Is Garlic a Vegetable, Herb, or Spice?

  • By: SFUAA
  • Date: December 17, 2022
  • Time to read: 4 min.

Garlic is an incredibly versatile ingredient that has been used in cooking for thousands of years. It’s a staple in many dishes and adds a lot of flavor and depth to whatever it is added to. But what exactly is garlic? Is it a vegetable, herb, or spice? In this blog post, we’ll explore the answer to this question and discuss the various properties of garlic that make it so special.

Is Garlic a Vegetable, Herb, or Spice?

Garlic is a bulbous vegetable that belongs to the genus Allium, the same family of vegetables as onions, leeks, shallots, and chives. It is botanically a vegetable, but it is also an herb and a spice.

It’s composed of multiple cloves and has a pungent aroma. Depending on the variety and the preparation method, garlic can be very mild or quite pungent. Its pungent, aromatic nature and the fact it is used to flavor food makes it a spice.

The fact that garlic has edible leaves that can be used to season food as well as the fact that it doesn’t have a woody stem and dies back to the ground after flowering makes it an herb.

riku garlic
Garlic Cloves | Source: Riku

Garlic belongs to the allium family

Garlic is a member of the allium family and is classified as a vegetable. It has been used for thousands of years in cuisines around the world, as a seasoning and food preservative. It has a pungent, yet sweet flavor that makes it a popular choice for many dishes.

Garlic is also known for its medicinal properties and is used in many cultures to ward off illness and infection. Garlic is a versatile ingredient and is found in many forms, including fresh, dried, pickled, and powdered.

Botanically classified as a vegetable

Botanically speaking, garlic is classified as a vegetable – basically meaning any edible part of a plant that isn’t a fruit or seed. Garlic obviously meets that definition entirely, and its leaves and bulb are both edible without any fruit or useful seeds.

Garlic – a member of the lily family and its scientific name is Allium sativum – is related to onions, leeks, and chives, and has a bulb that is made up of smaller cloves. When garlic is consumed raw or cooked, it can provide a number of health benefits. It is an excellent source of vitamins C and B6, as well as manganese, selenium, and fiber.

Garlic also contains antioxidant compounds that can help reduce inflammation and boost the immune system.

Elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum), though more closely related to leeks than true garlic, will also fit under the definition of garlic for the purposes of this blog post.

Commonly used as an herb

The Oxford dictionary defines what an herb is as follows:


  1. Any plant with leaves, seeds, or flowers used for flavoring, food, medicine, or perfume.
  2. (Botanical) Any seed-bearing plant that does not have a woody stem and dies down to the ground after flowering.

Garlic is commonly used as an herb, and it is known for its pungent aroma and flavor.

Garlic leaves can be used to season food in a variety of ways. These leaves can be chopped and added to salads, soups, and other dishes to add a mild garlic flavor. They can also be minced and mixed with butter or oil to make a flavorful garlic butter or garlic oil. Alternatively, they can be dried and used as a substitute for garlic powder to season vegetables, meats, and grains. For an added flavor, garlic leaves can also be used to garnish dishes.

Garlic leaves die back (down to the bulb) after flowering due to a natural process known as senescence. This is a process in which the plant’s photosynthetic activity decreases and eventually stops, leading to the death of the leaves. Senescence is a natural part of the plant life cycle, and is a necessary part of the plant’s life cycle in order to make room for new growth. Garlic leaves die back after flowering in order to make way for new growth and to replenish the nutrients in the soil. In addition, senescence also helps to reduce plant stress and disease. 

Note that while garlic is typically grown from cloves due to its seeds not always being true to type (depending on variety), it can and does produce seeds – especially wild varieties.

This means that garlic meets both of the definitions of what an herb is.

Used as a spice due to its flavor

The Oxford dictionary defines spice as follows.


  1. An aromatic or pungent vegetable substance used to flavor food, e.g. cloves, pepper, or cumin.

Garlic is often used as a spice due to its flavor and aroma. As a spice, garlic adds a slight pungent flavor to dishes, making them more savory. It is a popular ingredient to use in many dishes, including Italian, Chinese, and Mexican foods. It is also used to season rubs and marinades, as well as to make pesto, hummus, and other flavorful condiments.

This means that garlic is also technically a spice.


While the answer to the question “Is garlic a vegetable, herb, or spice?” may be a bit complicated, it is clear that garlic holds a special place in the culinary world.

It is a versatile ingredient that can be used as a vegetable, herb, or spice. Its strong flavor can be used to add a unique taste and aroma to dishes, making it a favorite for chefs and home cooks alike. No matter how it is classified, it is clear that garlic will remain a staple in kitchens around the world for a long time.

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