Home Natural Healing What’s the Difference Between an Herb & a Spice?

What’s the Difference Between an Herb & a Spice?

written by Guest Blogger May 18, 2010

Interesting question, isn’t it? In today’s post, Bindu Grandhi (The Flex Cook and author of Spice Up Your Life), educates us on the differences between spices and herbs.

When a curious student asked this question during a cooking class that I teach at a local high school, I was a little surprised. I guess what constitutes an herb and a spice can be confusing, especially when occasionally the two come from the same plant, like cilantro (an herb) and coriander (a spice).

Here’s the rule of thumb: herbs are harvested from the leafy part of the plant (although there are exceptions such as lavender which is a flower) while spices are produced from the seed, bark, root or stem of the plant.

For thousands of years, mankind has used herbs and spices not only as flavoring agents, but also in medicinal and healing capacities. They are chock full of healthful benefits and scientists believe that many of the compounds found in these plants may even prevent cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Different cuisines have preferences for the herbs and spices used in cooking, but all chefs and cooks will agree that herbs and spices lend flavor, texture, complexity and aroma.

Here are the top 10 herbs and 10 spices I recommend for your kitchen repertoire. Remember to reap the health benefits, you need regular doses.

Herbs¹
Basil Rich in vitamins A and K, believed to combat bowel inflammation and rheumatoid arthritis, powerful antioxidants help with cellular aging
Cilantro A powerful natural cleansing agent that helps remove heavy metals and other toxic agents from the body; the oils aid our digestive system in its production digestive enzymes, acids and juices. and helps to stimulate digestion
Dill Has anti-bacterial and anti-carcinogenic properties; very good source of calcium which helps prevent bone loss
Garlic Protects against various cancers including breast, prostate and colon, improves triglyceride and cholesterol levels, disease fighter that can inhibit the growth of bacteria like E. coli
Mint Helps with digestion and asthma
Oregano Contains substances that help alleviate inflammation
Parsley Protects against rheumatoid arthritis, antioxidant-rich, fights cancer, contains three times as much vitamin C as oranges, and twice as much iron as spinach
Rosemary Contains substances useful for stimulating the immune system, increasing circulation, and improving digestion; contains anti-inflammatory compounds that may help reduce the severity of asthma attacks; also shown to increase blood flow to the head and brain, improving concentration
Sage Recommended for persons with inflammatory conditions (like rheumatoid arthritis), as well as bronchial asthma, and atherosclerosis; believed to be an outstanding memory enhancer
Thyme Contains the oil, thymol, especially helpful for chest and respiratory problems, also acts as an antiseptic and disinfectant
Spices²
Cardamom Known for improving digestion and stimulating metabolism
Chili Pepper / Dried Red Pepper Contains capsaicin which puts the heat in chilies, may lower the risk of skin and colon cancers, shown to suppress appetite and boost metabolism
Cloves Have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and antiseptic properties; they are well known for relieving flatulence and can actually help promote good digestion as well as metabolism
Coriander Aids in digestion, anti-inflammatory properties, contains phytonutrients that are protective against cancer
Cinnamon Just a ¼ to ½ tsp a day lowers blood sugar, LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides especially in people with type 2 diabetes
Cumin A potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that may help stop tumor growth
Ginger Can stop nausea and may also relieve heartburn and bloating
Mustard seeds Contain phytonutrient compounds that protect against cancers of the gastrointestinal tract; believed to reduce the severity of asthma
Nutmeg Contains the compound curcumin which may stop cancer from spreading, help prevent type 2 diabetes, lower the incidence of Alzheimer’s
Turmeric Contains the compound curcumin which may stop cancer from spreading, help prevent type 2 diabetes, lower the incidence of Alzheimer’s

¹WH Foods (www.whfoods.org)
²Fitness Magazine, March 2009; WH Foods (www.whfoods.org)

Tips: Spices lose antioxidant potency with age so once opened, discard them after 6 months – 1 year. Store in a cool, dark place and close lids tightly. Store fresh herbs with a dry paper towel and place in a sealed plastic bag or container in the refrigerator – they’ll stay fresh for about a week. Wash before use.

Enjoy Mother Nature’s natural flavor enhancers – herbs and spices – and remember a sprinkle of herbs and a dash of spice a day can keep the doctor away!

Sloppy ‘Vegetarian’ Joe

This is a healthier alternative to the traditional sloppy joe. In this version, vegetables replace the meat and the combination of spices adds loads of flavor and satisfaction. I find that mini potato rolls go really well with this sloppy joe, but you can use your preferred bread choice.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 2 Tbsp. extra light olive oil
  • 1 medium sweet onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1 cup fresh peas or frozen peas, thawed
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp. ground coriander
  • ¼ tsp. red chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt or salt to taste
  • ½ tsp. fresh lime or lemon juice
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

12 mini potato rolls, toasted

Garnish:
¼ cup diced onions for topping
¼ cup sliced grape tomatoes for topping

Preparation

In a small saucepan, boil enough water to cover the potatoes, add the potatoes. Cook until tender. Discard the water and mash potatoes, set aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat the oil. Add onion and sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the tomato and peas and cook for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low, add the mashed potato, cumin, coriander, red chili powder and sugar, mix until all the ingredients are well blended. Cook for 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Add salt, lime juice and cilantro. Mix well. Scoop 1/4 cup of the vegetarian sloppy joe onto each roll, top with onions and sliced tomatoes and serve.

About Bindu
Author of Spice Up Your Life, Bindu Grandhi is passionate about healthy and flavourful cooking, especially when it’s flexitarian. She shares her health knowledge with the world by providing practical, healthy and tasty recipes as The Flex Cook.

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4 comments

hafizmd May 20, 2010 at 4:33 am

This is really magnificent job. Today, i know the difference between herbs and spice plus i got a very nice recipe.

Keep it up to post informative things.

Reply
Head Health Nutter May 21, 2010 at 2:37 am

Thanks, hafizmd, and we must thank Bindu for her excellent article. I can’t wait to try to recipe! Please come back and let us know how you liked The Flex Cook’s healthy Sloppy Joe’s. 🙂

Steph

Reply
Amy June 4, 2010 at 3:38 am

This is really magnificent job. Today, i know the difference between herbs and spice plus i got a very nice recipe.

Keep it up to post informative things.

Reply
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