How to Store Dried Herbs
Dried herbs have a lot of value for any purpose. Whether you need dried herbs for cooking or medicinal purpose, correctly storing this food item is important.
Dried herbs are the key ingredient in so many different herb preparations such as infused oils, tinctures, and herbal teas. While putting together a herbal apothecary, dried herbs must be stored with care. The main obstacles to efficiently storing dried herbs are oxidation, moisture, sunlight, the time duration of storage and heat. Different herbs have different periods of time for which they may be retained. Some parts of the herb lose their potency faster. For example, flowers and leaves of dried herbal plants lose freshness and nutrients faster than the seed or root!
High-quality herbs offer a better shelf life during storage. The necessary steps for storing the dried herbs, regardless of whether you are opting for a mason jar or a #10 can, are the same. After the herbs have been dried using a food dehydrator, with the stem on or off, remove the leaves from the stalk and keep these aside. Crush them to release aromatic oils for lotions, tonics, and teas. Don’t crush the leaves till they are ready for use. Most glass jars work well when it comes to storing dried herbs. The reason why glass is often chosen over metal or plastic is that the latter two items can affect the flavor of herbs or vice versa. For example, if you are storing peppermint in a plastic jar, it will be difficult to use that jar later on account of the strong smell.
Dried herbs stored for more than one year may remain in good condition, but they lose their aroma. They are ideal for craft and soap making. Dried herbs must always be stored in a cool and dark place, far away and sheltered from the heat. If you can remove the oxygen and moisture from dried herbs, they remain safe for a total of 18 months in the freezer.
For using the herbs, the leaves need to be crushed in the hands or powdered using pestle, mortar or rolling pin. Dried herbs can be stored for a vast number of purposes. Stored dried herbs can be used to make flavored vinegar, herb-flavored oils, spice and tea blends and cleaners. They can also be used to make soap, shampoo, candles and potpourri on account of their fragrance. With so many uses, it makes sense to store dried herbs. Here’s how you can go about doing it.
Different Parts of Herbs and How to Store Them
Herb plants contain different parts which need to be harvested and stored differently to retain their potency, freshness, and vitality. Let’s see how different parts of the herbs are stored efficiently.
- Berries and Seeds:
Berries and seeds are the fruits of the herbal plant. When they ripen, they turn a vibrant color and soften. To speed up drying time, and enhance storage, you need to rub away older flower parts and plant material called calyxes and halve the seeds and berries. Calyxes are plant material located between the berry/seed and the stem.
Buds are flowers of the herbal plant which remain unopened. These need to be harvested, dried and stored without any stem.
The flowering head should be removed from the plant, with less or no stem. The ideal time to dry and store the flowers are when they are opening. Fully open flowers are less potent. When they age to the point where petals wither, their potency lessens. Washing flowers are only advisable if they are dirty.
- Flowering Tops:
This is the entire flowering portion of the herb, attached to plant stem and leaves. These tops are suited for storage when in full flower stage. Some herbs like St. John’s Wort can even be stored in late flower stages.
The herb is the aerial part of the plant. This includes the buds, flowers, stems and leaves. Bear in mind that only the flexible portion of the stem around top 9 inches maximum of the plant is to be taken. The herbs are most powerful when in early or full flowering stage. At the seed stage, their potency declines. Remember to chop and ground aerial parts and discard the thickest stem parts after drying before storing the same.
The leaf and petiole(which is the tender stem with the leaf) and a minimum amount of plant stem (if fleshy) should be taken. Leaves with damage due to insects can be used only if they are not brown or yellow in color. Dusting the leaves and rinsing them lightly is only advisable if they are dirty. Avoid washing the leaves as this can leave excess moisture creating a problem in storage.
- Root or Rhizome:
This includes below soil root or rhizome and rootlet parts. Rhizomes are underground stems with root type appearance. Perennial and not annual herbs have roots which can be dried and stored. If the plant is biennial such as Angelica herb or Burdock herb, they need to be dried and stored after the first year of growth to the second spring. This is before the flowering stalk shoots upwards. In case the plant is perennial, the best time to dry and store them depends on the type of herb.
Herbs such as hops have strobile. These are cone-shaped flowering parts of the plant. Harvesting these and drying them before they turn yellow or brown is essential for proper storage.
- Whole Plant:
The whole plant is the herb with the root, rhizome, rootlets, stems, leaves, buds and flowers. The root must be washed and brown or decayed portions above the root on the plant must be removed. Separating the above and below ground parts of the herbal plant is a must before drying and storing them. This is because roots take longer to dehydrate and also last longer.
