Herb Day is the first Saturday in May
Herbs are plant leaves (fresh or dry) while spices are every other part of the plant including roots, stems, flowers, seeds, and berries (most commonly dry). This means that plants with edible leaves and seeds (like dill) are both herbs and spices.
Herbs are the fresh and dried leaves generally of temperate plants and are usually green in color. Spices are the flowers, fruit, seeds, bark, and roots typically of tropical plants and range from brown to black to red in color. In general, spices have a more pungent flavor than herbs.
Plants as herbs have been important to all cultures and civilizations long before history was recorded. Tribal cultures have used wild and cultivated herbs for medicinal and food purposes for thousands of years. The oldest list of medicinal herbs is Shen Nung’s Pen Ts’ao or Shennong Ben Cao Jing (c. 3000 B.C.). Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus (1493-1541). Despite his announced distrust of traditional herbalism, Paracelsus revived the first-century “doctrine of signatures.” According to the doctrine of signatures, every herb has its own “sign.” Englishman Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) created this ideology to connect herbs to different signs of the zodiac. They treated specific ailments by determining what sign and planet ruled over the part of the body that needed care and then prescribing an herb of the same astrological sign. Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and William Harvey (1578-1657) focusing on biological and medical since they formed an experimental process of classifications, forming the science of botany.
The Ebers Papyrus is an Egyptian scroll listing plants used as medicines, which dates back to about 1550 B.C. providing evidence that the spice trade existed over 3,500 years ago. This trade route started around 950 B.C. when Arab merchants traveled through India, China, and southeastern Asia to bring spices to the Greeks. After the first century, Rome established a direct trade with India via the Red Sea, and effectively broke the Arab monopoly on the spice trade. Romans then introduced spices throughout Europe, where they became very popular. Trade between Europe and eastern Asia nearly disappeared for 400 years after the fall of Rome in 476, but was later revived in part due to the publishing of Marco Polo's memoirs in the late 13th century. In his memoirs, Polo described his travels to the Orient and the spices grown there. Europeans then began searching for water routes to the Orient. In the 14th century, ocean exploration advanced, and sea routes from Europe to eastern Asia were discovered. In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the New World while searching for a shorter water route to find black pepper and cinnamon. From 1519 to 1522, Spain discovered a water route to the Spice Islands (the Moluccas, near Indonesia) where cloves, nutmeg, mace, and pepper were produced. By the early 1800s, spice plantations were established in other locations around the world ending the spice trade cartel. The United States entered the spice trade, as it now exists, in the late 1800s and is the largest spice importer and consumer in the world.
- Allspice isn’t all the spices. It’s actually a dry berry from parts of Northern Latin America and the Caribbean. English explorers named it allspice because its aroma has suggestive notes of cinnamon, cloves, and other recognizable spices.
- Ants become confused by peppermint. Ants communicate by leaving chemical trails for other ants. If you sprinkle some chopped, crushed peppermint (or essential oil) near an ant trail, you can break the chemical trail. Mint also gets rid of gas and stomach aches and helps you relax and rest
- Catnip isn’t just for cats. To felines, catnip delivers a blissful high or laid back mellow aroma. Consumed by humans as tea, catnip provides relief for headaches, anxiety, and insomnia.
- Many people miss out on the best part of garlic! Before your garlic is even ready to harvest, you can snap off their curly, pointy flower stems for concentrated garlic flavor. Garlic is also good for the heart, helps fight infection, kills bacteria, and gets rid of toxins in the body.
- Pesky insects hate beautiful herbal bouquets. You can make an herbal bouquet from hibiscus, catnip, basil, lemongrass, peppermint, and/or lavender and repel décor-hating flies and mosquitos.
- Basil has ritual uses. Soul-cleansing, home-purifying rituals that were meant to rid a person or place of bad energy.
- Marjoram can fight off the devil himself. Yes, the devil along with all his cohort: witches, vampires, ghosts, and trolls.
- Oregano is a powerful substance in folklore from all over the world. It’s been said to do many things: sleeping with oregano on your head was once thought to trigger psychic dreams; Ancient Greeks asserted that it’s an antidote to many poisons; Shakespeare’s peers believed it could stop a drug overdose in its tracks. Oregano also fights viruses and bacteria like antibiotics do.
- Rosemary has long been used for memory and energy.
- Turmeric is native to India, used as an anti-inflammatory. In religious ceremonies, turmeric is considered a sacred plant. Before marrying, some Hindu women would wear a necklace that was colored yellow from the turmeric plant. Its powerful coloring agent was used for dyeing for many years as well.
- Cinnamon kills viruses
- Cloves help get rid of a toothache
- Ginger gets rid of a stomach ache and nausea
- Lavender helps you relax, helps you sleep
- in France, check out the Lascaux cave paintings, which depict herbs. Carbon dating traces those drawings back to between 13,000 and 25,000 B.C.
- Ancient Romans and Greeks crowned their leaders with dill and laurel. The Romans also used dill to purify the air.
- In the 5th century B.C., Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician, listed approximately 400 herbs in common use.
- From 1990 to 1994, an average of 530 million pounds valued at $372 million were imported into the United States.
Ways to Celebrate
You can celebrate in various ways such as: start an herb garden, go pick wild herbs, or go buy local spices. Also, you can go to lectures or museums that talk all about botany.
Spend this day learning a little bit more about things you use every day.