Storing Dried Herbs and Herbal Preparations for Freshness and Longevity
Written by Meghan Gemma and Juliet Blankespoor
Photography by Juliet Blankespoor
Fresh herbs can be bundled together and hung on a wooden rack to dry.
Which are the best herbs to start your home herbal apothecary? Which medicinals can I easily grow to dry and store? Where do I buy dried herbs?
Whether you grow your own herbs or purchase them from a bulk supplier, storing dried herbs properly will ensure they enjoy a long life filled with potency and freshness. In this article, we’ll share the basic rules of thumb for storing dried herbs (and tinctures, infused honeys, herbal oils, salves, and powdered herbs), plus we’ll impart our tips for finding the best high-quality bulk herbs to use in your home apothecary.
To learn about starting your own herbal medicine chest, visit our article on The 10 Best Herbs to Start Your Home Herbal Apothecary. And if you’re looking for high-quality sources to purchase your bulk herbs, along with medicine-making supplies, you’ll find details below.
Ready to grow an herb garden where you can gather and dry the freshest medicine on the planet? Check out our Medicinal Herb Gardening Hub—it’s loaded with articles to set you up on the green path, including:
Dried herbs last longer if stored in a dark cabinet or hutch.
What is the best way to store dried herbs for freshness and longevity?
In general, you’ll want to store dried herbs and other medicinal preparations in airtight glass jars inside a cabinet, on a dark shelf, or anywhere out of direct sunlight. A location that is cool and dry will further increase the shelf life of your remedies. Keep your medicines out of the reach of small children and always label each bottle, as it’s all too easy to forget the contents of an unmarked medicine over time!
Dried leaves and flowers will typically last one to two years, and roots can last two to three years.
If you store dried herbs correctly, you’ll find the following to be a useful guideline:
- Dried leaves and flowers have a shelf life of 1-2 years
- Roots, seeds, and barks can last 2-3 years
Use your senses—smell, sight, and taste—to determine the vitality of stored herbs. If an herb looks vibrant and has retained most of its flavor and/or aroma, it’s still good medicine!
Label your jars of dried herbs with the name of the plant, the part gathered, and the date they were stored.
Where can I find high-quality dried herbs?
To source the most vibrant herbs, look first to small herb farmers and medicine makers (and even some top-notch larger suppliers). When purchasing herbs, we recommend sourcing them in this order when possible:
Local Growers and Small Sellers. This is an opportunity to visit local herb farms and see their medicine for yourself (plus you’ll be supporting small businesses and your local economy). Some growers even offer you-pick herbs. To find sources near you, see Rosalee de la Forêt’s List of Sustainable Herb Farms and Ethical Wildcrafters and our List of Bulk Herb Suppliers.
Local Medicine Makers. Check with your local apothecaries and medicine makers for freshly stocked bulk herbs and tea blends. Feel free to inquire where they source their herbs!
Mail-Order and Online Sellers. This is a straightforward option for purchasing bulk dried herbs online or by catalog. Check out our Sources of Bulk Herbs and Medicine Making Supplies list.
Dry Your Own Herbs. For a tutorial on drying fresh herbs from your garden, check out Mountain Rose Herbs’ article on How to Harvest, Dry, & Store Herbs from the Garden.
Storing freshly made tincture in an amber glass bottle will extend the medicine’s shelf life.
How do I store tinctures and other herbal preparations? And how long do tinctures last?
Like dried herbs, other herbal remedies will benefit from storage in a cool, dark space—a cabinet, hutch, pantry, wooden pie safe, or the like. Below you’ll find nuanced storage details and shelf life expectancies for:
To prevent ink from running due to dribbles from the bottle, place clear packing tape over your labels.
Storing Herbal Tinctures
Properly stored tinctures—prepared with high-percentage alcohol (50% or higher)—can last for years, even decades. We store our tinctures (and syrups, vinegars, oxymels, infused oils, and simple syrups) in amber glass dispensing bottles with polyseal caps. These bottles have several helpful attributes:
- The brown glass excludes light, which can degrade medicine over time.
