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In botany, a herb or herbaceous plant (pronounced with or without the h) technically is a seed-bearing plant (most specifically a flowering plant) that does not produce a woody stem with persistent tissue but generally dies down to the ground level each year.

In a more popular sense, the term herb is applied to any useful plant that is employed for medicinal purposes, or for culinary purposes in small quantities related to flavor (such as a condiment or seasoning), or even for spiritual uses. Likewise, the term refers to the substance obtained from the plant and used in that manner.

In this non-botanical sense, the term generally is used regardless of whether the source of the herb is a woody plant or a herbaceous plant. For example, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is used in traditional Mediterranean cuisine and medicinally as a "herb" despite the fact that it is a woody, perennial plant. However, some limit the term herb, even in the second sense, to herbaceous plants, particularly as related to culinary use (Spicer and VanDyk 2003; Herbert 2006).

In both senses of the term, herbs have added immeasurably to the quality of human life. Humans have a relationship with a vast array of herbaceous plants that offer important ecological, nutritional, economic, and aesthetic values, such as barley, wheat, rice, and other grasses being a main food source and pink carnations serving as a herbaceous ornamental plant. Herbs have provided medicinal and culinary benefits that have enhanced the quality of human life, such as the oregano used in tomato sauces or lemon balm used medicinally as a herbal tea.


A herbaceous plant is a plant that has one or more stems and leaves that die, at the end of the growing season, to the soil level. Since gymnosperms are typically woody, with some exceptions, herbaceous plants are generally listed as angiosperms or flowering plants. A herbaceous plant may be an annual plant that dies after one growing season, or it may be produced each year, as a biennial or perennial, from plant parts that remain below the ground.

Salvia lyrata, a herbaceous plant

Herbaceous perennial plants have stems that die at the end of the growing season, but new growth forms from the roots or from underground stems or from crown tissue at the surface of the ground. Examples include bulbs, Peonies, Hosta, and grasses. By contrast, non-herbaceous perennial plants are woody plants that have little stems above ground that remain alive during winter and grow shoots the next year from the above ground parts, including trees, shrubs, and vines.

Herbaceous plants are pioneers, or early-successional species. These species are relatively fast growing plants,and have a wide distribution of seeds and stems.

Herbs: basil

The term herb also is employed popularly in a very different sense related to their usefulness for culinary, medicinal, or spiritual usage. Culinary herbs are distinguished from vegetables in that herbs are used in small amounts and provide flavor (similar to spices) rather than substance to food. In this sense, some herbs contain phytochemicals that, when consumed in small quantities, can be healthy, yet in large quantities can be toxic to the liver. Some types of herbal extract, such as the extract of Hypericum perforatum (St. John's wort), or the Piper methysticum (kava plant) can be used for medical purposes to relieve depression and stress. However, administering high amounts of these herbs may lead to poisoning, and should be used with caution.

The green, leafy part of the plant is often used, but herbal medicine makes use of the roots, flowers, seeds, root bark, inner bark (cambium), berries, and sometimes the pericarp or other portions.

Herb versus spice

The terms spice and herb are often used interchangeably. However, some make a distinction based on what part of the plant is the source, as well as the type of plant. Herbert (2006), and Spicer and VanDyk (2003), for example, consider herbs to come from the leafy part of a herbaceous plant, while spices are obtained from the seeds, berries, bark, root, fruit, or other parts of the plant (even leaves in some cases). For example, cilantro is a herb because it comes from the leaves of Coriandrum sativum while coriander is a spice because it comes from the seeds of the same plant (Spicer and VanDyk 2003). However, this may be more a distinction in terms of the culinary use of the terms, since "herbal medicine" utilizes many sources of plant matter.

Pronunciation of "h" in herb

The h in herb properly can be pronounced or not pronounced (American Heritage 2000). The term herb was borrowed from French, where the (h) was not pronounced, just as it was lost in Latin and not pronounced in the other Romance languages borrowed from Latin. It was, however, generally pronounced in both Old and Middle English, and today, in modern British English, both herb and such derivatives as herbaceous, herbal, and herbivore are pronounced with h (American Heritage 2000). In American English, the h is more commonly not pronounced in the words herb and herbal, but is typically pronounced in herbaceous and herbivore (American Heritage 2000).

List of culinary herbs and spices

A spice market in Istanbul

This is a list of culinary "herbs and spices." Specifically, these are unrefined and unmixed food or drink additives of botanical origin, used in nutritionally insignificant quantities for flavoring. As such, this list does contain pepper, but not salt (which is a mineral), or curry powder (which is a mixture). It also does not contain herbs or spices that are purely medicinal (such as valerian), fictional (such as aglaophotis), or are used as recreational drugs (such as marijuana).

