Herbs and spices have been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes for centuries. Over the last decade, research into their role as contributors of dietary polyphenols, known to possess a number of properties associated with reducing the risk of developing chronic non-communicable diseases, has increased. However, bearing in mind how these foods are consumed, normally in small quantities and in combination with other foods, it is unclear what their true benefit is from a health perspective. The aim of this review is to use the literature to discuss how preparative and digestive processes, bioavailability and interactions between foods may influence the bioactive properties of these foods, and whether or not polyphenols are responsible for these properties. Furthermore, this review aims to highlight the challenges that need to be addressed so as to determine the true benefits of these foods and the mechanisms of action that underpin their purported efficacy.