herbs and spices

Herbs and Spices

Concise A-Z List of Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices have been traded for thousands of years, beginning with the Arabs in 3000 BC, the Romans who dominated trade from 200 BC to 1200 AD, and later, the Europeans who fought wars for control of the trade in herbs and spices. Imagine how bland food would be without the huge range of herbs and spices available today –  use this list to spice up your cuisine today.

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Herbs and Spices Origin Characteristics Uses
Allspice Central America, West Indies and Jamaica. The evergreen, thin allspice tree grows to a height of 6-12 m and up to 100 years old. The first fruits appear in the seventh year. Dried and ground fruit grains used as a marinade for venison, beef and fish
Angelica European temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere to Asia. Thick, hollow stems growing up to 2 m tall on damp meadows. Green – white flowers in summer. In salads, sauces, soups. Also acts as a digestive tea




Anise A popular spice from the Mediterranean for over 3000 years. Shrub growing up to 70 cm, 3 different leaf shapes, white flowers midsummer. In soups, sauces, salads, spirits and cookies
Arnica From European mountains, but also moorland and heaths. Up to 60 cm, thin, upright stems with scented resin, yellow flowers in full sun. Although poisonous, used in ointments and cosmetics against infections

Arugula (rocket) Around the Mediterranean. Fast-growing plant, up to 50 cm tall with mustard-oily leaves, white flowers in summer. Young, tender leaves used for vitamin-rich salads or on pizza, sauces and cheese
Balm From the Orient to the Mediterranean. Known as the basis for melissa spirits. Densely branched, square stems which grow bushy. Leaves smell strongly of lemon. The lemon flavor enhances fish, salads and soups. Tea is invigorating
Basil Herbs and Spices are originally from India. The Romans brought the plant to Italy. Large, deep green, oval leaves, white flowers in late summer, rarely grows higher than 50 cm. Pesto and caprese flavoring, on tomatoes and pizza, in salads, vegetables and dips
Borage Originally from Arabia, came via Spain to Northern Europe. Bushy plant with bristly stems, growing up to 80 cm, blue, star-shaped flowers. Chopped leaves in cottage cheese and soups
Capers All around the Mediterranean, mostly from Marseille, Nice and Sicily. Thorny shrub up to 1 m tall, round, smooth leaves with white-pink flowers; often grows wild. Flower buds in sauces and salads, In Italy with veal (vitello tonnato)
Caraway Coming from Europe across the Mediterranean to Asia. Biennial plant. In the first year pinnate leaves, then later up to 1 m tall stems and white flowers. The flower seeds are used in bread, brandy, roasts, goulash and cabbage
Cardamom Originally from India, Ceylon, Malaysia. Today Vietnam, Tanzania and Madagascar among others. Ginger-like shrub, 2-3 m tall, lance-shaped leaves and yellow flowers from which mature small green capsules emerge. The green seeds from the capsules are a typical spice in Asian and Arabic cuisine: masala, chai, gingerbread, mulled wine and spiced biscuits
Cayenne pepper South and Central America, grows from the fruits of birdseye chilies. Pointed, yellow to red fruits. Berries are dried and finely ground. 20 times hotter than paprika, used in Asian dishes, stews, soups
Celery Coastal regions of Europe, mainly from the Mediterranean. Celery grows thin, branched taproots with strong stems and green, pinnate leaves. For soup flavoring. Sticks used for dipping, the leaves in salads, the tubers as a side dish
Chamomile Originally called feverfew, comes from South East Europe and North Asia. Low, bushy herb with white flowers around a yellow head, very fragrant, up to 50 cm tall. In the past for gynecological disorders, antibacterial in tea for stomach and intestinal problems
Chervil From the Caucasus to Asia. Up to 70 cm tall. Bushy, curly leaves resembling carrot greens (related to parsley). As a herb in soup, with chicken and seafood or as garnish on vegetables. Aids digestion as a tea
Chili Originally from South and Central America. Today it grows almost anywhere. The round, tapering chilies are either green (unripe), yellow or red. In Asian cuisine, but also in Latin American dishes
Chives Central Europe, but also the Rocky Mountains and Himalayas. Perennial bulb plant with up to 30 cm long tubular leaves. High levels of vitamin C. Chives season salads, cottage cheese, eggs, sauces, sandwiches and fish dishes
Cinnamon Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and Central America, Indonesia, Madagascar. The cinnamon tree grows up to 20 m tall and has shoots up to 2 m long from which the bark is peeled off. Ground cinnamon bark (sticks) used with desserts, pastries, tea and mulled wine
