The Blog

Spice vs. Herb: What’s the Difference

Spice and herb may be two of the most confusing culinary terms, primarily because so many people use the two interchangeably far too often. This is because, unless you are trained in the culinary arts, chances are you have never known the difference because they are all in the same section of the grocery store and are arranged alphabetically not by classification. Then, to add to the confusion you have spice blends like curry and spice/herb blends like za’atar (common in Indian cuisine). But I really don’t want to confuse you anymore. So let’s just cut to the chase.


Starting with herbs the term herb mainly refers to leaves. The leaves of plants are used to make herbs or the plant itself is called an herb. Herbs are mainly herbaceous plants (non-woody) with a few exceptions such as rosemary and bay leaf. The leaves can either be used fresh or they can be dried and used in that form as well. So when you are in the grocery store aisle you can be sure that anything that looks like a dried leaf is definitely an herb.


Generally speaking, spices are everything but the leaves of a plant.  This includes the seeds, bark, roots, fruit, or flowers. Spices are usually dried and ground into a fine powder and used in cooking. Again, there are always exceptions, such as ginger root. 

When to Harvest

If you are harvesting herbs for the leaves, be sure to harvest them before they flower. If the flower is what you are after, you will want to harvest them before they are fully bloomed out. Lastly, if you are after the seed, wait until they have almost dried completely on the plant before harvesting.

The best time to harvest fresh herbs is in the late morning after the leaves have dried and they are full of flavor. Most herbs can be grown successfully indoors with the right amount of light. However, in the warmer months, you may want to put them outside to help repel the mosquitos and certain other flying pests that come with summer. 

Limit your harvest to no more than one-third of the plant and pinch off any flowers that begin to develop so that your herbs continue to produce the leaves that you want. If you are harvesting from perennial herbs outdoors, be sure to stop harvesting at least two weeks before the first expected frost so that the plant has time to harden off. Your annual herbs can be harvested until the frost gets them. If you are growing your herbs indoors, remember that your plants will still go through some level of dormancy. Try to limit your harvests to the bare minimum if at all as your plant will not regenerate itself during this period. So consider harvesting more than you need in summer and drying them for later use. 

No matter how you choose to grow your herbs and spices, nothing really beats the flavor of fresh. How could you go wrong learning how to preserve your harvests without all the added steps or processes that may come with mass-produced herbs and spices? 

Visit your local garden center. Pick up some plants or seeds and have fun growing your herbs and spices.


Drying Herbs

How to turn spices into powder