The phrase "herbs and spices" contains oft-used culinary terms; however, the two terms are not interchangeable. The confusion lies in their mutual reference to various plant parts used as seasonings and natural medicinal products, but each has its own distinct definition. Herbs are part of a plant's greenery, as in leaves or stems. Spices are derived from seeds, nuts, bark, fruit or shoots that develop on or are produced by the plant.
Ginger (Zingiber Officinale)
Ginger is a perennial spice often referred to as Ginger root, but it is classified as a rhizome. Its taste is a heady mix of pungent sweet and sour, with a touch of spice. It is often used in teas, soft drinks, desserts and baked goods, Asian cuisine, sauces and dressings. In the realm of natural-health remedies it is thought of as a panacea for stomach upsets. Ginger is one of the few spices that can be grown in U.S. home gardens as opposed to the bulk of most other spices that require a true tropical climate. You can start your ginger plant simply by purchasing a ginger root (rhizome) at the local grocery produce department; it is the same that cooks use in preparing meals. It is started by breaking off a portion of the ginger and planting it in a pot of dirt to allow the plant to form before setting the new ginger plant out into the garden soil.
Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis)
A prolific and fragrant addition to any herb garden, container garden or flower bed, lemon balm is easy to grow in abundance. It is a perennial that will turn brown and woody during the winter but returns with new growth every spring. It truly lives up to its name: It takes very little pressure on the leaf for it to emit a profound, fresh, lemon fragrance. Lemon balm is a sun-lover and may be used in potpourri, soaps, beverages and cooking. This herb can be grown from seed or plant, both purchasable at the local nursery or retail gardening departments.
Fennel (Foeniculum Vulgare)
Fennel is one of the edible perennials that can be used as both herb and spice. The fennel seed is a spice that gives the slightly licorice-like taste to breakfast sausage, pepperoni, salami, Italian sausage and sauces. It can be used in its whole form or ground to a powdered consistency. Fennel's bulb, stalks and feathery leaves are considered an herb. The bulb can be used as a cooked ingredient in stews and meat-based entrees, and considered as a vegetable when grilled on its own or used raw in salads. The leaves can be finely chopped and added as garnish or flavoring to sauces, salads and entrees. Fennel may be sown in to the garden soil as seed or purchased as a plant from the garden center. It acts as an evergreen and can be used as a perennial ornamental; its leaves harvested over a period of time as an herb seasoning while the rest of the plant is left growing; or the whole plant harvested in its entirety and used for the seeds, leaves, stems and bulb.