Cloves Indonesian Moluccas so-called Spice Islands and Madagascar. The evergreen clove tree grows up to 15 m tall, laurel-like leaves with reddish flower buds. The dried, sharp buds flavor meat, game, poultry and red cabbage
Cress Originally from the Near East, also in the EU. Burial gift of the Pharaohs. This “savory” grows up to 50 cm and has small, oval-shaped, pinnate leaves with white-reddish flowers. Cottage cheese, salad, soups, sauces
Cumin From India, Iran, Indonesia, China and the southern Mediterranean. The powder is ground from the brown, dried fruits (similar to caraway) of this Asian goutweed plant. Classic spice of Indian, Turkish, South American and African cuisine. Often in chili con carne and falafel
Dandelion Native wild meadow plant in the Northern Hemisphere. Up to 40 cm tall, smooth stems with non-poisonous milky juice, from spring yellow, serrated petals. Green leaves used in salads, with potatoes and eggs. Also cooked as a vegetable
Dill From Asia. The Egyptians and Romans brought the herb to Europe. Similar to fennel, up to 1 m tall, hollow stems with pinnate leaves, yellowish flowers. The fresh leaves spice up fish, vegetables and salads. Also added to pickled cucumbers
Elecampane From Asia, the plant crossed the Mediterranean to Europe. Perennial up to 2 meters tall, up to 50 cm wide, oval leaves, loves sun and humidity. The roots are rich in essential oils, used in desserts and tea
Fennel From the Mediterranean to India, China, the Balkans, England and USA. Up to 1.50 m tall with blue-green leaves. Seeds up to 12 mm long, yellow flowers in summer. Seeds used for tea and bread, vegetables and fish
Gentian Mountain pastures in south and central European mountain ranges. Up to 1.40 m high, strong stems, blue or yellow flowers in summer, prefers stony ground. Aids digestion in tea and herbal drinks as well as digestive spirits
Ginger South and Central Asian tropics, India, China, Japan, South America. Reed-like plant up to 1 m tall, long, narrow leaves with yellow-red flowers. Grated roots in Asian food, poultry, lamb, fish and stews
Horseradish From Southern Europe to Asia. In Europe for 800 years. Vigorous plant with wide, 1 m long leaves. In summer up to 1.5 m long white flowering stem. Grated roots a perfect condiment for beef, eggs and salmon
Juniper Central Asia and all of Europe, mostly Mediterranean regions. Evergreen coniferous plant, from 20 cm to 12 m tall (depending on location). Blue-black berries. Classic condiment with game, deer and lamb. Also good with beef, pork and cabbage. Basis for gin making
Lavender From all the Mediterranean countries. Used for centuries to alleviate headaches. Up to 60 cm tall shrub with narrow, aromatic leaves. In summer purple flowers. One of the “Herbes de Provence”, suitable for fish, meat and stews
Lemongrass From India via Africa to Central America. The 1.8 m tall grass with green stalks at the top, and white stalks in the bottom third, contains essential oils. A must in Asian cuisine. Goes well with fish, and chutneys
Marjoram From Arabia, this aphrodisiac found its way to the Mediterranean. Thin, reddish stems with aromatic, ovate, gray hairy leaves and white-purple flowers. Typical pizza seasoning, also tasty with potatoes, meat and soups
Mugwort Originally from Asia, but has been in Europe and North America for a long time. Hairy, blue red stems with dark green leaves that have a dense cottony down on the underside. The bitter, astringent taste goes well with goose, duck, pork and lamb
Mustard From the East Indies via the Middle East to the Mediterranean. 1.2 m tall plant with horizontally projecting pods containing grains. Yellow blossoms in summer. The seeds spice up savory food such as sausages, meat and eggs
Myrtle Around the Mediterranean, Asia and North Africa, symbol of love. Evergreen shrub up to 5 m tall. Narrow, oily leaves with white flowers and black berries. Whole or ground leaves used with grilled meats and roasts, the berries in sauces
Nasturtium Originally from the Andean countries of Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador. Climbing plant growing up to 3 m. Round, bright-green leaves with pretty orange-red flowers. Mustard-like leaves season cottage cheese, cream cheese and sauces
Nutmeg Nutmeg trees grow in New Guinea, Indonesia, Madagascar and Brazil. Up to 100-year-old, 15 m tree. After 9 months, the fruit bursts open and releases a nut. The grated nut spices spinach, cabbage, vegetables, sauces, egg, fish, meat
Parsley From southern Europe through the Alps to northern Europe. Bushy rosettes of yellowish green flowers. The roots and leaves have a high vitamin C content. The leaves add flavor to soups, sauces, eggs, potatoes and salads. One of the most popular herbs and spices.