What to Consider: How to Store Dried Herbs to Keep Them Fresh
When you are storing dried herbs, you need to consider these factors while keeping them fresh. Don’t miss out on these important considerations while choosing to store dried herbs.
- Air Tight Containers
The most important thing you need to watch out for while storing dried or dehydrated herbs is that you need to keep the air out. Oxygen can ensure herbs become stake fast. Use air-tight containers like plastic or glass. Choose glass containers for best results. Store the herbs in canning jars or recycled jars. Airtight containers are a must because oxidation can cause degradation of the herbs. Choose glass jars or metal tins with tight lids or jars with clamping on lips. Plastic containers should be avoided as these can leach chemicals into the herbs.
- Away from Direct Sunlight
When they are stored in direct sunlight, herbs lose their strength. To prevent potency loss from exposure to solar radiation, place the herbs where the direct rays of the sun do not fall on them. Ideally, the herbs should be stored in dark locations such as cabinets. Dark colored jars also work well for blocking the light. Choose a curtain or closed cabinet for best results.
- Avoid Temperature and Humidity Fluctuations
Stable room temperature and low to medium humid conditions are best for storing herbs. Don’t store the dried herbs where there are chances of temperature variation or high humidity such as a basement or an attic. Freezing and heating can even cause mold to grow inside the herb jars. Choose kitchens, dining rooms and cabinets on the premier floor of the living space for best-dried herb storage. Above all, ensure the dried herbs are placed in airtight containers.
- Whole Herbs Last Longer
Consider drying herbs in their whole form. If you store the herb in its whole form, you get more potent and stable product. Store the herb in the largest form you can or better still, as roots and seeds which last longer than herbal leaves or flower buds.
Steps to Store Dried Herbs
- Step 1: Make Sure Your Herbs Are Totally Dry
The first thing you need to do is ensure the herb is completely dry. Use a herb dehydrator for the best results, especially if you are wildcrafting or selecting fresh herbs grown organically in your garden and drying them for use later in the season. Make sure there is just no water content in the herbs. Rub a few of the herbs between fingers to ensure the herb crumbles easily and is crisp, not tender. Dehydrators work best, but you can also try homemade drying screens or hanging the herbs upside down.
- Step 2: Keep in a Cool and Dry Location
Store the herb in an airtight container in a way that it stays cool for optimal shelf life. Do not store the herb near a stove or steam room. A root cellar works best or even a cool, dry place in your home.
- Step 3: Be Sure to Label Harvest or Purchase Date
While storing the herb, accurate labeling or packaging is very important. The label should contain the name, botanical name, harvest/purchase date, discard or expiry date. Different herbs have different shelf lives, ranging from 1 to a couple of years. When sufficiently dried, and stored well, herbs never go bad. But, over time, they do lose potency and need to be replaced. Choose high-quality herbs for best outcomes.
Guidelines for Storing Dried Herbs
It is important to store your dried herb in dark colored jars to avoid light. If you own a wall mounted or counter top storage unit, ensure the herbs are not in clear containers. Storing away from heat and direct sunlight prevents its deterioration. Here are some quick guidelines on how to store dried herbs.
- Quantity of the Herb
The dried herb stored should be in small quantities. It is best to purchase whole and then grind it using mortar and pestle or coffee grinder.
As ground herbs lose flavor, this can be a problem. It is, therefore, better to store small whole amounts in a compact tin or jar. Whole herbs and spices can be stored for a year in most cases, 3 at a maximum. Ground herbs should be stored for half that time that is, 3 to 6 months.
- Don’t Cut Your Herbs Before You Use Them
Most herbs grown organically are the best choice for long term storage. Once the herb is cut, the oil is released and it starts to break apart. Mint and other such fragrant herbs like rosemary and thyme lose their smell rapidly. Seal the whole herbs in a vacuum sealed bag or airtight glass container.
- Light and Air Are the Enemies
You need to watch out for sunlight or air contact. This causes the herb to change color, decay and lose its potency. Grocery store herbs should be tested for optimal quality before purchase, due to this reason.
- Dehydrate Your Herbs for Best Outcomes
If you hang your herbs upside down or store them in open containers, they will decay and lose their potency very fast. They will lose aroma, color, and nutrients. It is better to dehydrate them for the best results.