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  • Ajwain (Trachyspermum ammi)
  • Allspice (Pimenta dioica)
  • Alkanet (Anchusa arvensis)
  • Amchur—mango powder (Mangifera)
  • Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
  • Anise (Pimpinella anisum)
  • Aniseed myrtle (Syzygium anisatum)
  • Annatto (Bixa orellana L.)
  • Apple mint (Mentha suaveolens)
  • Artemisia vulgaris/Mugwort
  • Asafoetida (Ferula assafoetida)


  • Berberis
  • Banana
  • Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
  • Bay leaves
  • Bistort (Persicaria bistorta")
  • Black cardamom
  • Black cumin
  • Blackcurrant
  • Black limes
  • Bladder wrack (Fucus vesiculosus)
  • Blue Cohosh
  • Blue-leaved Mallee (Eucalyptus polybractea)
  • Bog Labrador Tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum)
  • Boldo (Peumus boldus)
  • Bolivian Coriander (Porophyllum ruderale)
  • Borage (Borago officinalis)


  • Calamus
  • Calendula
  • Calumba (Jateorhiza calumba)
  • Chamomile
  • Candle nut
  • Caper (Capparis spinosa)
  • Caraway
  • Cardamom
  • Carob Pod
  • Cassia
  • Casuarina
  • Catnip
  • Cat's Claw
  • Catsear
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Celastrus Paniculatus—Herb.
  • Celery salt
  • Celery seed
  • Centaury
  • Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
  • Chickweed
  • Chicory
  • Chile pepper
  • Chili powder
  • Cinchona
  • Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
  • Cicely (Myrrhis odorata)
  • Cilantro (see Coriander) (Coriandrum sativum)
  • Cinnamon (and Cassia)
  • Cinnamon Myrtle (Backhousia myrtifolia)
  • Clary
  • Cleavers
  • Clover
  • Cloves
  • Coffee
  • Coltsfoot
  • Comfrey
  • Common Rue
  • Condurango
  • Coptis
  • Coriander
  • Costmary (Tanacetum balsamita)
  • Couchgrass
  • Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris)
  • Cowslip
  • Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus)
  • Cress
  • Cuban Oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus)
  • Cudweed
  • Cumin
  • Curry leaf (Murraya koenigii)


  • Damiana (Turnera aphrodisiaca, T. diffusa)
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
  • Demulcent
  • Devil's claw (Harpagophytum procumbens)
  • Dill seed
  • Dill (Anethum graveolens)
  • Dorrigo Pepper (Tasmannia stipitata)


  • Echinacea
  • Echinopanax Elatum
  • Edelweiss
  • Elderberry
  • Elderflower
  • Elecampane
  • Eleutherococcus senticosus
  • Emmenagogue
  • Epazote (Chenopodium ambrosioides)
  • Ephedra
  • Eryngium foetidum
  • Eucalyptus
  • Eyebright


  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
  • Fenugreek
  • Feverfew
  • Figwort
  • Filé powder
  • Five-spice powder (Chinese)
  • Fo-ti-tieng
  • Fumitory


  • Galangal
  • Garam masala
  • Garden cress
  • Garlic chives
  • Garlic
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • Ginkgo biloba
  • Ginseng
  • Ginseng, Siberian (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
  • Goat's Rue (Galega officinalis)
  • Goada masala
  • Golden Rod
  • Golden Seal
  • Gotu Kola
  • Grains of paradise (Aframomum melegueta)
  • Grains of Selim (Xylopia aethiopica)
  • Grape seed extract
  • Green tea
  • Ground Ivy
  • Guaco
  • Gypsywort


  • Hawthorn (Crataegus sanguinea)
  • Hawthorne Tree
  • Hemp
  • Herbes de Provence
  • Hibiscus
  • Holly
  • Holy Thistle
  • Hops
  • Horehound
  • Horseradish
  • Horsetail (Equisetum telmateia)
  • Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)


  • Jalap
  • Jasmine
  • Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum)
  • Joe Pye weed (Gravelroot)
  • John the Conqueror
  • Juniper


  • Kaffir Lime Leaves (Citrus hystrix, C. papedia)
  • Kaala masala
  • Knotweed
  • Kokam


  • Labrador tea
  • Lady's Bedstraw
  • Lady's Mantle
  • Land cress
  • Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
  • Ledum
  • Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis)
  • Lemon basil
  • Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus, C. flexuosus, and other species)
  • Lemon Ironbark (Eucalyptus staigeriana)
  • Lemon mint
  • Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora)
  • Lemon Thyme
  • Lemon verbena (Lippia citriodora)
  • Licorice—adaptogen
  • Lime Flower
  • Limnophila aromatica
  • Lingzhi
  • Linseed
  • Liquorice
  • Long pepper
  • Lovage (Levisticum officinale)
  • Luohanguo


