Herbs and Spices

Herbs and Spices

Herbs are generally aromatic leaves, or sometimes seeds, from plants of temperate origins, whereas spices are aromatic fruits, flowers, bark, or other plant parts of tropical origin. Aromatic Plants have scents due to Essential Oils which are volatile substances that contribute to the essence or aroma of certain species. Essential Oils are most often terpenes which are a large group of unsaturated hydrocarbons with a common building block of C5H8 (isoprene molecule). Essential Oils play the role of attracting pollinators especially in the case of flowers, in the case of other plant parts scientists believe that they discourage herbivores and insects from eating them and inhibiting bacterial and fungal pathogens. Scientists have found that although herbs and spices may have been discovered because of their flavor and scent, they have remained integral parts of our lives to this day for their antimicrobial properties. Many herbs and spices especially onions, garlic, allspice, and oregano inhibit or kill many food-borne bacteria. Researchers suggest that food preservation may have been the main reason why spices were incorporated into the human diet as more spices were used in hotter climates where food spoilage is increased.
Domesticated herbs and spices in jars


The spices of the Old World that dominated trade and were the impetus to exploration wtill rmain prominent commodities troughout the world, as are the New World Spices. The following discussion focuses on those spices that have the most widespread use.
  • Cinnamon
  • Black and White Pepper
  • Cloves
  • Nutmeg and Mace
  • Ginger and Turmeric
  • Saffron
  • Hot Chilies and Other Capsicum Peppers
  • Vanilla
  • Allspice

History of Spices

Ancient Egyptians used herbs and spices extensively in medicine, cooking, embalming, and as perfumes and incense. Ebers Papyrus, dated about 3,500 years ago, is a scroll that lists the medical uses of many plants and includes anise, caraway, mustard, saffron, and many other familiar herbs and spices. Cinnamon and cassia are also mentioned in Egyptian records, and because these two spices are native to Southeast Asia and China, evidence of an active spice trade exists


In recent years there has been a renaissance in the use of herbs in everyday life, going beyond the kitchen to find applications in shampoos, cosmetics, soaps, potpourris, and medicines. Herbs are usually the aromatic leaves or sometimes seeds of temperate plants; however, other plant organs are sometimes considered herbs as well.

Four well-known herb families:
  • The Aromatic Mint (Peppermint)
  • The Parsley Family (Cilantro)
  • The Mustard Family
  • Pungent Alliums