Before we begin a discussion proper about herbs, I thought the distinction needed to be made about how we define an “herb” and how we define a “spice.”
For years I’ve heard the definition that an herb was just a useful plant–and to be honest, that’s pretty much the definition I use. But it is not the definition the McCormick Science Institute uses.
So here, roughly paraphrasing, are the definitions of “Herb” and “Spice” from the McCormick Science Institute.
“Herb” is technically defined as a seed bearing plant with fleshy rather than woody parts. In other words, herbs are leaves, technically. This leaves us with a lot of gray areas. What do we do with lavender and rosemary, which definitely have woody parts? And what about a plant like cilantro/coriander, where the leaf (cilantro) is used but the seed (coriander) is also used?
The term “spice” refers to the dried part of any plant except the leaves–so this could be the seeds of coriander, the seed pods of other plants (think nutmeg or allspice or even star anise) or bark (like cinnamon).
Is this distinction important to gardeners? Probably not. But it most likely means that for most of us, we will be growing primarily herbs instead of spices unless we are lucky enough to live in the tropics. (I do remember several conversations from my days of retail gardening about the vanilla orchid. It can be grown even here in the frozen northeast. But it’s not a very showy plant. And when folks learned that it takes a year to get one pod–and that they would need to hand-pollinate–the allure wore off very quickly unless the person was a dedicated orchid enthusiast!).
So armed with this trivia, decide on some of your favorite herbs–and I’ll be telling you about mine–which admittedly are some of the most common–over the next month.
One thing I will not be discussing is medicinal uses or even herbal lore. There is a lot of it out there, and science indicates that some herbs may have some health benefits.
But I am not a scientist or a medical doctor–and every time I even hint at a reputed benefit from herbs, some naysayer posts a comment. So to avoid all of that confusion, about the most controversial terms I hope you’ll see in the upcoming posts are going to be “perennial” and “full sun.”
It may be fairly boring to you seasoned gardeners out there–but at least it will keep the peace!