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Difference between plants and herbs

Difference between plants and herbs


Plants form an integral component of our everyday lives. As human beings, we need them for basic activities like making medicines, textiles, food and much more and despite living in a modern and industrialised society, our dependence on plants has not changed [1]. Herbs and plants are both terms that refer to an organism that uses sunlight to produce sugars, oxygen and other nutritional substances. The term plant is a general word that is given to a member of the plant kingdom while the term herb actually refers to a plant that can be used by humans or animals for food or medicinal purposes [2]. Plants are present in a variety of places like schools, gardens, parks and even in our homes. Their roots hold them in one place and they can thrive in a range of climatic conditions. Herbs on the other hand forma a type of plant that is most often used for its culinary, medicinal or fragrant properties.

What is a plant?

A plant is defined as any form of a living organism that lacks the power of movement on its own. These include known species of mosses, liverworts, ferns, herbaceous plants, woody plants, bushes, vines, trees, shrubs and so on [3]. They are classified as living things that grow on land or in water and can survive almost anywhere on Earth from the snowy mountainous regions to hot and dry dessert-like areas. All plants make their own food by using energy from the sun. They consume carbon dioxide and give off oxygen.

Types off plants

Plants can be divided into two main groups: flowering and non-flowering plants [4]. Flowering plants such as roses, sunflowers, mangoes, bananas and orchids are known to produce flowers which can subsequently develop into fruits and seeds after pollination or fertilization. These include herbaceous plants, shrubs and trees. Non-flowering plants on the other hand produce spores, fungi or cones that are used for reproduction. Common examples include algae, moss, ferns and conifers [5].

Flowering plants are also known as angiosperms. Reproduction of these plants is done by flowers. All flowering plants produce seeds. Angiosperms can be divided into two main categories namely dicotyledonous and monocotyledonous plants [4]. Dicotyledonous plants possess two cotyledons inside the plant. They possess a long tap root and the leaves have webbed veins. The flowers also possess five or a multiple of five petals. Common examples include mangoes, lemon, apples and tomato plants. Monocotyledonous plants possess a fibrous root system and one cotyledon. Their veins are parallel and they possess three petals or at least a multiple of three within the flower. Examples of monocotyledonous plants include coconuts, wheat, palms, rice and garlic.

Non flowering plants can further be divided into those with seeds (gymnosperms) and those without seeds (bryophyta and pteridophyta). Gymnoperms are defined as plants with seeds. The seed is not enclosed in a fruit however the embryo is present within a seed. Examples of gymnosperms include cycads, conifers and pines. Bryophyta on the other hands does not have seeds however they may possess leaves [5]. They do not have true roots but rather possess a root like structure called rhizoids. Common examples include mosses, liverworts and hornworts. Ptridophyta are also known as ferns. They possess well-developed vascular tissues and their leaves have spores with no seeds.  

Uses of plants

Plants are used for a range of purposes and form vital components of our everyday lives.  They are used in the cooking industry, in and around the home, for leisurely activities and even for imparting aromas and adding aesthetic value. Bread for example is mostly made from cereal grains like wheat and rye while margarine is made from oils pressed directly from plants like sunflowers [6].  Coffee is made from seeds on coffee trees while chocolate can only be made from beans on the cacao tree. Soya bean is one of the richest sources of plant proteins and has been used as a food source for centuries. Approximately two thirds of all manufactured food products contain ingredients made from soya. Plants are also used inside and outside the home environment for various things. Many buildings worldwide utilise wood whether it be within the framework, on the floors or even in the roof. Many types of furniture is made from soft and hardwoods while various types of plant ingredients are used to manufacture wallpaper and paint. These include linseed, soya beans, pine resin and wood pulp [1].

Plants have also been used for medicinal purposes or also in the production of medicinal goods. These include aloe vera which is commonly used to soothe skin burns and cotton which are used in the manufacture of bandages and plasters. Plants also play an important role in imparting and aiding leisure activities and aesthetics. Boats for example are often made from different types of wood while a range of sporting activities require grass for them to played on. Musical instruments like bagpipes, recorders and guitars all contain some form of plant material in them.

Difference between plants and herbs-1

What is a herb?

Herbs are defined as soft plants with little or no lignin which forms the chemical substance that woody stems are made of [3]. They usually have a much shorter life span than many other types of plants. While some herbs are often used for cooking due to the flavour or aromas which they impart on food like coriander and mint, others are often used for medicinal purposes like tulsi. They are well known for their smell and can be grown in containers or garden beds [2].

