A herb is a plant that is valued for flavor, scent, or other qualities. Herbs are used in cooking, as medicines, and for spiritual purposes.
Herbs have a variety of uses including culinary, medicinal, or in some cases even spiritual 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 of the plant.
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 or roots. 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 culinary 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. Some plants are used as both a spice and a herb, such as dill seed and dill weed or coriander seeds and coriander leaves.
Plants contain phytochemicals that have effects on the body. Throughout history, from the Bible, Koran, Vedas and other old texts, the medicinal benefits of herbs are quoted.
There may be some effects 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. Herbs have long been used as the basis of traditional Chinese herbal medicine, with usage dating as far back as the first century.
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