  • Mace
  • Mahlab
  • Malabathrum
  • Manchurian Thorn Tree (Aralia manchurica)]]
  • Mandrake
  • Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
  • Marrubium vulgare
  • Marsh Labrador Tea
  • Marshmallow
  • Mastic
  • Meadowsweet
  • Mei Yen
  • Melegueta pepper (Aframomum melegueta)
  • Mint (Mentha spp.)
  • Milk thistle (Silybum)
  • Bergamot (Monarda didyma)
  • Motherwort
  • Mountain Skullcap
  • Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
  • Mustard
  • Mustard seed


  • Nashia inaguensis
  • Neem
  • Nepeta
  • Nettle
  • Nigella sativa
  • Nigella (Kolanji, Black caraway)
  • Noni
  • Nutmeg (and Mace) Marijuana


  • Oenothera (Oenothera biennis et al)
  • Olida (Eucalyptus olida)
  • Oregano (Origanum vulgare, O. heracleoticum, and other species)
  • Orris root
  • Osmorhiza
  • Olive Leaf (used in tea and as herbal supplement)


  • Panax quinquefolius
  • Pandan leaf
  • Paprika
  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
  • Passion Flower
  • Patchouli
  • Pennyroyal
  • Pepper (black, white, and green)
  • Peppermint
  • Peppermint Gum (Eucalyptus dives)
  • Perilla
  • Plantain
  • Pomegranate
  • Ponch phoran
  • Poppy seed
  • Primrose (Primula)—candied flowers, tea
  • Psyllium
  • Purslane


  • Quassia
  • Quatre épices


  • Ramsons
  • Ras el-hanout
  • Raspberry (leaves)
  • Reishi
  • Restharrow
  • Rhodiola rosea
  • Riberry (Syzygium luehmannii)
  • Rocket/Arugula
  • Roman chamomile
  • Rooibos
  • Rosehips
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  • Rowan Berries
  • Rue


  • Safflower
  • Saffron
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis)
  • Saigon Cinnamon
  • St John's Wort
  • Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor or Poterium sanguisorba)
  • Salvia
  • Sichuan Pepper (Sansho)
  • Sassafras
  • Savory (Satureja hortensis, S. Montana)
  • Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)
  • Scutellaria costaricana
  • Senna (herb)
  • Senna obtusifolia
  • Sesame seed
  • Sheep Sorrel
  • Shepherd's Purse
  • Sialagogue
  • Siberian Chaga
  • Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
  • Siraitia grosvenorii (luohanguo)
  • Skullcap
  • Sloe Berries
  • Smudge Stick
  • Sonchus
  • Sorrel (Rumex spp.)
  • Southernwood
  • Spearmint
  • Speedwell
  • Squill
  • Star anise
  • Stevia
  • Strawberry Leaves
  • Suma (Pfaffia paniculata)
  • Sumac
  • Summer savory
  • Sutherlandia frutescens
  • Sweet grass
  • Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata)
  • Sweet woodruff
  • Szechuan pepper (Xanthoxylum piperitum)


  • Tacamahac
  • Tamarind
  • Tandoori masala
  • Tansy
  • Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
  • Tea
  • Teucrium polium
  • Thai basil
  • Thistle
  • Thyme
  • Toor Dall
  • Tormentil
  • Tribulus terrestris
  • Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa)


  • Uva Ursi also known as Bearberry


  • Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia)
  • Vasaka
  • Vervain
  • Vetiver
  • Vietnamese Coriander (Persicaria odorata)


  • Wasabi (Wasabia japonica)
  • Watercress
  • Wattleseed
  • Wild ginger
  • Wild Lettuce
  • Wild thyme
  • Winter savory
  • Witch Hazel
  • Wolfberry
  • Wood Avens
  • Wood Betony
  • Woodruff
  • Wormwood


  • Yarrow
  • Yerba Buena
  • Yohimbe


  • Za'atar
  • Zedoary Root

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • American Heritage Dictionary of the English language (American Heritage). 2016. Herb. Retrieved August 11, 2016.
  • Herbert, S. 2006. Spices versus herbs: What's the difference? Ezine Articles. Retrieved December 2, 2007.
  • Spicer, F. and J. VanDyk. 2003. Herbs vs. spices. Integrated Pest Management at Iowa State University. Retrieved December 2, 2007.


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