Herb Shelf Life: How To Tell If Your Herbs Are Still Good!

Herb Shelf Life: How To Tell If Your Herbs Are Still Good!

If you are like most people, you have probably found herbs hidden in the back of your cupboard! You may be wondering if they are still good to use. Since I am often asked this question, I decided to write an article about herb shelf life!

What Is the Shelf Life Of Herbs?

Some people state that leaves and flowers have a shelf life of 1-2 years, and that harder parts (like the seeds, bark, and roots) last for at least 2 years. I don’t necessarily agree with this; I have had many herbs last for much longer. That said, there are some herbs that don’t dry well, and they decay quickly; they only last a couple to a few months, no matter how well you store them! In addition, it depends on what form they are: cut and shifted herbs (pieces) last longer than powders (which degrade quickly).

How to tell if herb is still good
Observe, smell, and taste the herb.

One key thing to remember is that shelf life is only an estimate. A lot of it depends on harvesting, drying, handling, storage, which herb, herb part, the form it’s in, and how it’s processed. When you find an herb and don’t remember when you bought or harvested it; I recommend looking at, smelling, and tasting it (only taste it if it is an herb that can be used internally). If it looks, smells, and tastes similar to when you bought or harvested it then I would use it and see if it still works. If there are any changes in its color, how it looks, aroma, or taste, then I suggest composting it or discarding it.

To prolong the shelf life of any future herbs you have, make sure they are stored properly. Be sure to only use high quality herbs. In other words, herbs that have been harvested and dried properly, and that are aromatic and similar in color to the fresh plant (not brown, but vibrant in color). I also try to buy or harvest only what I need and I don’t buy or gather excessive amounts. When I buy dried herbs (instead of harvesting them or buying fresh herbs), I make sure I buy from herbal vendors with a high turnover rate, so that they are not sitting on the shelves for many months to years.

And don’t forget to label it, so you will know how old it is next time!

Don't forget to label
Don’t forget to label!

How Do You Store Herbs?

It is best to store herbs in a dark, cool, non-humid place, like a cupboard. However, if you use herbs every day (like spices in cooking), it is totally fine to keep small amounts of herbs (like an ounce) on your kitchen counter or open shelves.

I store nearly all of my herbs in glass jars in a cool, dark, dry cupboard. As I use up the herbs, I put them into smaller and smaller jars to reduce air space.

Store your herbs in glass jars
Store your herbs in glass jars. Pictured is lavandin.

The one exception is resins, such as frankincense (there are many species of frankincense) and myrrh. I live in a pretty humid area. Although I burn some of my resins in incense burners, I usually grind most of my resins into powders to make different herbal preparations (freezing resins before grinding makes them easier to powder). I have a full size fridge devoted solely to my plant and formulating ingredients, so I personally store my resins in the freezer in the bags they come in (plastic food storage bags). If you don’t plan on powdering your resins, and you live in a non-humid area, then it is fine to store resins at room temperature, as long as your home is cool. My good friend clinical aromatherapist and ‘queen of frankincense’ Robin Kessler stores her resins at a cool, room temperature in plastic food storage bags and large plastic bins. However, she suggests refrigerating or freezing frankincense (Boswellia spp.) powder to prevent clumping. I store my frankincense powder in the freezer too!

Store frankincense and other resins in a cool place
Store frankincense and other resins in a cool place! Pictured is a sample of brown Boswellia sacra from Robins Resins Plus.


Want to learn more about shelf life and storage of ingredients? Then check out my article on carrier oil storage!

If you have any questions about herb shelf life, please ask them in the comments of this article! For more information or if you have questions about herbalism, natural perfumery, aromatherapy, formulating, and eco living, please join Plant Alkemie Institute of Holistic Botanical Studies’ Facebook group and also Plant Alkemie Institute of Holistic Botanical Studies Facebook business page.  And check out more articles here on Plant Alkemie Institute of Holistic Botanical Studies’ website:  https://www.plantalkemie.com.

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  1. Great informative article Li. Thank you

  2. Excellent info as usual, i would not expect anyless from you. 🙂