WHAT IS AN HERB?
There are three generally accepted definitions of an herb.
Botanically, herbs are non-woody annual, biennial, and perennial plants
that die back each year after blossoming. Another definition describes
them as any of the herbaceous plants valued for their flavour,
fragrance, or medicinal properties. The third is actually not a
definition but a distinction between the culinary herbs and spices.
The botanical definition includes many plants that we ordinarily
think of as weeds (and even eliminate from the garden when they appear)
and therefore never cultivate as we do
marjoram or sage. Many vegetables
and ornamental garden plants also fit this description, but they are not
usually thought of as herbs. Excluded by the definition are a number of
shrubby and woody plants such as laurel and
rosemary, which for
centuries have been two of the most distinguished herbs.
More flexible is the second definition which singles out herbs as
being useful as flavouring, scents, or medicine. But, because our uses
of various plants change as our needs do, a list of plants that could be
considered useful will differ from culture to culture and from century
to century. Also, this definition does not distinguish fragrant flowers
such as gardenias from the fragrant herbs such as lavender and
In cooking, a distinction is made between spices herbs and
usually are considered to be derived from the roots, bark, fruit, or
berries of perennial plants such as cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and
pepper; herbs are the leaves only of low growing shrubs and herbaceous
plants such as basil,
rosemary, and thyme. There are several plants,
however - such as some of the roses - which are included in herb listings
even though their fruit (rose hips) is used.
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Bee Balm |
Dittany of Crete |
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Lemon Verbena |