Spices and Herbs
A spice is a dried seed, fruit, root, bark, or vegetative substance primarily used for flavoring, coloring or preserving food. Because they tend to have strong flavors and are used in small quantities, spices tend to add few calories to food, even though many spices, especially those made from seeds, contain high portions of fat, protein, and carbohydrate by weight. Many spices, however, can contribute significant portions of micronutrients to the diet. For example, a teaspoon of paprika contains about 1133 IU of Vitamin A, which is over 20% of the recommended daily allowance specified by the US FDA. When used in larger quantity, spices can also contribute a substantial amount of minerals, including iron, magnesium, calcium, and many others, to the diet. Most herbs and spices have substantial antioxidant activity, owing primarily to phenolic compounds, especially flavonoids, which influence nutrition through many pathways, including affecting the absorption of other nutrients. The antioxidants also can act as natural preservatives, preventing or slowing the spoilage of food, leading to a higher nutritional content in stored food.
In general use, herbs are any plants used for flavoring, food, medicine, or perfume. Culinary use typically distinguishes herbs as referring to the leafy green parts of a plant (either fresh or dried), from a spice, a product from another part of the plant (usually dried), including seeds, berries, bark, roots and fruits. Plants contain phytochemicals that have effects on the body. 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 toxic overload that may involve complications, some of a serious nature, 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 CE and far before. Medicinal use of herbs in Western cultures has its roots in the Hippocratic (Greek) elemental healing system, based on a quaternary elemental healing metaphor. Modern pharmaceuticals had their origins in crude herbal medicines, and to this day, some drugs are still extracted as fractionate/isolate compounds from raw herbs and then purified to meet pharmaceutical standards.