Pepper From America to Europe (Spain, the Balkans, Hungary) by Columbus. The pepper plant has strong green leaves and ca. 10 cm long, red peppers. Up to 60 cm tall. The dried and ground seeds are used to flavor and spice up many foods
Pepper, green (mature) Monsoon forests of India, Indonesia and Malaysia. Evergreen climbing plant growing up to 9 m tall. After 8 years of maturity, it grows berries for 20 years. The green (fresh), black (dried), pickled (green) or ground (black) berries are used for seasoning and sharpening
Pepper, red / pink Grows in Brazil and throughout South America. The pepper tree bears not quite ripe, pink berries which are less sharp and have a sweetish taste. Milder than green pepper. Perfect for seasoning and sharpening
(Pepper) mint The cross between water-mint and spearmint is native to Europe. Angular stems up to 80 cm tall with serrated leaves (like stinging nettles). Relieves cramps, seasons teas, salads, vegetables and meat
Poppy Turkey, Greece and India, also partly from Holland. Thin, wiry stems growing up to 1 m, blue-green leaves bearing purple flowers with capsules. Seeds from capsules used with bread, cookies and cakes
Rosemary From the Mediterranean region, grows wild in coastal areas. Shrub with needle-like, hairy leaves smelling of essential oils. White-pink flowers. The needles season meat, poultry and fish. Also used on potatoes and stew. One of the most popular herbs and spices
Saffron From the Near East, the Moors brought it to Spain and Greece. The 8 cm high perennial is a Crocus which blooms in the fall with violet flowers and red stigmas. Red, dried and rubbed stigmas used in Béchamel sauce, soups and rice
Sage Prefers coastal regions of the Mediterranean, but also in Northern Europe. Evergreen shrub with gray-green, velvety leaves. In summer purple flowers. Leaves suitable for soups, meat and fish dishes. Caution advisable – too much of it is toxic. One of the most popular herbs and spices.
Salt From the sea (contains 3% salt), from the earth, and from the Himalayas. White salt has been chemically cleaned, natural salt has a grayish tinge. In the past used as a means of payment. The “white gold” is used in almost all dishes
Savory Eastern Mediterranean region. Today in Central Europe, West Asia and India. Bushy herbal plant that grows up to 50 cm tall, long, narrow leaves, flowers pink to purple. Reduces bloating and therefore suitable for legumes, meat and fish
Tamarind From Ethiopia to India and then to the Mediterranean and Central America. Up to 25 m tall, evergreen tree with pinnate leaves and up to 20 cm long, brown pods. Used much like lemon juice or vinegar for fish, meat, vegetables and rice
Tarragon From Russia to the Mediterranean. Slender stems with narrow, elongated leaves, rarely blooms in northern climes. Enhances poultry and fish, salads, soups, sauces, pickles, vinegar and oil
Thyme Originally from the Mediterranean. Found today in all mid-latitudes. Evergreen shrub with downy stems, many small leaves and pink to purple flowers. Goes well with meat, cabbage, soups, sauces and salads. One of the most popular herbs and spices.
Turmeric Southern Asia, India, Indonesia and now also South America. Up to 3 m tall plant with tuberous root, big, broad, lance-shaped leaves with yellow flowers. The ground root powder tastes good with rice, noodles, soups and fish.
Valerian Grows worldwide, known since the Middle Ages as catnip. Up to 2 m tall perennial with bright green pinnate blades, white and pink flowers. Has a calming and relaxing effect, helps against stress and insomnia.
Vanilla Southern Mexico, Guatemala, and the rest of Central America, Madagascar. Climbing orchid with greenish flowers, hanging pods containing thousands of tiny black seeds and thick, fleshy stems. Added to chocolate, coffee, desserts, pastries, creams, compotes and cakes.
Wild garlic Grows wild in damp areas throughout Europe and northern Asia. Up to 50 cm high, the smooth leaves are reminiscent of lily of the valley, smells strongly of garlic. Finely chopped in butter, cottage cheese and yogurt. Also in salads and soups.
Woodruff European forests, but also from Iran to Siberia. Perennial with 30 cm long stems, star-shaped whorls, lancet-leaves and white flowers. Used as a tea. In Germany, combined with Rhine wine to make “Maibowle” which is drunk on May 1st.
Yarrow From Central Europe to Central Asia, North America and New Zealand. Bushy perennial, 30-80 cm tall. Multi-jointed, pink flowers in summer. The young, fresh leaves are used in salads, cottage cheese and vegetables.

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2 responses to “Herbs and Spices”

  1. Raffaella Cardone says:

    Interesting document!

  2. gabriella t. says:

    It’s very very interesting reading about spices and herbs I use every day when I cook.

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