Last week, I was researching one of my favorite cottage garden flowers, the bachelor’s button or cornflower, for an article on Hub Pages. I found many references to it as an herb. I’ve never heard of it used as an herb. That got me thinking: what is an herb?
According to Wikipedia, an herb is “…any plant(s) used for flavoring, food, medicine, or perfume.” So does that include vegetables? A little further along in the article, that was clarified: “Culinary herbs are distinguished from vegetables in that, like spices, they are used in small amounts and provide flavor rather than substance to food.”
So what is the difference between and herb and a spice? Once more I will resort to the same Wikipedia article: “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.”
Well that answered my next question: can trees be herbs? A bay laurel is an herb because we use the leaves in cooking but a cinnamon tree is a spice because we use the bark to flavor our food. It also explains why cilantro (the plant) is an herb while coriander (the seed) is a spice.
What about ginger? Ginger is a spice because it’s the root that is used, not the leaves. Vanilla? A spice. We use the seeds inside the bean to flavor our baked goods. This becomes a fun game every time every time you cook.
So why are bachelor’s buttons/cornflowers considered herbs? The flowers are edible. They are reputed to taste like cucumbers. I’ve never tried eating one so I can’t say for sure. I might try them in a tea, a common use for the dried flowers. In fact, they are a component in Lady Grey tea made by Twinings. The flowers can also be used for dyeing. The leaves have been used medicinally for centuries. As an eye wash supposedly to prevent infection (thought to especially benefit blue-eyed people) and as a face wash to improve the complexion.
If you are interested in adding this flower to your herb garden, you can find information on growing it in my article, Cottage Garden Favorites: Bachelor’s Buttons.