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How to Store Dried Herbs for Long-lasting Quality

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I’m excited to share with you a guide on how to store dried herbs to ensure their freshness and longevity. As someone who grows and forages for much of the herbs I use, I’ve come to appreciate the art and science behind preserving their potency and aroma. I take a bioregional approach to herbalism, believing that the most beneficial herbs can often be found locally, sometimes right in our own backyards. In my herb studio, it’s a common sight to see a variety of herbs hanging from the rafters to dry, embracing the natural process before they’re ready for storage.

how to store dried herbs - herbs in glass jars with lids on a table

WHY Knowing How to Store Dried Herbs MATTERS

Knowing how to store dried herbs effectively is essential for preserving their flavor, medicinal benefits, and extending their longevity. Dried herbs are vulnerable to deterioration when exposed to light, air, moisture, and heat, which can diminish their aroma, color, and potency. By learning how to store dried herbs, you ensure that you can savor the full advantages of your carefully cultivated or foraged botanical treasures for an extended duration.

how to store dried herbs - picking stinging nettle basket with stinging nettle
How to Store Dried Herbs: Picking Stinging Nettle to Dry

A Guide to Selecting and Harvesting Herbs for Drying

Harvesting herbs to dry is a deeply rewarding practice that ties us to the natural world and the ancestral knowledge passed down through generations. To maximize the potency, aroma, and flavor of your dried herbs, it’s crucial to master the timing of the harvest. This guide will provide insights into the optimal moments to gather various herbs from your garden, ensuring they’re at their peak for drying. Additionally, understanding how to store dried herbs properly is key to preserving their quality over time.

  • Herbs Grown for Their Leaves – For herbs prized for their foliage, such as stinging nettle, mint, and oregano, the optimal time to harvest is just before the plant begins to flower. During this phase, the leaves are tender, and the essential oils—which are responsible for the herb’s taste and fragrance—are at their peak. Gently touch and observe your plants; their vibrant energy at this stage is palpable.
  • Herbs Grown for Their Flowers – If you’re cultivating herbs for their blossoms, like chamomile or lavender, timing is key. Harvest these herbs right before the flowers fully open. This is when the concentration of oils within the flowers is most intense, offering the strongest flavors and medicinal properties. The buds should be full, showing color, but not yet unfurled.
  • Herbs Grown for Their Roots – Root herbs, such as dandelion and burdock, require patience. The best time for harvesting these are in the late fall, after the plant’s energy has moved back into the earth, or in early spring when the ground thaws. During these times, the roots are rich in nutrients and energy, making them potent for both culinary and medicinal uses.
  • Annual and Perennial Herbs – For annual herbs, you can continue to harvest until the first frost signals the end of the growing season. These herbs, which complete their life cycle within a single year, offer continuous bounty throughout the warmer months. Perennial herbs, on the other hand, will grace your garden year after year. To ensure they return healthy and vigorous, cease clipping them by late August. This gives them time to prepare for winter, storing energy in their roots for the next growing season.

Harvesting Tips

  • Always choose healthy, vibrant plants that are free from pests and diseases.
  • Harvest in the morning after the dew has evaporated but before the sun is too intense. This is when the plants’ oils are most concentrated.
  • Use sharp, clean shears to make clean cuts, which help the plant heal more quickly.
  • Harvest in small batches to ensure you can process and dry the herbs effectively, preserving their quality.

By following these guidelines, you’ll be able to harvest herbs at their peak, ensuring that the essence of your garden can be enjoyed long after the growing season has ended. Whether you’re drying herbs for culinary, medicinal, or aromatic purposes, the key is to connect with the plant, understand its cycle, and choose the right moment to harvest. This mindful approach turns the simple act of harvesting into a deeply fulfilling ritual that honors the gifts of the earth.

My herbal studio - relationships with plants
How to Store Dried Herbs: Herbs Hanging in My Studio

PREPARING HERBS FOR DRYING

After choosing and gathering your herbs, the next phase involves preparing them for drying. This step is important in preserving their aromatic, flavorful, and therapeutic qualities. By following these steps, you’ll ensure your herbs retain their maximum flavor and medicinal properties, ready to be used in your cooking, teas, or herbal remedies. 

  1. Gentle Cleaning: Begin by gently rinsing your harvested herbs under cool water. This is to ensure that any residual dirt, dust, or tiny insects that may have made a home among the leaves are washed away. Be gentle to avoid damaging the delicate leaves and stems.

  2. Patting Dry: After rinsing, lay out a clean cloth or towel and spread your herbs out. Gently pat them dry, being careful not to bruise the leaves. Removing excess moisture is key to preventing any mold or mildew from forming during the drying process.

  3. Creating Bundles: Once your herbs are dry to the touch, gather them into small, manageable bundles. It’s important not to make these bundles too large, as this can hinder air circulation around each stem and leaf. A good rule of thumb is to tie bundles that are about the diameter of a penny.

