Gimme Gimme Gimme: Herbs, Botanicals, and Spices
Updated: Jul 27, 2022
Allspice, also known as Myrtle Pepper, comes from the dried “peppercorns” of a variety of myrtle tree that grows in South America and Southern Mexico. Its name refers to a flavor profile similar to nutmeg, ginger, juniper and cinnamon — all at once.
Basil is one of the most widely recognized herbs in the world, by scent or appearance. This member of the mint family is excellent fresh or dried in a variety of foods.
Chamomile is a member of the aster and sunflower family that gets its common name from the combination of the Greek kamai and melon, or “on the ground” and “apple,” respectively. The “ground apple” reference comes from the fact that this aromatic herb gives off an apple-like scent when bruised or brushed against.
Cinnamon is a spice obtained from the bark of trees native to Asia and the Middle East, the grade of which depends on the species. One of the most popular spices in the world, cinnamon is used in virtually every world cuisine. Whole sticks are used in mulling spice mixes and potpourri, as well as in arts and crafts. The ground spice is use in baked goods, desserts and as a flavoring in teas, specialty coffees and other beverages.
Eucalyptus, one of the world’s tallest trees, is originally native to Australia and Tasmania and now cultivated in southern Europe, India and Africa. Also known as blue gum tree and iron bark, eucalyptus produces branches of alternating, oval-shaped, blue-green leaves. Because the leaves retain their shape and color, they are used in floral crafts.
Frankincense is the aromatic resin harvested from Boswellia trees that are found throughout India, East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Aside from the Biblical reference of the Three Wise Men, who brought frankincense, myrrh and gold to the infant Jesus, this resin has been used as incense for centuries. It was also once commonly used in cosmetics. In fact, charred frankincense provided the kohl that Cleopatra used to highlight her eyes, what we might consider the forerunner of modern eye liner.
Ginger, this Asian perennial is one of the world’s most popular spices. The fresh root is used in Asian and Indian cuisines and also lends a pungent, spicy note to herbal teas. Because ginger root contains volatile oils with warming properties, it is sometimes used to make salves and ointments. Dried ginger is also very aromatic and sharp on the tongue, as well versatile.
Grapefruit is a relatively recent addition to the world of citrus with mysterious origins. Its fruits are relatively large and are sour, bitter, and somewhat sweet all at once. Grapefruit often resemble a cross between oranges and pomelos.
Jasmine, is one of 150 species of flowering plants that naturally occur in tropical regions of the Old World. Jasmine is a popular garden plant, beloved not only because of its fragrant flowers but also because the plant has a long bloom time spanning from mid-summer into late fall. Jasmine flower is used for tea to provide a sweet and floral profile that blends well with mild herbs and citrus peels. Whole jasmine flower tea is scented with the aroma of jasmine blossoms and provides plant based compounds that act as antioxidants. Dry jasmine flower petals are also popular in making potpourri to provide color and scent.
Lavender is a member of the mint family and one of the most popular herbs in the world. In addition to outstanding beauty and fragrance, lavender is amazingly versatile in terms of practical uses. The whole dried flowers are added to teas, baked goods and alcoholic beverages. The buds are also used to make various soaps, perfumes, skin salves and other cosmetic preparations. Powdered lavender flowers are also used in cooking and in making cosmetics, especially where a smooth consistency is desired.
Lemon Peel is obtained from the rind of lemons. There is intense lemon flavor in the peel because this is where the fruit’s volatile oils reside, which concentrate when the peel is dried. As a flavoring, lemon peel has many uses. Dried lemon peel yields flavor and aroma to vinegars and alcohol-based solvents. The peel is also used in tea blends and is added to baked goods. Lemon peel is also used in herbal crafts, such as potpourri and simmering spice mixes.
Lemongrass is a perennial grass that grows in clumps and produces long, slender stems. As a native and cultivated crop of northern India, lemongrass is a popular culinary herb in Asian cuisine and is used to add a lemony flavor to soups, stews, curries and vegetable and rice dishes. Lemongrass has many other uses, however, not the least of which is to make an excellent tea. The herb is also used in perfumery and to make various cosmetics, including soaps, lotions, and creams. Lemongrass is also blended with resins and other herbs for use as incense and is added to potpourri mixtures. Due to the presence of certain volatile oils in the leaf, lemongrass is also used as a natural insect repellent. Bulk lemongrass, when dried, has a long shelf-life, which is a major benefit of lemongrass.
Marjoram, also known as Knotted Marjoram and Sweet Marjoram, is a compact herb in the mint family that is perennial in the Mediterranean region but often behaves as an annual when cultivated in colder climates. This popular culinary herb is found in many Italian, Greek and French dishes, as well as in Middle Eastern cooking. Marjoram lends a spicy, peppery flavor to foods and combines especially well with lavender, bay, winter savory, basil, thyme, rosemary and mint. In addition to use as a seasoning, marjoram is used in tea blends.
Myrrh refers to the sap of a Mediterranean tree, which is collected by slashing its bark and capturing the running “tears” of resin. When fully dried, myrrh takes on a beautiful amber color and possessed an elegant and exotic fragrance. These qualities make myrrh a popular incense ingredient, alone or in combination with other herbs and resins. Ground myrrh resin is traditionally used to prepare salves and other topical formulations. It is also found in natural dental preparations, such as tooth powders and mouth washes.
Nutmeg is a warm seasoning and spice obtained from the large seed of an Indonesian tree. When dried, the “nut” can be heard rattling inside when the shell is shaken. The fragrant nutmeg is sometimes used whole in potpourri, but is finely ground when used as spice. The warm and slightly bitter flavor of nutmeg goes a long way, so only a little is needed or it will overpower foods and beverages.
Orange peel is produced from mature sweet oranges. Like the flesh and juice of the fruit, the edible peel lends a bright, citrusy flavor and aroma to a variety of foods and natural cosmetics.
Patchouli is a shrub in the mint family native to Asia and widely cultivated in tropical regions throughout China, India, Indonesia and the Philippines. The dried herb is used incense, as a fixative in potpourri and in perfumery. The scent is pleasing to people, but is a natural deterrent to fleas and other pests.
Peppermint is a hybrid plant originally native to Asia and Europe that now occurs naturally in North America. The dried leaves and stems, which contain a high degree of volatile oil called menthol, lend a fresh, minty taste to tea blends. The dried herb can also be used to make infused oils and tinctures for use in cosmetics and perfumery.
Rose is a flavorful and potent antioxidant ingredient in a wide variety of culinary and cosmetic creations. In the Language of Flowers, the red rose symbolizes beauty, purity and, of course, love and romance.
Rosemary is a perennial herb in the mint family that occurs naturally throughout the Mediterranean region and is widely cultivated elsewhere. The herb gets its name from the Latin ros and marinus that means "dew of the sea" because it hardly needs any more moisture than that provided by sea breeze.
Sage is an evergreen herb in the mint family. Although it is native to the Mediterranean, Sage is renowned for its woody, aromatic properties and sharp flavor.
Spearmint is a member of the mint family that is widely distributed throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. The dried leaf is a popular addition to tea blends, where it lends a minty and slightly sweet flavor.
Thyme is a member of the mint family grown as a culinary herb and an ornamental groundcover. The plant’s delicate, green-grey foliage is highly aromatic and yields a warm, slightly peppery flavor.
Calendula flowers are an excellent cosmetic ingredient with an abundance of skin-loving chemical compounds.