Herbs or Spices?

What’s the difference between a herb and a spice? Technically speaking, herbs are the leafy and flowery parts of the plant, and spices are the woodier parts; stems, bark and roots. I think if you asked the average cook, though, they’d say that herbs tend to come from closer to home – mainly Europe, in fact – and spices are more exotic.

But from a medicinal point of view, it makes no difference at all. Any part of the plant can be used, and when you’re looking for therapeutic qualities rather than tasty ingredients to spice up your food, they might be found in all parts of the plant, as in the Elder tree (Sambucus nigra), or only in one specific part, like the seeds of Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) or the strobiles of Hops (Humulus lupulus). Sometimes, different parts of the plant have different activities. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a good example of this: the root is a valuable liver tonic and a gentle laxative, while the leaves are a useful potassium- rich diuretic. Only the flowers, as far as I know, are not used medicinally, though they do make a lovely dandelion wine.

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