Uses of herbs

Herbs specifically have a range of uses however they are most popularly used as beauty treatments, disinfectants and for cooking. Certain herbs like lavender and sage have cleansing properties and can be mixed into a bowl of baking soda which when mixed with water can be used as a scrubbing agent [8]. Certain aromatic herbs like rosemary and mint can be used to repel pests like mice and fleas. Herbal combinations like camphor basil, lavender and rosemary can be combined together in a kind of cheesecloth bag and placed in closets to protect clothing and repel moths. Many herbs have been used as beauty treatments and skin boosters [7]. For example herbs with antifungal properties like sage, rosemary and thyme can be used as natural shampoos that aid the fight against dandruff while herbs with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties such as thyme, lavender and rosemary can be used to soothe and treat acne. Herbs can also be used for decorating purposes to impart rustic or fresh looks to surrounding environments. They can be used to brighten up kitchens, making centre pieces for tables and even decorating doors with herbal wreaths [2].

Types of herbs

Herbs can be divided into three basic categories. These include annuals, perennials and biennials. Annuals are planted at the beginning of each growing season [7]. They commonly will not survive frost and are most often planted from seeds and indoors in early spring. They can then be moved outdoors when morning frost is no longer a problem. Common examples include cilantro and basil. Perennials are planted once only and known to survive colder temperatures and return every spring when the winter season has passed. Over time, these herb varieties will develop a larger and stronger root system making them able to withstand subsequent winter conditions better. Examples of perennial herbs include sage, oregano, chives and mint. Biennials are usually planted in late spring and require two seasons to complete their lifecycle. Common examples include parsley and caraway [2].

Within these three major categories, herbs can be further divided based on their uses into culinary herbs, aromatic herbs and medicinal herbs. Culinary herbs form some of the most widely used herb groups and include chives, dill, thyme, basil, sage and so on. They can however be further subdivided into 1) Italian herbs like oregano and parsley and thyme 2) Greek herbs like arugula and bay leaves 3) French herbs like savoury and sage and 4) Mexican herbs like cilantro. Aromatic herbs are those commonly used in perfumes and candles. These include lavender, mint and rosemary. Many of these are used to impart a scent onto linen and clothing most commonly through mixes known as potpourri. Medicinal herbs have been used to treat and cure illness for over thousands of years. Garlic for example has been linked with lowering cholesterol [7].


Plants play an important role in many areas of our lives and understanding the difference between various plant groups is imperative to their proper use and for us to obtain the greatest benefit. Through proper classification and understanding our relationship and reliance on plants can continue despite the modernisation of our society.

Difference between herbs and plants

General group of living organisms belonging to the plant kingdom that lacks the power of movement and which can produce its own food. A type of soft plant with little or no lignin
Lifespan will depend on the group of plant however they can grow on both land or in water and can survive almost anywhere on Earth. Have a much shorter life span than most plants
Divided into two major groups based on their reproductive abilities. These are flowering and non-flowering plants Divided into three major groups depending on the time of flowering. These are annuals, perennials and biennials
Commonly used for leisure activities, to impart aesthetic value and for building and medicinal purposes Commonly used for cooking, in beauty treatments, in aromatics and for medicinal purposes


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References :

[0][1] Royal Horticultural Society. 2015. RHS Campaign for School Gardening. Plants in our daily life. Available at: https://schoolgardening.rhs.org.uk/resources/Info-Sheet/Plants-in-our-daily-life

[1][2] Gardens Ablaze. All about Herbs. Available at: http://www.gardensablaze.com/Herbs.htm

[2][3] Pure Insight Healing. 2013. Plants, Herbs and Botanicals – what’s in a name? Available at: http://www.purehealinginsight.com/plants-herbs-and-botanicals-whats-in-a-name/

[3][4] Easy Pace Learning. 2017. Classifications of flowering and non-flowering plants in the plant kingdom. Availble at: https://www.easypacelearning.com/science/plants/plants/1331-plant-classifications-flowering-and-non-flowering-for-kids

[4][5] Chathuranga, S. 2014. Flowering plants and non-flowering, the classification of plants. Smart Science Pro. Available at: http://www.smartsciencepro.com/flowering-plants-non-flowering/

[5][6] Education Science Tips. The importance of plants to humans and nature – 10 facts. Available at: http://www.rajaha.com/importance-plants-life-earth/

[6][7] The Herb Information Site. Categories of herbs. Available at: http://www.herbinfosite.com/?page_id=50

[7][8] Grant, C. 2017. 10 Surprising uses for herbs. Alive. Available at: http://www.alive.com/lifestyle/10-surprising-uses-for-herbs/



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