- The inside of the polyseal cap is resistant to solvents, as it is manufactured for chemical storage. While I don’t like that the inside of the cap is plastic, I haven’t yet found a better system.
- The bottles are a small investment, but they are washable and reusable—I have dozens that have been with me for over a decade.
As an alternative, people often store their medicine in glass canning jars. If you go this route, be aware that alcohol and vinegar will corrode canning lids over time, contaminating the medicine with plastic compounds. To prevent this, use natural waxed paper as a barrier on the inside of the lid.
Finally, make sure to store your alcohol-based tinctures some distance from the stove and potential kitchen fires as they are very flammable.
To protect your medicine from potential contamination due to corroded canning lids, place a layer of natural waxed paper on the inside of the lid while your herbs are infusing in vinegar.
Storing Herbal Vinegars
Vinegar-based extracts have a shorter shelf life than alcohol-based tinctures and should generally be used within six months to one year when prepared with fresh herbs (and ideally refrigerated), and one to five years for vinegars prepared with dried herbs. As with alcohol tinctures, we prefer to store vinegar extracts in amber glass bottles with polyseal caps.
Storing Herbal-Infused Honeys
Herbal honeys made from dried herbs have a very long shelf life—decades to perhaps centuries, or even millennia! We store infused honeys in glass jars of varying shapes and sizes. If you prepare honey from fresh herbs, the water weight will dilute the honey and its shelf life will be much shorter. We recommend refrigerating herbal honeys made from fresh herbs. Some of our favorite honeys to infuse include:
- Hawthorn, berries (Crataegus spp.)
- Angelica, root (Angelica archangelica and other Angelica species)
- Elecampane, root (Inula helenium)
- Elderberry, fruit (Sambucus nigra var. canadensis and Sambucus nigra)
- Schisandra, berries (Schisandra chinensis)
Elderberry-infused honey is a delicious stand-alone remedy, or it can be transformed into a medicinal herbal syrup.
Storing Herbal-Infused Oils and Salves
Herbal-infused oils and salves will typically last two to three years when refrigerated and one year unrefrigerated, depending on the stability of the oil used. Using dried herbs will greatly increase the shelf life of your herbal-infused oils.
Storing Powdered Herbs and Capsules
Herbal powders have a shorter shelf life than cut and sifted herbs (loose teas and bulk herbs) because the plant material is ground to such a fine consistency. Use powdered herbs within 6-12 months, storing them in the refrigerator or freezer for maximum freshness.
Herbal Storage & Shelf Life Chart
To wrap up our review on storing dried herbs and the longevity of different herbal preparations, here’s a handy chart to guide you in keeping your medicinals fresh and potent. We hope that this information will be helpful in nurturing your well-being and that of your community for years to come. Happy medicine making!
Meet Our Contributors:
MEGHAN GEMMA is one of Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine's primary instructors through her written lessons, sharing herbal and wild foods wisdom from the flowery heart of the school to an ever-wider field of herbalists, gardeners, healers, and plant lovers.
She began her journey with the Chestnut School in 2010—as an intern and manager at the Chestnut Herb Nursery and then as a plant-smitten student “back in the day” when the school’s programs were taught in the field, and later she became part of the school’s writing team. Meghan lives in the Ivy Creek watershed, just north of Asheville, North Carolina.
JULIET BLANKESPOOR is the founder, primary instructor, and Creative Director of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, an online school serving thousands of students from around the globe. She's a professional plant-human matchmaker and bonafide plant geek, with a degree in botany and over 30 years of experience teaching and writing about herbalism, medicine making, and organic herb cultivation. Juliet’s lifelong captivation with medicinal weeds and herb gardening has birthed many botanical enterprises over the decades, including an herbal nursery and a farm-to-apothecary herbal products business.
These days, she channels her botanical obsession through her writing and photography in her online programs, on her personal blog Castanea, and in her new book, The Healing Garden: Cultivating and Handcrafting Herbal Remedies. Juliet and her family reside in a home overrun with houseplants and books in Asheville, North Carolina.
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