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Is Ginger an Herb or a Spice?

By Tara Carson

Ginger originated in China, where its function as a significant medicinal and culinary ingredient has been valued for thousands of years. Herb or spice -- the term used to describe ginger may seem like nitpicky semantics. Ginger appears on the herb list of the University of Maryland Medical Center website. It appears on the spice list of the UCLA Medicinal Spices website. However, despite the arbitrary terminology upheld by numerous agencies, particular characteristics categorize a plant as one or the other -- and ginger root is a spice.

Botanical Source

Ginger's classification as a spice partly stems from its botanical nature. Plant experts consider plant roots used medicinally or culinarily spices. Other parts classified as spices include flowers, fruits, seeds or bark. Technically, herbs come from the leaves of nonwoody, or herbaceous, plants, according to Iowa State University.

Potency

Spices, such as ginger, provide concentrated, strong flavors compared with herbs. Consequently, medicinal prescriptions and culinary recipes recommend smaller amounts. Spices occasionally behave as preservatives along with their flavor function. Herbs add savory flavors to meals, and their uses require larger quantities.

Geography

Spices typically originate in tropical climates. Herbs grow in temperate regions such as England, France and Italy. Ginger root comes from southern China, which has a hot climate during the summer months. Most spices originated in the Spice Islands of Indonesia.

Dual Classification

In rare cases, both classifications apply to one plant. The herb cilantro originates from the leaves of Coriandrum sativum. The same plant produces the spice coriander, derived from the seeds. The herb dill comes from the leaves of Anethum graveolensare. The spice dill seed comes from the fruit.

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