Friday, December 2, 2016

How to store dried herbs

If you're anything like me you've spent the better part of the summer growing, harvesting and drying your own herbs. Growing your own herbs is a very cost effective way to stock your spice cabinet or herbal apothecary and drying them is simple enough that anyone can do it

Now that you took the time to dehydrate all those fresh herbs, how do you store herbs so that they last the longest and are the most potent? 

how to store herbs

There are 5 things that cause herbs to deteriorate:
  • Air
  • Heat
  • Sunlight
  • Moisture
  • Time
To minimize the deterioration cause by the first 4 on the list, store your dried herbs in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. I like to store my dried herbs in glass and I use canning jars. I love that they come in all different sizes since some herbs I use a lot of and others I only use sparingly. I store them in a cabinet down in my family room where it stays pretty cool year round. 
Unfortunately because kitchens tend to get hot when cooking/baking they are probably the worst place to store dried herbs, especially if you keep dried herbs on the counter or in an herb display rack. If you can't store your herbs in a cabinet, try the tinted Ball jars to help keep light out.

While I do prefer glass, that is absolutely not the only way to store dried herbs. You could also use plastic ziploc style baggies. The baggies can be stored in a decorative tin or ceramic cookie jar to keep the light out. I love the old fashioned coffee, tea & sugar canister sets I always see at the thrift store, these would be great for storing herbs away from light. 

I personally do not like metal canisters by themselves. I can sometimes taste a slight metallic taste in teas when delicate herbs like chamomile are stored this way.

You'll want to be absolutely sure the herbs are completely dry before storing as any leftover moisture can cause them to mold.  The oils in the herbs break down as they age so they will lose their potency after about 12-18 months even without being exposed to any of the above conditions. Fortunately for us, the growing season happens every year. Yeay! 

A few extra tips:

Leave enough space in the jar that you don't have to crush the herbs to fit them all in. Whole herbs retain the oils and flavors better then crushed, so try not to crush them until you're ready to use them.

Make sure to label your herbs with a name and date! I can tell you from experience that Lemon Balm and Mint tend to look a lot alike, as do many other herbs. If you don't want to play the 'taste it and try to guess what it is' game, then make sure you label them! 

Since kitchens tend to be hot but convenience is also important, consider using small jars in your kitchen for frequently used herbs, and refill from large jars stored in a cooler area.

mini spice jar set

Make sure herbs pass the smell test before using. Just open the container and give it a big sniff. If the herbs smell rancid, moldy or just 'off' don't use them. If they don't seem to smell at all then crush a leaf between your fingers. This will release the oils in the herbs and should renew the scent. As herbs age they lose their potency and you may need to use a little extra in your recipe to get the same effect or taste. 

BH&G has a great article on cooking with dried herbs.

Lastly, herbs should always be stored out of reach of young children. Not only could they be potentially dangerous if ingested, you also don't want to risk losing all your herbs to a big spill.

These storage tips also apply if you purchase your herbs instead of growing them yourself....after all, how many of us grow every herb and spice that we use? 

If you are looking to purchase dried herbs check out this guide to purchasing dried herbs from Nourishing Herbalist. 

~L

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