Plant Parts & Common Forms

Any discussion of quality, as it relates to herbs and spices, should start with definitions of plant parts and forms. To determine whether an herb meets a particular quality specification it is first necessary to decide the proper plant part to be used.

The active or useful plant part could be the root, leaves, seeds, flowers or bark. With some herbs only one part of the plant is used, with others many different parts can be used. Generally speaking, different properties of taste and smell or active ingredients dictate which part is to be used.

The following are descriptions of various plant parts as used in the trade:


Root: The part of the plant that grows below the ground. Sometimes includes roots, rootlets, rhizomes, and tubers. If specified as root, it should be free of above ground stem.

Herb: This refers to the dried, above ground portion of the plant including stems and flowering tops.

Bark: This typically refers to the exterior bark, which is scraped off. Sometimes only the interior bark is used. In the case of sassafras and barberry the root bark is the only portion used.

Berries: The fruit picked just before ripening and dried.

Seeds: Seeds are harvested when ripe and cleaned of chaff (small pieces of leaves or stems that have been separated from the seeds).

Buds & Flowers: Buds are typically harvested just before or just after the buds are open.

Petals: Each petal is freed from calyx.

Gums: Gums are the dried sap of trees.

Leaves: Leaves are collected just before the end of the growing season. Small stems may be included with the leaves, but the woody stems are not.


Herbs and spices can come in a variety of forms, below is a simple explanation of each of the forms we offer:

Whole: The plant part is sold as is and has not been purposely cut. Generally seeds, fruits, and flowers are sold in this form.

Cut & Sifted (C/S): Cut to approximately 1/8” to 3/8” in size then sifted to remove fine particles and produce a more uniform size.

Square Cut: Cut with European machines to produce a very uniform cut. Licorice root, orange peels, and many other herbs are cut in this way.

Granulated: Consists of particles from 1/32” to 1/8” in size. This size can be used in tea bagging machines. Our standard for granulated items is that it passes through a 14 mesh screen and remains on top of a 60 mesh screen. This ensures that particles that are either too large or too fine will be removed.

Powdered: Fine particle size that will generally pass through a 60 mesh screen.

Some oily or resinous materials are difficult to grind without adding anti-caking compounds; these materials would be offered in rough powders. Some items which fall into this category are juniper berries and nutmeg.

Roasted: Roasting converts some of the bitter flavors to smoother ones. Dandelion root is processed this way and used in coffee substitutes.

Decorticated: Removes shell or pod from the seed.