Difference between Herbs and Spices

Updated on April 16, 2016

Herbs, spices and seasonings help create culinary masterpieces, turning any basic products into delicious dishes by adding flavor, color, aroma and nutritional value.

A lot of people tend to use the words “herbs” and “spices” interchangeably, and although they have a lot in common there are some slight differences that set them apart from each other.

In this article we are going to specify these differences and provide examples.



Herbs are any plants used raw or processed for eating, flavoring, manufacturing perfumes and cosmetics as well as for medicinal purposes. In cooking, herbs are found as green leaves and other green parts of a plant; culinary herbs can be used fresh or dried.

In medicinal or spiritual uses the word “herbs” may denote not only leafy green parts of plants, but also any other parts. Herbs such as peppermint and lavender are used in medicine due to their healing, anti-bacterial and immune system promoting qualities.

In botanical English the word “herb” is a synonym for “herbaceous plant”.

The most common examples of herbs include basil, parsley, cilantro, oregano, thyme and mint.


Spices are fragrant aromatic products most commonly known as a variety of parts of the plant other than leafy ones. Usually they are obtained from woody or non-woody plants and include roots, stems, bark, bulbs, fruit, berries and seeds. Chemically spices are rich in taste and aroma due to rare essential oils and oleoresins.

Spices for culinary use are usually dried. The most popular spices that can be found in any kitchen are cloves, ginger, cinnamon, pepper and many others.

Spices often make dishes taste hot and prevent bacteria from growing in products; therefore they are used for preservation and are popular in countries with a hot, tropical, sunny climate where it is hard to keep some products 100% fresh and safe. For the same anti-bacterial reason spices such as turmeric and cayenne are used in medicine for anti-inflammatory or anti-fungal effects, but not so often as herbs.

Herbs vs Spices

What is the difference between herbs and spices? We have already mentioned the most obvious: their look and origin. While herbs are green leafy plants or their parts, spices are everything else that can be taken from the plant.

Nevertheless, an all-inclusive definition comes from the American Spice Trade Association. Today they call “spices” any dried plants used primarily for seasoning purposes. It means that according to their glossary spices include herbs, dehydrated veggies and spice blends.

But we would rather stick to the more common definitions listed above.

Herbs can have culinary use both fresh and dried (more often fresh), while spices in the majority of cases are dried.

Another significant difference is the climate herbs and spices grow in. Herbs grow in temperate climate, whereas spices prefer conditions of tropical countries.

Both herbs and spices are used for seasoning, but spices usually provide a stronger taste and aroma and are used in smaller amounts.

In some cases both a herb and a spice may come from the different parts of the same plant. Dill seeds are known as a spice, while the plant stalk is called a herb. Cilantro is the name for the plant’s leaves, while coriander is used as seeds, but it is the same plant.

The difference between definitions for herbs and spices doesn’t have to change the way we cook; this article is written for educational purpose only.

Comparison Chart

Green leaves and other green parts of a plantDifferent parts of the plant, except for leafy ones
Used in greater amountsUsed in smaller amounts due to their strong flavor
Usually grow in mild climateUsually grow in hot and sunny climate


Watch this video to discover Top-10 herbs and spices