Anyone who is serious about keeping a family healthy without meds (as much as possible) becomes well versed in using herbs over time. You don’t have to be a trained herbalist to accomplish this goal. It simply happens out of basic necessity! That said, purchasing quality bulk herbs and medicinal loose tea is an expensive endeavor. To preserve this important investment, proper care must be taken to store this precious plant matter so that it maintains potency for when you most need it.
I personally have over two dozen bulk herbs and medicinal teas in my medicine cabinet and tea drawer. Some of them I use all the time, usually for cooking and pleasure. Others sit unused for long periods of time (thankfully!) unless a particular ailment or condition strikes.
No matter the frequency of use, I care for all of them in basically the same way. This includes herbs such as sticks of fresh cinnamon that are not yet ground.
There is nothing worse than needing a particular herb for a particular situation or dish only to find out that its potency is not sufficient to get the job done.
Here are a few ideas for keeping your herbal medicine cabinet in tip top shape!
Minimize Exposure to Moisture
Bulk herbs and loose tea are extremely sensitive to humidity exposure. It is very important to keep the relative humidity at 55 or lower in the room where they are stored. Humid, damp cellars are not a good option.
I live in Central Florida, where it is extremely humid much of the year. In an environment like this, continuous air conditioning is a necessity. If you live in a humid environment and don’t use A/C, then I would advise buying very small amounts of the herbs you use and replace every few months.
Another option is to use a dehumidifier in the storage room and keep it running all the time. This will work as long as the temperature is ideal also. This is discussed below.
Keep Bulk Herbs and Loose Tea Out of Lighted Areas
Light whether from natural or artificial sources actually causes herbs to lose some of their natural color. With color loss comes decreased potency.
A dark closet or cabinet where the door is not opened often is an ideal spot for storage.
Temperature Control is Key
The perfect temperature range for storing medicinal teas and herbs is 65-75 °F/ 18-24 °C.
If seasonal fluctuations cause your home and storage areas to vary more than a degree or two outside this range, consider use of air conditioning and heating to keep the temperature as stable as possible.
As mentioned above, a dark cabinet or pantry works well for storing bulk herbs and teas. For individual herbs, airtight containers are a must. Exposure to air even if low humidity, is damaging.
If the herb/tea is packaged in a sealed, opaque bag (like from Frontier), transfer to a closed glass jar (dark glass is best), metal tin with a tight fitting lid, or some type of air-tight canister. Another option that has worked for me is to put the bag within a heavy duty ziplock to tightly reseal after opening.
How Long Do Bulk Herbs and Loose Tea Last?
If you follow all the guidelines above, your bulk leafy herbs will have a shelf life of around 8-12 months. Harder plant matter like roots and barks will last closer to a year and a half. Loose teas last about two years.
While it may be tempting to buy a huge bag of this herb or that tea to save money, it is smart to buy only what you will use in that time else you will end up wasting money by throwing them out anyway. I have not had good luck freezing and thawing herbs and loose teas. Keeping them at room temperature and storing properly is the best way to go.
Ferment Them Herbs!
If controlling the above factors is difficult given your current location and living situation, another option is to ferment fresh herbs and/or make herbal infusions. Fermentation will not only maintain potency but also enhance it by adding a probiotic and enzymatic element.
If you wish to use only dried herbs and teas, making herbal infusions uses them up quickly before they lose potency. The infusions can be frozen for later use.
Recipes Using Bulk Herbs and Loose Tea
Here are fourteen ideas for using loose tea and bulk herbs that I have found helpful in my home over the years.
- How to Make Herbal Infusions
- The Master Tonic (fermentation of 5 herbs)
- Red Rooibus Latte
- Fermented Cilantro Salsa
- Herbal Remedies for Sleep
- Herbs for Allergies
- Best Fertility Herbs
- Herbal Birth Control
- Herbs for Beautiful Skin
- Herbal Skin Ointment
- How to Dry Fresh Basil
- Herbal Antibiotics
- Fermented, Pickled Garlic
- How to Brew Homemade Root Beer
Where to Buy Bulk Herbs and Loose Tea
I do not recommend buying bulk herbs and loose tea from bins at the healthfood store. Too much light and repeated opening and closing of the containers has likely impacted potency.
A wonderful way to access quality, fresh bulk herbs and loose tea at affordable prices is by finding a local Frontier co-op in your area.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
I’ve never heard of fermenting herbs. What process do you use? Do you have a particular percentage of salt to volume? Is it different for woody vs leafy herbs? Dry vs fresh?
What’s your process for fermenting herbs?
Sarah Pope MGA
Here’s a recipe to give you an example. https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/fermented-cilantro-salsa-for-chelation/
Personally, I don’t know much about loose tea but I wanted to look up some information about it. One thing that I found very helpful is to keep the tea out of lighted areas. I had no idea that it can cause herbs to lose some of their natural color and decreased potency.
Hi Sarah, We live in a in a small house south of you, zone 9-10. Some of our herbs are in vacuum sealed mason jars in a dark cabinet in the garage which is not temperature controlled. Now, I’m wondering if vacuum sealing is enough to keep them fresh.
As hot as that garage would get in the summer, I think your herbs would very quickly lose potency even if vacuum sealed. You really should keep them in the house where the temperature range is much cooler. Vaccum sealing protects from air and humidity, but not heat.
Thank you for another great article! Do you find that when freezing herbs/teas that they lose flavor or potency? I have many bulk herbs/spices and teas frozen right now and it makes me worried after reading your article.
They seem to lose both flavor and potency in my opinion. If you’ve done it before and find it a helpful practice, then continue with it.