Humans were using spices in 50,000 BCE. The spice trade developed throughout South Asia and Middle East in around 2000 BCE with cinnamon and pepper, and in East Asia with herbs and pepper. The Egyptians used herbs for embalming and their demand for exotic 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.
Archaeological excavations have uncovered clove burnt onto the floor of a kitchen, dated to 1700 BCE, at the Mesopotamian site of Terqa, in modern-day Syria. The ancient Indian epic Ramayana mentions cloves. The Romans had cloves in the 1st century CE, as Pliny the Elder wrote about them.
In the story of Genesis, Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers to spice merchants. In the biblical poem Song of Solomon, the male speaker compares his beloved to many forms of spices. Generally, early Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, and Mesopotamian sources do not refer to known spices.
In South Asia, nutmeg, which originates from the Banda Islands in the Molukas, has a Sanskrit name.[clarification needed] Sanskrit is the ancient language of India, showing how old the usage of this spice is in this region. Historians believe that nutmeg 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 (40 CE). Sailing from Eastern spice growers to Western European consumers gradually replaced the land-locked spice routes once facilitated by the Middle East Arab caravans