What is an herb? Definition of an Herb

What is an herb

Herbs have been used since the beginning of time to enhance our lives. According to legend, Alcuin, an Anglo-Latin scholar, asked his student Charlemagne this question as well. King Charlemagne replied, “The friend of physicians and the praise of cooks.”

Although this is true, herbs were used for medicinal and culinary purposes, they served in many other capacities as well. Herbs were, have been and are used in the practice of witchcraft and sorcery, aromatherapy, perfumery, and so much more. In medieval times, herbs were strewn over the rushes that were placed on the floors of castles to inhibit pests and to disperse an aroma when stepped upon. (They took very few baths and body odor could be over-powering.)

During Charlemagne’s time, herbalism and medicine were essentially the same practice.

What is an herb?

Herb vs. Spice

According to Wikipedia, “Herbs are plants used for flavoring, food, medicine, or perfume.”

What is an herb

Red Basil

The terms “herbs” and “spices” are often used interchangeably especially when specified for culinary purposes.

Differentiating between an herb and a spice – Wikipedia goes on to state that “culinary use typically distinguishes an herb as referring to leafy green parts of a plant (either fresh or dried), from a spice, a product from another part of the plant (usually dried), including seeds, berries, bark, roots and fruits.”

It becomes more confusing to distinguish herbs from spices considering Google’s definition of an herb: “Any plant with leaves, seeds, or flowers used for flavoring, food, medicine, or perfume” and/or “a part of such a plant as used in cooking.”

To muddy the waters even further, the term “herb” is used as an abbreviation of any “herbaceous plant”.

What is an herb?

The kingdomofherbs.com states, “While most people think of the herb as an aromatic plant used for seasoning in cooking, for its medicinal properties, or in perfumes, herbs actually include any seed-producing flowering plant that does not produce woody stems and that forms new stems and leaves each season.”

What is an herb


But rosemary, which is definitely an herb, has woody stems and although it forms new stems and leaves each season, it maintains its existing leaves and stems as well. Kingdomofherbs.com goes on to state, “For our purposes, garden vegetables have full and equal rights in the Kingdom of Herbs.”

As you can see, the word “herb” has many different definitions.  In The Herb Society of America’s New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses written by Deni Bown,  she states that herbs include not only herbaceous perennials, but also trees (like gingko), shrubs (like rosemary), annuals (like basil), and vines (such as hops). She goes on to state that herbs also include “ferns, mosses, algae, lichens, and fungi.”

This leaves the definition wide open for interpretation. For our purposes, an herb would be any plant used for its medicinal and healthful qualities, flavoring (culinary), aromatic purposes (like potpourri and perfumes), dyes, and pesticidal properties. That is a whole lot of plants.

Herbs enrich our lives in so many. They make us feel better, make things taste better and smell better.

Photo credits: Photo 1 (borage blossom), Photo 2 (red basil), Photo 3 (rosemary)


What is an herb? Definition of an Herb — 16 Comments

  1. Fabulous article Cindy! I will definitely be back to read more. I love herbs, love growing them and love using them for both cooking and natural healing alternatives. Congratulations on your new site! HUGS Lisa

    • Lisa- thanks so much for stopping by. I think this is really going to be a fun site to manage. Looking so forward to the journey down the garden path. Thanks -Cindy

  2. Hi, great idea for a Blog, and great Blog! Looks good too, I’m looking forwards to its development! Strive on!

    • Sandra Sallin – Thanks so much! There are some things you can consider that may keep the “varmints” from destroying your herbs. Spraying the plants with a garlic pepper spray may make the plants distasteful so that they would leave them alone. You could also consider planting them in the ground or in pots in a small fenced area. Don’t let them rob you of the benefits of having fresh herbs available to you.

  3. Hi!

    Wonderful site! I am just getting into trying to eat more with more healthy options. I am so glad we connected. I look forward to even more great information!


    • Angie Ryg – So pleased that you enjoyed the site. I hope you come back again as it fleshes out. As I get more information on the site, I have plans for new pages to make the finding of certain types of information easy and fun. Looking forward to traveling the herb garden path with you.

    • Audrey Howitt – so good to see you here. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say as we begin discussing herbs in more depth. Thanks.

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