Photo courtesy of Kami Stafford

Introduction to Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices are a way to add flavor to food without adding ingredients known to have harmful effects in quantity, such as excessive sugars and fats. It is well known that these increase the calories and cause or worsen health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, hyperactivity, obesity, and many others. Additionally, herbs and spices can be used in holistic medicine to possibly effect a cure or relief of a problem, using traditional methods.

The difference between an herb and a spice is that an herb are the leaves from low-growing shrubs, especially in North America and Europe. Spices primarily are the barks and hard berries of plants, especially grown in Asia. Just a small difference.

How to Use Herbs

The primary focus of this page is how to go about adding herbs and spices as seasonings to your cooking as well as how to use them to help balance gunas. Additionally, many of them have medicinal uses, but this page will not go into that. For additional information on that, see the links in the Medicinal Herbalism section on this page.

Herbs may be added in a combination which is consistent with any particular type of ethnic cooking to give it the flavor of that ethnicity, regardless of whether or not it is a "traditional" recipe from that nationality or ethnicity, or various herbs and spices can be added which tend to be good for that type of food, mixing them regardless of ethnicity or nationality, to give the recipe an international flavor.

Of course, if you are using a recipe, the herbs and spices are spelled out in that recipe. But, for your own use, you may wish to adjust them, or substitute one for another, especially in the event that you do not have a particular spice on hand.


Categorizations by Ethnicity

Various nationalities and ethnicities have their own "flavor", their own style of spicing their food. To make an authentic dish of that style, a recipe will have in it what is needed. However, if you're just putting something together such as my loaves or skillets, you may wish to season it according to some particular nationality or ethnicity.

A partial list of herbs, spices, and spice blends by their ethnicity is as follows:

Mexican Chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, oregano, garlic
Italian Oregano, basil, garlic
Cajun Cayenne pepper, file
Chinese Garlic, soy sauce, ginger, sesame seeds, licorice, 5-spice blend
Greek Basil, mint, rosemary
English Rosemary, thyme, dill
Robust Sage, dill, garlic, red pepper
Indian Curry, garlic, cinnamon, turmeric, saffron, garam masala (hint)
German Caraway seeds, dill, thyme, black pepper


Categorizations by Type of Food

Herbs can be categorized by the type of foods it goes well with. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and any given person may have additions or deletions. That much is a matter of taste.

The following list is meant to be suggestive, and not an exhaustive list, or the only possible list available.

Dairy Nutmeg, savory, cumin
Eggs Paprika, dill, savory, white pepper, garlic, tarragon, mustard, chives
Green Vegetables Thyme, Rosemary, basil, chives, peppercorns, ginger, dill, oregano, turmeric, curry, celery seeds
Yellow Vegetables Black pepper, thyme, rosemary, peppercorns, ginger, dill, tarragon, caraway seeds, turmeric, curry
Starches Paprika, rosemary, savory, saffron, poppy seeds, chives
Meat Bay leaves, peppercorns, allspice, garlic, cumin, chili powder, basil, oregano, cloves, mint, savory, margaram, tarragon, sage, thyme, rosemary
Poultry Sage, allspice, peppercorns, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, fennel, ginger
Fish Allspice, sage, lemon pepper, tarragon, peppercorns, fennel, ginger, licorice
Desserts Mint, vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, allspice, poppy seeds
Cheese Savory, garlic, fennel, basil, oregano, cumin, white pepper
Beans, lentils, dry legumes Cumin, savory, turmeric, tarragon, curry


Categorizations by Guna

With few exceptions, herbs and spices are rajavic.

Ginger and vanilla are exceptions, as they are satvic. Such cooking ingredients for flavor, including such things as wine and beer are tamasic, any pickled spice, and the Asian cooking ingredient asafoetida.


Medicinal Herbalism

A great deal can be done with traditional methods with herbs, and many of the herbs used for medicinal reasons can be successfully added to food. Just be careful what you are mixing with what, and what the effects might be.

Many of the herbs and spices typically used in cooking also have medicinal uses. Garlic, for instance, is not only an indespensible spice used in many foods, but it is also good for prevention or treatment of various health conditions. If one wants to use an herb for a medicinal use, what better way to take it than to make a tasty dish out of it?

This page will not go into the holistic medicinal uses of herbs. Information can be found at Herb Research Foundation, in the classic, The Herb Book, by John Lust, or Chinese Medicine uses herbs, as described in The Ancient and Healing Art of Chinese Herbalism, by Anna Selby. However, if you are interested in Chinese medicine, I highly recommend finding a practitioner of Chinese Medicine. From India, there is Ayurvedic herbalism. I understand but little about this, but the site Ayurveda for You has a great deal of information on the topic.



I claim no particular training or knowlege in any medical field, including nutrition, medicine, or so forth. While I believe that many or most of these ideas can be used in conjunction with almost any special diet which you need for medical needs, the author of this site is not qualified to make such recommendations. If you have any special dietary needs, you are encouraged to discuss them with licensed medical practitioners, which may include your doctor, your nutritionist, your dietician, your pharmacist, and so forth.

Nothing in this site is designed to give medical, legal, or psychological advice.


Website design and Hosting by Web-lectric
Copyright 2006 by Elizabeth Harper
All Rights Reserved
No part of this page may be copied as a whole or in part, except in brief citations under the "Fair Use" provision of US and International Copyright Law without written permission of the author.