Making high quality medicinals and teas rely primarily on the quality of the the herbs you have access to. Knowing how to source, select, and store your fresh, potent herbs will make all the difference in your recipes.
Selecting High Quality Herbs
Four ways to tell if an herb is potent, fresh, and high quality, are with its color, taste, effect, and scent. They should look and smell vibrant, and their taste should reflect this as well. If you consume them, you should be able to feel their effects. Often times, when people are skeptical of the effectiveness of herbs and claim they don’t work, they are using stale or low quality herbs. Typically, the best quality and freshest herbs are ones you can grow or wildcraft yourself. However, if this is not available to you, you can buy them at a local herb shop where you can see and smell the products first hand and ask about their sourcing, or through a reputable online herb company, such as Mountain Rose Herbs. Try and avoid buying your herbs in head shops or other stores with low turnover rates and questionable sources, or where they are improperly stored and kept in dusty jars.
Drying Your Herbs
If you’ve grown your own herbs or foraged for them, and don’t plan on using them immediately for fresh teas, salves, or tinctures, you need to dry them to preserve them. Harvesting in the morning is the best, when they are still covered with morning dew and not exhausted by the heat of the midday sun. Remove any dry or diseased leaves and any insects that might be living in your plants. My favorite way to dry herbs is in a food dehydrator, set to around 95-110 degrees. This way you don’t have to worry about temperature variations, the water you use to clean them dries right up, and you don’t have to worry about accidentally cooking them in the sun. An oven set to the lowest temperature usually works just as well, if a dehydrator is not available to you. Another way to dry your herbs is to tie them into loose bunches and hang them inside upside-down paper bags to keep dust off, hang them in a well ventilated and airy room, and wait about two weeks, checking their progress often. You don’t always need the paper bag, but it definitely helps to keep them from getting accidental contaminants on them. The higher moisture content of the herbs, the smaller the bunches should be, and they need to have good air circulation so that they do not rot or grow mold. You’ll know when they are ready if they crumble easily when touched. You can also build a drying rack, which is basically a shelf with screens instead of solid planks, and dry your herbs on that. Drying racks maximize air flow and also make it easier to dry roots, small plants and mushrooms, and anything else that might be difficult to tie up.
Storing Your Herbs
The shelf life of an herb is how long it retains its freshness; general rules of thumb are, leaves and flowers can be stored up to a year, roots and barks can be stored up to two or three years. Due to a large amount of variables, such as storage conditions and herb quality, these numbers are a little arbitrary. Its good to inspect the herbs you have before you use it, and if they seem fresh and vibrant they are most likely still good. Storing your dried herbs in labelled glass jars in a cool location out of direct sunlight is the best way to optimize shelf life.
Following these simple guidelines will ensure you have the best quality herbs available for your recipes and medicinals.