- Don’t Store Your Dried Herbs Near a Steam Cooker or Stove
Another thing you need to watch out for is that you should not store herbs near a heat source such as a stove or a steam cooker. The cool, dark and dry place is the best storage location for your dried herb.
Storage & Shelf Life
Storing the dried herbs efficiently means keeping them away from light, heat, and moisture. Store herbs in clean, air-tight containers. Use a cupboard or a drawer and try amber glass jars with airtight lids. You can even opt for a drawer or cover the jars with cloth or store them in a dry cupboard. The shelf life of herbs are based on their form and plant part. Cut and powdered herbs have more surface area in contact with air and so lose their potency and flavor more quickly.
The shelf life of herbs will vary according to the form and plant part. (Those that have been cut or powdered have more surface area exposed to the air and so lose their flavor more rapidly than whole herbs, for example.) Here are some guidelines:
- Whole Herbs
The table below shows the average shelf life of stored dried whole herbs:
Leaves and Flowers
1 to 2 years
Seeds and Barks
2 to 3 years
- Ground Herbs
The ground herbs decay faster. Here you can see a significant reduction in shelf life post storage:
Seeds and Barks
- Fresh Vs Dried Herbs
Most think only fresh herbs decay. But even dried herbs decay if improperly stored. Moisture, oxygen, light, heat and length of time in storage are key factors. Buy whole herbs because crumbling these releases flavor and aroma, making it harder to stay fresh. Buy and grind whole herbs as you need them. Commonly found whole herbs include cumin, sage, cloves, cardamon, star anise, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
Whole leaves are better and drying the leaves or seeds should also be when they are whole and not crushed. Crushing herbs just before you use them is the key to storing them properly. Drying herbs upside down before dehydrating and storing them works well, when they are fresh. Dried herbs are just as likely as fresh ones to decay following exposure to heat or direct sunlight. Herbs like chili, cayenne, and paprika even need to be refrigerated to keep their color. While whole herbs last 2-5 years if stored properly, ground herbs can last as long as 6 months to 2 years. Leafy herbs can last from 3 months to two years.
Some herbs, however, do not decay such as thyme, cinnamon and tarragon because they are in constant use. Smaller containers of herbs not commonly used such as poppy seeds and fennel should be purchased.
Think beyond a spice jar, whether you are storing dried or fresh herbs. Label them with dates to know how old they are. The longer the storage time, the more flavoring compounds they will lose.
How to Choose Best Storage Places for Dried Herbs
Airtight containers, dark cool places, dry areas, herb racks are just some of the places to store dried herbs.
- Airtight Containers
Airtight containers such as Mason jars having screw cap lids ensure tight sealing. Store glass jars in cool, dry locale away from direct light, like ziplock bags. Close the container tightly once you have finished using it.
- Away from Heat Sources
Another important consideration is the best storage place should be away from heat sources. This includes your ovens, dishwashers, stoves, and microwaves. A lower cabinet or roll out drawer is the best choice for herbs and fewer jars are likely to be lost that way.
- Herb Racks
Organize the herb drawer, rack or cabinet. Toss out hold herbs because they don’t only lose their flavor, but their potency and nutritional value as well. Weak scented herbs are a waste of time. Don’t store these if the aroma lacks pungency. But some herbs like peppercorns and cinnamon have to be crushed because they have a protective cell structure and full fragrance is not possible without crushing.
- The Freezer.
Ground dried herbs can be stored in airtight containers and placed in a freezer for up to six months. The freezer is better for ground than whole herbs.
- Inside the Cabinet or Drawer
These are closed surfaces to protect the dried herbs from heat, light, moisture and oxygen. Such locations are likely to be cool, dark and dry.
- On a Pantry Shelf.
Another great location is the pantry shelf. This too meets all the qualifications for storage and value. It is cool, dark and further from heat sources.
- Open Storage.
Open storage is only advisable if the herbs are stored in airtight tins away from the heat and light. Open shelving does not work well for glass topped jars as these absorb heat and light.
The Best Storage Containers for Dried Herbs
The best storage containers for dried herbs are essentially those which are airtight and secure, so that no heat, light, oxygen, air or moisture enters or comes into contact with the dried herbs.
Tins are the best and most affordable choice. Choose tins without glass tops. Small spice jars are also available. Some herbs may not respond well to metal, so check before placing the dried herb in a tin.
- Carousel Spice Racks
This is the best place for herbs that are dried, stored in the racks inside a cupboard away from the sunlight, heat, and air.
- Mason Jars
These are an environment-friendly choice and can easily be reused. They work well for herbs of all shapes and sizes.
