored in an air-tight container and can last up to six months. Fresh herbs should be kept in a glass of water, or wrapped in a damp towel and stored in the refrigerator.
Herbs include basil, bay leaf, celery seed, chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, lemon grass, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme and more.
Spices include cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, pepper, turmeric, ginger, mace, saffron, vanilla, cumin, dill seed and more.