A spice is a seed, fruit, root, bark, or other plant substance primarily used for flavoring or coloring food. Spices are distinguished from herbs, which are the leaves, flowers, or stems of plants used for flavoring or as a garnish. Spices are sometimes used in medicine, religious rituals, cosmetics or perfume production.
The spice trade developed throughout the Indian subcontinent by at earliest 2000 BCE with cinnamon and black pepper, and in East Asia with herbs and pepper. The Egyptians used herbs for mummification and their demand for exotic spices and herbs helped stimulate world trade. The word spice comes from the Old French word espice, which became epice, and which came from the Latin root spec, the noun referring to "appearance, sort, kind": species has the same root. By 1000 BCE, medical systems based upon herbs could be found in China, Korea, and India. Early uses were connected with magic, medicine, religion, tradition, and preservation.
Cloves were used in Mesopotamia by 1700 BCE. The ancient Indian epic Ramayana mentions cloves. The Romans had cloves in the 1st century CE, as Pliny the Elder wrote about them. The earliest written records of spices come from ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian cultures. The Ebers Papyrus from Early Egyptians that dates from 1550 B.C.E. describes some eight hundred different medicinal remedies and numerous medicinal procedures. Historians believe that nutmeg, which originates from the Banda Islands in Southeast Asia, was introduced to Europe in the 6th century BCE.
Indonesian merchants traveled around China, India, the Middle East, and the east coast of Africa. Arab merchants facilitated the routes through the Middle East and India. This resulted in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria being the main trading center for spices. The most important discovery prior to the European spice trade were the monsoon winds . Sailing from Eastern spice cultivators to Western European consumers gradually replaced the land-locked spice routes once facilitated by the Middle East Arab caravans.