Types of Storage Containers
The various types of storage containers that are suited for dried herbs are discussed below:
- Opaque glass
- Clear glass
- Glass canning jars
- Mason Jars
- #10 Cans
- Mylar Bags
- Oxygen Absorbers and Desiccants
- Opaque Glass
The best containers for dried herbs are dark colored glass jars, Popular choices include brown, blue, black and cobalt colored jars. As the content cannot be seen, ensure that the label is added to the container’s front. Labels can be handmade or printed.
- Clear Glass
Clear glass containers with lids that are screwed on help in storing a variety of dried herbs. Contents stored in each container can be easily seen. But since these transparent or translucent containers are susceptible to sunlight, they should be stored away from the heat and light. They should also be kept away from oven, fridge, toaster and other such appliances.
If the condensation is seen inside the container, it means your herb will decay because there is moisture in it.
- Canning Jars
A great value in storing dried herbs is derived from the use of pint or quart sized glass canning jars. The new seals and rings for these jars are also freely available. Canning jars should be vacuum sealed with attachment port, hose, and jar attachments if you are planning for long term storage. For smaller amounts, a glass canning jar works best. Keep the clean jar with the product and canning funnel to protect the rim. The rims should be clean and dry. Add an oxy absorber for long term storage if needed. Plug the hose into the vacuum sealer’s jar attachment and plug the other end into the jar attachment. The lid needs to be placed on the jar. When the vacuum cycle is over, remove the attachment from the jar and push the top of the lid. Check the seal by trying to remove it. You should be able to turn the jar downwards without opening the lid. Add the ring if needed.
- Metal Tins
Small metal tins can be used for herb storage. Labeling is important because you cannot see the contents of the tin. Metal tins also harm the aroma of dried herb leaves but are fine for storage of fried herb seeds and roots.
- Ceramic Containers
Ceramic glazed container vessels can also be used for storing dried herbs. Do not use the unglazed version as volatile essential oils in the dried herb will quickly get evaporated as a result of this.
- Plastic Containers
Plastic containers are generally not meant for storing herbs for the long term. However, resealable bags can be used for storage of fresh herbs in a fridge or freezer.
- Wood Containers
Wooden containers do not work well for herb storage. This is because wood is not airtight and materials will dry out and decay. Further, wood containers absorb the odor of herbs too.
- Mason Jars
These were first invented in the 1800s and used to preserve a vast amount of food items including herbs. An oxygen absorber packet should be added for optimum results. As oxygen absorbers draw oxygen from the air, they create a vacuum effect sealing the jar completely. Mason jars are clear. So they can absorb heat and light. They need to be stored in cool, dark and dry places consequently.
- #10 Cans
These are massive, durable cans perfect for storing food for the long term. This includes dried herbs. The advantage of #10 cans is that they protect from rodents, air, moisture, and light. In other words, they are virtually indestructible. Food is stored in right amounts so you only use what you need.
- Food Safe Buckets
These are perfect for storing food, such as dried herbs. Stackable and easy to access, they can also be used for storing staple foods like pasta, rice, and oats. Use Mylar bags for best outcomes and then place a lot of herbs in the food safe bucket.
- Mylar Bags
Mylar bags are perfect for storing food in food safe buckets and other cavernous areas, provided they are sealed using oxygen absorbers. They are a good option for storing food in freezers too. However, they do not guard against rodents or infestation.
- Oxygen Absorbers and Desiccants
These are two very important items for storing dried herbs. Desiccants are a silica-rich substance which draws moisture out of the herb to prevent bacteria, mold, and decay. They are suited to small as well as large containers. Oxygen absorbers work differently. These packets contain the iron powder which oxidizes when air exposure takes place. These packets heat up while working and create a vacuum seal when used in food grade buckets or mason jars.
Dried Herb Storage Video Guide
It is important to choose glass jars for best storage. Opaque ones are most advisable and natural fiber containers also work well, provided the herbs are stored in a dry and cool place away from the sunlight. Stainless steel, non-aluminum containers can also be used. Most herb parts that are not underground will retain potency for a year if correctly stored.
Dried herbs definitely have a long shelf life. But they need to be stored for a long period of time with care. Taking these precautions can protect your herbs from damage, decay, infestation, and loss of potency. The rules for ensuring the herbs are stored properly have been emphasized. But it is important to remember that each herb has its own properties and potency. Be sure to research all the features of the herb before drying and storing it for best results.