So I have noticed that most herbs come from the Mediterranean as confirmed by this site and those that do not often come from either actual Mediterranean climates or somewhat arid ones.

So my question is: is there a link between the two? Edgar from Artifexian argues that Mediterranean climates are the best for fertile crescents/the development of agriculture because of the annual drought and the adaptations plants have to develop in response. Is it a similar system in aromatic herbs? Is it a defence mechanism like tobacco evolved nicotine to fight off insects? I just want to know where is the most likely to be home to aromatic herbs on my world and why.

Thanks a lot!

  • $\begingroup$ is your world completely aienl or earthlike? because if it is alien you set the rules, they can have the aroma for whatever reason. $\endgroup$ – WindWelder Nov 5 at 1:26
  • $\begingroup$ It is very much based on Earth, although the climate is warmer than it is now but maybe 4-5°C $\endgroup$ – Nierninwa Nov 5 at 2:12

i think there're 2 directions to approach this question: biology and culinary use.

1st, biology. Warm climate with reasonable humidity (like rainforest or Mediterranean shrub) tends to have higher biodiversity than cold climate, since plants (which form the base of the foodchain) can grow all year long.. also, the rate of evolution seems to be higher there (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLt0-yoOKvw), so you will have a higher chance for some of them produce the right chemical to become spice or herb..

2nd, culinary. People who live in warm climate have to use alot more spice and herb, since meat tends to spoil quite fast in this temperature.. So they will have more knowledge about spice and herb (since they already have a long history of discover edible spice), and thus most spice will come from this region.

  • $\begingroup$ From this logic then, the bulk of aromatic plants should come from the rainforest. But apart from the vanilla, cocoa and coffee there are few whereas Lavender, Mint, Marjoram, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Saffron, Sage, Savory, Thyme all are from around the Mediterranean. I realise mint, marjoram and oregano are the same family but still… $\endgroup$ – Nierninwa Nov 5 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ i guess it's because Mediterranean spice is the closest thing Westerner can have access to for a long time (before Colombus) - the examples you gave are quite.. Eurocentric, since most of them are unknown by us Easterner.. Eastern culture use a lot of spice from the nearby jungle, like nutmeg, ginger, pepper, cumin, cinamon,... $\endgroup$ – Thỏ Già Nov 5 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ Good point… for some reason I did not think about ginger, nutmeg and the likes… I did intend on making a very cinnamon-like plant and hadn't realised… although these are trees or vines (black pepper grows up to 4m tall on trees, nutmeg is a tree that grows 5-15m tall) and sure there's ginger (though the tasty part is the root) but cumin comes from the Levant/Mediterranean? So I guess aromatic shrubs/small herbs are more likely to be found in drier climates. But then again, there aren't that many trees there, so I don't know… $\endgroup$ – Nierninwa Nov 5 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ I do find it odd that there are so many plants with strong smells around the Mediterranean however. I guess maybe it's increased by the heat and the fact that the oils kind of start to evaporate under sunlight but I grew up in the south of France and in summer between the pines, the wild thyme and all the other plants the forests just smell so strong it's impressive. $\endgroup$ – Nierninwa Nov 5 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ i think the East also has quite a number of herb, but they are uncommon in the West so people don't know about it.. things iike shiso, culantro, mugwort, chameleon plant, Vietnamese coriander,... so like Whitehot said, "You can have spices and herbs wherever really." $\endgroup$ – Thỏ Già Nov 5 at 23:50

Any substance that a plant produces, if not directly involved with reproduction or energy storage, is only justifiable as a defense mechanism. I.e. Laurel leaves have an antibiotic effect which some birds use to keep their nest sanitized, by adding them to the thread.

Aroma rich plants are not exclusive of Mediterranean climates, vanilla, cocoa and coffee are aroma rich plants which are not Mediterranean for sure, but it seems reasonable that, in a region with periodic draughts, plants would develop essential oils to keep their defenses also in times of water shortage.

For what anecdotes are worth, I have noticed that the arsher the environment, the more aromatic the plant: I.e. tyme grown in the shrub on the rocks few meters from the sea shore is much stronger than the one grown in the ground filled pot in my garden.

  • $\begingroup$ I mean yes, vanilla cocoa and coffee are not from Mediterranean climates but all the thymes, rosemaries, sage, parsley, saffron, oregano… there's a lot. Also yes I am aware of that anecdotal thing, I'm not sure if it's related but when a radish is really harsh tasting back home we tend to say "it had to fight to survive". Whether it's an urban legend or not I'm not sure but correlation between strong taste and difficulty to survive is common I guess. $\endgroup$ – Nierninwa Nov 5 at 15:16

I think that you shouldn't think of spice VS no spice, but as in diversity of spices VS just using one or two.

One reason why the Mediterranean has more spices may simply be because it's on the coast - therefore it sees more migration and commerce than a continental region. You'd have a boat sailing from Egypt that could carry a few seeds to Spain, Italy, France, wherever really. You'd also have traders bring over food from home to eat or to share, and the locals would then maybe want to make the same food, and purchase seeds from the trader.

Biodiversity isn't greater at the mediterranean than it is in a continental region, it's just different. There's no real reason for there to be less spices / herbs in other areas. Garlic grows in wet, foresty areas, and basil, parsley and coriander flourish in continental climates. You can have spices and herbs wherever really.

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    $\begingroup$ So what you're saying is: where there's a lot of trade, especially long-distance (facilitated by maritime trade routes) there's gonna be more spice diversity just because people will be planting them and sharing them more? I guess as some said if you add the heat meaning that you need to do something about the quickly turning meat and possibly the fact that a lot of food is dry, mostly tasteless grain you'd want to add something. That makes sense! $\endgroup$ – Nierninwa Nov 5 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Nierninwa I think that trade along sea routes will facilitate a whole lot of things that are "satellite" to trade: people travelling and moving countries, cultural exchange, scientific exchange ("hey that boat of yours survived that storm way better than mine - can I have a look?"), and probably culinary and botanical exchange too. $\endgroup$ – Whitehot Nov 6 at 9:13
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    $\begingroup$ Just thought of this - another possible source for the increase in diversity of spices may be due to the shape of the mediterranean: you have regions that are far enough apart but with a similar climate to create speciation effects (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speciation) within a lot of plant species. For example, if you have grey pepper growing in Egypt, some seeds would then spread to Greece where it would evolve into black pepper, some to Algeria where it becomes white pepper, etc. Then trade between these nations means everyone has access to these spices, and can grow them at home. $\endgroup$ – Whitehot Nov 6 at 9:19
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    $\begingroup$ Some papers I found on speciation in plants around the mediterranean: researchgate.net/publication/… ; biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/050369v1 $\endgroup$ – Whitehot Nov 6 at 9:19

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