  4. Tying and Hanging: Secure each bundle with a piece of string or a rubber band at the base of the stems. Then, hang them upside down in a designated drying area. Your drying area should be cool, dry, and away from direct sunlight. Basements, attics, or even a dedicated herb studio can serve as great drying spaces. Ensure there’s ample air circulation to facilitate even drying.

  5. Monitoring: The drying process can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on the herb and the humidity levels in your drying area. Check on your herbs regularly. You’ll know they’re ready when the leaves crumble easily between your fingers.

amateur botanist

Are All Herbs Best Preserved by Drying?

While drying is a wonderful way to preserve many herbs, it’s not the ideal method for all. Some herbs, particularly those with high moisture content like basil, cilantro, and chives, can lose a significant amount of their flavor and aroma when dried. For these delicate herbs, freezing or making herb-infused oils or vinegars might be better preservation methods.

Freezing can help retain the fresh taste and vibrant color of these moisture-rich herbs. You can chop them up and freeze them in ice cube trays with water or olive oil, making them convenient to use in cooking later on. Herb-infused oils and vinegars, on the other hand, capture the essence of the herbs and can be used to add depth and flavor to your dishes.

So, while drying is an excellent preservation method for many herbs, exploring other methods for those less suited to drying can ensure you enjoy the full bounty of your garden year-round.

herbalism - herbs in glass jars on a table

SELECTING THE IDEAL STORAGE CONTAINERS

When it comes to preserving the essence of your herbs, knowing how to store dried herbs properly is crucial. I’ve found that the selection of storage containers is key to maintaining their quality. Airtight glass jars are my go-to choice because they offer excellent protection against moisture and light, two factors that can significantly diminish the potency of herbs. Storing these jars in a dark cabinet further shields the herbs from any light exposure. It’s important to steer clear of plastic containers, as they have the potential to leach chemicals into your precious herbs. Also, make sure that the containers are completely dry and clean before you fill them with your dried herbs, to prevent any mold or spoilage.

fermented garlic honey
How to Store Dried Herbs: My pantry where most herbs get stored

WHERE TO STORE DRIED HERBS

When it comes to preserving dried herbs, the key is finding the perfect storage spot. You’ll want a cool, dark, and dry location—think cabinets or pantries—away from heat sources and direct sunlight. This ensures that your herbs maintain their flavors and medicinal qualities over time. So, to answer your query on how to store dried herbs effectively, remember: cool, dark, and dry is the way to go!

sabbat. herbs in small jars on a table

UNDERSTANDING SHELF LIFE

Preserving herbs through drying is important to anyone looking to have herbs on hand year-round, but it’s important to remember that even the best-preserved herbs have a shelf life. Understanding how to store them properly and recognizing when they’ve passed their prime is key to making the most of your dried herbs. Here’s how to ensure your herbs retain their quality for as long as possible:

Understanding Shelf Life

    • Leafy Herbs: Herbs with leaves, such as oregano, thyme, and sage, typically maintain their quality for 1-2 years when stored properly. These herbs rely heavily on their essential oils for flavor, which can dissipate over time.

    • Seeds and Roots: Herbs in the form of seeds (like fennel and coriander) or roots (such as turmeric and ginger) generally have a longer shelf life. Their denser structures help retain their flavors and medicinal properties for up to 3 years or more.

Regular Quality Checks

    • Aroma: Periodically open your herb containers and take a gentle whiff. Fresh, potent herbs will release a strong, characteristic aroma. A weak or musty smell indicates that the herb has lost its essence, and it might be time to replace it.

    • Color: Look at the color of your dried herbs. They should retain much of their original hue, although slightly faded. Significant discoloration or dullness is a sign that the active compounds have diminished.

    • Taste: If you’re unsure, you can taste a small amount. Potent herbs will retain their distinct flavors, while those past their prime will taste bland or stale.

Mastering Herbal Wisdom and Natural Healing!
How to store dried herbs: me pouring herbal tea from dried herbs in labeled jars

THE IMPORTANCE OF LABELING

Finally, labeling your jars with the herb’s name and the date of drying is essential. This not only helps in identifying the herbs, but also in tracking their shelf life. It’s a simple step that makes a big difference in managing your herbal pantry.

Learning how to store dried herbs properly is an essential skill for anyone interested in herbalism, especially those of us who grow and forage for our herbs. By following these steps, you can ensure that your herbs retain their maximum flavor and therapeutic value for as long as possible. Remember, the best remedies and culinary delights come from well-preserved herbs, and with a little effort, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor all year round.

Where to Purchase Good Quality Dried Herbs

If you don’t have access to local or homegrown herbs, I highly recommend purchasing them from Mountain Rose Herbs. They are my favorite place to buy high-quality, organic dried herbs and herbal products. As a company they believe in people, plants, and planet over profit and only ever source their herbs ethically and sustainably. It is through this ethical, responsible sourcing, that they are able to offer one of the largest selections of certified organic herbs, spices, and botanicals in North America.

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