Definitions

herb

herb

[urb or, especially Brit., hurb]
herb, name for any plant that is used medicinally or as a spice and for the useful product of such a plant. Herbs as condiments and seasonings are still important in culinary art; the use of medicinal herbs, however, has waned since the advent of prescription and synthetic medicines, although plants remain a major source of drugs. The term herb is also applied to all herbaceous plants as distinguished from woody plants.

See R. E. Clarkson, Herbs, their Culture and Uses (1966); G. B. Foster, Herbs for Every Garden (rev. ed. 1973); A. and C. Krochmal, A Guide to the Medicinal Plants of the United States (1974).

Dried parts of various plants cultivated for their aromatic, savory, medicinal, or otherwise desirable properties. Spices are the fragrant or pungent products of such tropical or subtropical species as cardamom, cinnamon, clove, ginger, and pepper; spice seeds include anise, caraway, cumin, fennel, poppy, and sesame. Herbs are the fragrant leaves of such plants as basil, marjoram, mint, rosemary, and thyme. The most notable uses of spices and herbs in very early times were in medicine, in the making of holy oils and unguents, and as aphrodisiacs; they were also used to flavour food and beverages and to inhibit or hide food spoilage. Trade in spices has played a major role in human history. Important early trade routes, including those between Asia and the Middle East and between Europe and Asia, were initially forged to obtain exotic spices and herbs. The 15th-century voyages of discovery were launched largely as a result of the spice trade, and in the 17th century Portugal and the British, Dutch, and French East India companies battled furiously for dominance (see British East India Co.; Dutch East India Co.; French East India Co.).

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A(n) herb (or /ˈɝb/; see pronunciation differences) is a plant that is valued for qualities such as medicinal properties, flavor, scent, or the like.

Uses

Herbs have a variety of uses including culinary, medicinal, or in some cases even spiritual entheogen usage. General usage differs between culinary herbs and medicinal herbs. In medicinal or spiritual use any of the parts of the plant might be considered "herbs", including leaves, roots, flowers, seeds, resin, root bark, inner bark (cambium), berries and sometimes the pericarp or other portions.

Culinary herbs

Culinary use of the term "herb" typically distinguishes between herbs, from the leafy green parts of a plant, and spices, from other parts of the plant (including seeds, berries, bark, root, fruit, and even occasionally dried leaves). Culinary herbs are distinguished from vegetables in that like spices they are used in small amounts and provide flavor rather than substance to food.

Some herbs are shrubs (such as rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis), or trees (such as bay laurel, Laurus nobilis) – this contrasts with botanical herbs, which by definition cannot be woody plants.

Medicinal herbs

Many plants contain phytochemicals that have effects on the body. There may be some effects even when consumed in the small levels that typify culinary "spicing", and some herbs are toxic in larger quantities. For instance, some types of herbal extract, such as the extract of St. John's-wort (Hypericum perforatum) or of kava (Piper methysticum) can be used for medical purposes to relieve depression and stress. However, large amounts of these herbs may lead to poisoning, and should be used with caution. One herb-like substance, called shilajit, may actually help lower blood glucose levels which is especially important for those suffering from diabetes. Some herbs are used not only for recreation can also be used for medicinal purposes such as cannabis.

Religious herbs

Herbs are used in many religions – such as in Christianity (myrrh (Commiphora myrrha), ague root (Aletris farinosa) and frankincense (Boswellia spp)) and in the partially Christianized Anglo-Saxon pagan Nine Herbs Charm. In Hinduism a form of Basil called Tulsi is worshipped as a Goddess for its medicinal value since the Vedic times. Many Hindus in fact have a Tulsi plant in front of their houses.

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References

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