Difference between Herbs and Shrubs

There are various types of plants around the world with different locations of growth (land/water), size, and appearance. Some grow on ground (terrestrial plants) and some plants thrive in water (aquatic plants). Depending on the size and location of the plant growth, the plants are classified as Herbs, Shrubs, and Trees. Out of these three types, Herbs and Shrubs are smaller than trees.

Read through this article to understand the difference between Herb and Shrubs.

What are Herbs?

Herbs are small terrestrial plants which bear leaves, flowers, fruits, and seeds. Herbs are desired all over the world for their aromatic property and for medicinal value.

Characteristics of Herbs

Herbs can be identified distinctively by the following characteristics −

  • Height − Herbs grow as tall as minimum 6 inches to maximum 4ft.

  • Appearance − They look delicate. They are smaller in size. Their leaves are lush green (barring Sage, which has pale green velvety leaves).

  • Stem − Herbs may or may not have stem. If any herb has stem, then it is soft and delicate.

  • Roots − They have roots which don’t grow very deep hence they can be uprooted easily.

Examples of Herbs

Some most popular herbs include: Basil, Cardamom, Chamomile, Cilantro, Dill, Fennel, Lavender, Lemon Grass, Mint, Marjoram, Oregano, Parsley, Garlic, Ginger, Galangal, Rosemary, Sage, Scented Geranium, Sweetgrass, Tarragon, Thyme, Turmeric, etc.

Uses of Herbs

Herbs provide a great range of uses as given −

  • Culinary Purpose − Herbs are used as flavor enhancers while cooking sweet as well as savory dishes. Fresh herbs can give distinctive look and aroma to food. They are also used in preparing pastes, sauces, and garnishing the ready dishes.

  • Cosmetics and Leisure − Some herbs are used in toothpastes, and skin and hair products. Some herbs are great stressbusters. They are used in making fragrant oils that are often used in spas. Many herbs such as Lavender and Scented Geranium are used in perfumeries.

  • Medicinal Purpose − Herbs are used in preparing Ayurvedic medicines. They are used in keeping insects at bay. Some herbs are dependable remedies to treat stress and cure physical and mental diseases.

What are Shrubs?

Herbs are small to medium-sized terrestrial plants which bear branches, leaves, flowers, fruits, and seeds. Shrubs have thick woody multiple stems around their base above the ground level. Branches of a Shrub can form a canopy. Shrubs are smaller than trees.

Characteristics of Shrubs

Shrubs can be identified distinctively by the following characteristics −

  • Height − Shrubs grow as tall as minimum 2ft to maximum 8m.

  • Appearance − They bear sets of branches on which their leaves grow. Their leaves are broad.

  • Stem − Shrubs have multiple hard stems that grow near their base.

  • Roots − They have strong roots which grow deep. Shrubs cannot be uprooted from ground easily.

Examples of Shrubs

Some most popular shrubs are Bengal Currant, Bougainvillea, Champa, Henna, Hibiscus, Holly, Lemon, Lilac, Pomegranate, Rose, Tulsi, Mountain Laurel, Juniper, Red-twig Dogwood, etc.

Uses of Shrubs

Shrubs are useful in the following ways −

  • Shelter − Since some Shrubs can have thick canopy and adequate height, they can provide shelter.

  • Food Source − Parts of shrubs such as fruits, leaves, and roots are used as food. They are used as food for livestock.

  • Privacy − Shrubs being bushy around their base are often used as hedge or fence around houses.

  • Landscape Decoration − Ornamental shrubs are used for landscaping.

  • Environment Conservation − Shrubs are used to arrest soil erosion.

  • Fuel − Dry branches of Shrubs have been used as fuel since past.

  • Religious Purpose − A shrub named Boswellia is useful in producing frankincense, which is used at the places of worship.

Difference between Herbs and Shrubs

Here are some key differences between Herbs and Shrubs −

Key Factor Herbs Shrubs
Height They are shorter than Shrubs They are taller than Herbs but shorter than Trees.
Stem Delicate, soft, light green, green, or purple colored. Woody, slightly rough, tan or brown colored. Their stems are branched.
Lifespan They have shorter lifespan. Dried herbs can last for 1 to 3 years though. They have longer lifespan than herbs.
Appearance They may or may not have branches. They have lush green leaves. They look like small bushy trees.
Climate and Soil Requirement Some herbs like mint grow in cool and moist weather whereas some are tolerant to dry weather. All herbs need 4 to 8 hours of sunlight and drained garden soil to thrive. They thrive in good quality, drained and fertile soil.
Life Cycle Annual, Perennial, or Biennial Perennial
Strength Herbs are weak and any adverse condition can damage their growth. Shrubs are stronger than herbs and can tolerate changes in weather better than herbs.
Other name Herbs are called Rootstock. Shrubs are called ‘Woody Plants’.


Herbs and Shrubs belong to the Plantae Kingdom. They both are useful to humankind as medicines. They are different in structure, life cycle, climate requirements, and uses. Herbs are small plants, whereas Shrubs are small to mid-size plants with broad leaves. They both are different from each other with respect to their size, appearance, and uses.

Updated on: 29-Sep-2022


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