It's easy to become confused on what is a herb and what is a spice. When health and medicinal benefits are reported in studies the agent responsible is described as a "Herb" or as a "Spice". This description will help distinguish the differences in the two categories.
An herb is a live plant and the parts of the plant, other than the seed, are consumed or distilled for culinary and medicinal benefits. Basil is a common name of a species that is generally consumed by eating the leaves, sometimes the flowers. The plant itself is a herb.
The herb eucalyptus is not eaten or consumed but the essential oil is used for colds, flu, coughs and respiratory infections. The use of the oil, not the plant parts themselves, brings the classification into the herb world. The medicinal aspect covers the use of a plant for culinary, cosmetic, or medicinal purposes which is used to describe herbs.
Once the herb produces a seed then the seed itself falls into the category of being a spice. One of the best examples is the herb cilantro, which produces a seed called coriander. The use of the seed is the use of a spice, whereas the consumption of the leaf is an edible herb.
Today more and more studies are being done on the health benefits of herbs and spices. Often one sees a list of specific herbs and spices and the list is really a mixing of herbs and spices with little or no distinction. A health conscious consumer is left confused as to what will produce the healthy results.
Here are some specific health benefits of herbs and spices:
- Red Pepper - used to burn calories within a few hours of consumption. The pepper is the seed pod of the plant.
- Cinnamon - lower blood sugar for diabetics. Cinnamon is actually the bark of the tree, or an edible part and therefore should be a herb, but is universally referred to as a spice.
- Oregano - used as an antioxidant. Edible part are the leaves however this herb, once dried, increases the % of antioxidants available to the body.
One very important point for the consumer to remember is most herbs involve the consumption of the plant part so it's vital to understand the growth, harvesting, and processing of the edible herb. Spices can be washed easily to remove any toxic agents that were used to repel pests. That same pesticide may reside on a leaf and if not careful one consumes the pesticide when eating the herb.
Organic is a way to grow all herbs and spices.