Is there a difference between Botanicals, Herbs and Spices?

When it comes to dictionary definitions, there is a difference between botanicals, herbs and spices. However, scientifically speaking herbs and spices both fall into the category of botanical study, more commonly known as botany. Therefore, herbs and spices are actually both a botanical, serving a wide range of differentiating purposes.

To put it simply, a botanical is a substance obtained from a plant which offers medicinal, cosmetic, tea and distilling use amongst others.  A herb can be defined as any plant with leaves, flowers or stems that can be used for flavouring, food, medicine or perfume. Spices are predominantly seeds, fruits, roots or bark – they are principally used in the seasoning or preserving of food.

In this way, when somebody is talking about a botanical product or botanicals in general, they could be referring to both herbs and spices and indeed other plant based material

What makes a Herb a Herb?

Herbs are plants which gift to us savoury and aromatic properties that we have taken to heavily utilising within our seasoning and enhancing of food. Not only this, but they hold medicinal purpose and are employed in fragrances. The term “herbs” is likely to, if not always, refer to the green or flowering section of a plant; this being either fresh or dried.

However, fully defining herbs has proven problematic in the past – and still does today. For example, within botany, the term herb is referred to as a herbaceous plant. These herbaceous plants would not include some of the most commonly described herbs: Rosemary, Sage and Lavender because of their woody stems and life cycle.

One proposed definition, therefore, is that herbs are plants that are useful to humans; this holds problems of its own as many plants we don’t deem as herbs are helpful to humans.

Conclusively, the jury is out! The definitive definition of a herb is up for discussion – we like to think that all herbs are indeed useful to humans and they continue to benefit us today in a fascinating array of means.

Defining Spice

As before mentioned, spices are distinguishable from herbs due to the part of the plant that is utilised. In the middle ages, Spices were some of the most demanded and expensive products available in Europe (often because they had to be transported great distances from where they originated). To this day, some spices come with an astonishing price tag. Perhaps this is due to their early uses being coupled with magic, medicine, tradition and preservation but also their rarity and extraction rates from the plants that produce them

In addition to adding extra kick or flavour to our dishes, some spices have antimicrobial properties; such as clove, cinnamon and cumin. This means that some spices have the ability to help our body fight off unwanted microorganisms or stops their growth. Like an antibiotic fight off bacteria, these spices can act as a small dose of body disinfectant for us – perhaps that is why we are also so attracted to the smell!

This wholly explains why today spices are still used in some medicines. Their more contemporary uses have expanded into cosmetic and perfume production. Even today, religious ceremonies utilise these spices – they continue to be entrenched within tradition.

The modern world is changing rapidly, but these natural botanicals continue to act as a reminder that nature has its brilliant way of providing. If you’re looking an extensive botanical knowledge and wholesale range, why not contact Joseph Flach & Sons today? We’re just an email away.