What Is an Herb?

An herb is a plant with a fleshy stem. Webster's Dictionary also describes an herb as a plant that typically dies back to the ground each year. An herb also usually has some type of value as a food or medicine. Steven Home, AHG, the current president of the American Herbalist's Guild, puts it simply when he says that herbs are mainly just wild vegetables.

Although each part of the defenition is true, the herb category is much broader than just a fleshy plant that dies back to the ground each year. Many plant products that are parts of trees, vines, or bushes also called herbs even though they don't fit the technical defenition.

For example, herbalists consider bee pollen (the pollen collected by bees from flowers) and other plant substances with a nutritional or medicinal value to be herbs as well. As a general rule, plants and plant parts considered in the herbal category include:

  • Bark from trees and vines (cinamon, cascara sagrada)
  • Fruit or berries (elderberry, bilberry)
  • Nuts and seeds and their shells, husks, or hulls (flax seeds, black walnut hulls)
  • Pollen, such as flower pollen collected by bees (bee pollen)
  • Plant oil resin (such as tea tree oil or myrrh gum)
  • Plant "blood" (chlorophyll)
  • Plankton (such as algae)
  • Fungus (Reishi mushroom)

Herbalists also consider some foods that you might have considered vegetables to be herbs. For instance, that garlic in your refrigerator has also been used medicinally to thin blood and help lower cholesterol. Remember the old saying, "Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food"? Herbs are really concentrated food sources.

Some people consider herbs weeds, such as the misunderstood dandelion. The term weeds is given to plant that grow in places where we don't want them to grow. It is a prejudiced word for a plant (sometimes an herb) that is considered undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome, which also fitting for the dandelion in many cases.

However, by the time you are done with this blog, hopefully you will no longer think of the bright dandelion as a weed that serves as your enemy, but as God's gift to your liver. Herbs contain naturally occuring chemical properties such as bitters, aromatics, tannins, flavonoids, and much more, which all have an effect on our body.

Since herbs are foods, the body recognizes these chemicals and utilizes their nourishment in ways natural for the body. Herbs are being researched and scientifically validated for their health-buildiing value. We'll talk more in later on how herbs differ from medicines. First let's take a look at some different ways you can use herbs.