Herbs and Spices Are Nature's Flavor Enhancers

Learn the difference between herbs and spices and what they can add to your garden

July 8, 2020, 11:33 am | Ruth Litchfield, Sarah Francis, Cynthia Haynes

AMES, Iowa – Although herbs and spices have been used since ancient times, they are gaining popularity in today’s food preparation. The popularity of ethnic foods has led to greater interest in and growing of herbs.
In this week’s Sow, Grow, Eat and Keep quickinar video, specialists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach answer some common questions about herbs and spices.
What is the difference between an herb and a spice?
Many people use the terms herbs and spices interchangeably. Technically, herbs come from aromatic plants grown in temperate zones, whereas spices are products of tropical plants. Leaves are the typical plant product for herbs, while spices may come from the bark, berries, flowers, roots or seeds. Not only do herbs add unique flavors to our food, they also contribute color and variety as well.
Certain spices and herbs used alone, or in blends, can replace or reduce salt and sugar in foods. Does it matter whether you use fresh or dried herbs and spices? Should you be growing your herbs? Because fresh herbs have more distinctive tastes than dried herbs, you might want to consider growing your own.
As a group, herbs are relatively easy to grow and don’t have as many insect and disease problems as some plants. The temperate climate of Iowa is favorable for growing herbs. The key for growing herbs is location, location, location. Herbs require a minimum of six to eight hours of sunlight daily. Good soil and drainage also are important; herbs do not grow well in wet soils. Because herbs grow well in containers, you can even have an herb garden year round.
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