Herbs And Spice
Herbs are plants that do not develop
permanent woody tissues above the ground. Rhizomes, bulbs, barks,
flower buds, stigmas, fruits, seeds and leaves of certain plants are
classified as spices and herbs. Cardamom, Cinnamon, Cloves, Ginger,
and Pepper are the popular spices used everywhere. The tiny aromatic
fruits and seeds of certain plants are referred to as spice seeds.
We know them well as Caraway, Cumin, Fennel, Poppy and Sesame. Many
a dish is flavored with spices and spice seeds. In fact, the
addition or omission of a spice or spice seed can make a very big
difference to the taste and flavor of a dish. Various herbs too are
used to flavor our dishes. Some spices are also used to preserve
food. They are herbs like mint, rosemary, thyme, etc. Herbs, spice seeds and spices are used extensively all over the
Herbs and spices down the ages
The ancient Indian system of medicine in India called Ayurveda treats ailments chiefly by
using many medicinal herbs, some of them very rare. In fact, the term ‘herb’
is used to describe any plant that has medical uses. Practitioners
of Ayurveda go to great lengths to procure these medicinal herbs. Herbal
systems of medicine have also been prevalent in Sumer, Egypt, Rome
and China. The advantages of herbal medicines are now being
Ancient practitioners of medicine in Cathay, Assyria, Sumer, Egypt,
Greece and Rome, among other places, reportedly used medicinal herbs for
treating various diseases. Herbs are known to have been used by
Hippocrates, Galen and Pedanius Dioscorides. These practices
continued through the Middle Ages and early modern times but were
supplemented at the same time by modern medicines as and when they
were discovered. One of the main reasons for people moving away from
herbal medicine was because sorcerers and practitioners of
witchcraft were wrongly using it.
The first use of spice and herbs in food is not exactly documented.
Historical records pertaining to ancient Greeks and Romans indicate
that they had been using spices and herbs to flavor foods and
beverages. Records made by Herodotus (fifth century BC) point to the
consumption of sun-dried, salted and pickled food. Marco Polo’s
records indicate that the use of spice and herbs was limited to the
affluent sections of society. The poorer sections used to make do
with onion and garlic for flavors. A gradual increase in trade with
the east brought about rapid changes and many herbs and spices came
within reach of the common man too.
Italian cooking also uses a lot of herbs. It is difficult to imagine
tomato sauce without basil, roasts without rosemary, or beans
without sage. When it comes to using herbs, fresh herbs should be
used as much as possible except for a few rare exceptions. Dried
herbs tend to have a stronger and concentrated flavor, so they
should be added in smaller quantities compared to fresh ones.
A few common spices
You may have come across ‘all spice powder’ in many recipes. It
is not a mixture of different spices but a spice prepared from
the dried berries of the West Indian pepper tree also known as
the pimento tree. The aroma of the powder obtained by crushing
the berries of the pimento tree is similar to what we would get
if cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves were mixed and powdered.
Cinnamon is the aromatic dried inner
bark of a tree found in India and Sri Lanka. It is used as a
home remedy for treating tummy upsets, as also as an antiseptic.
Nutmeg is the kernel of the hard aromatic seed of the nutmeg
tree, which is native to Indonesia. The covering of the seed is
also aromatic. It is known as mace. Clove is the unopened flower
bud of the clove tree. the leaves, bark and fruit of the are
aromatic. Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Cloves are commonly used home
remedies in India. These can be called grandmother’s favorites!