3 Ways To Preserve Medicinal Herbs

Here are some tips on how to store medicinal herbs to ensure their quality and effectiveness.

preserved medicinal herbs in jars on a shelf

How you preserve and store your medicinal herbs is an important part of retaining their potency and effectiveness. There are many ways you can ensure your harvest will be useful long after the growing season. Today I’m going to focus on 3 of the more common ways to preserve your medicinal herbs.

It’s normal for herbs to lose some of their potency as they age, however, improper storage can compromise their quality and effectiveness, leading to a loss of potency and even toxicity.

Dehydrating, freeze drying, and tincturing are 3 ways you can preserve them to ensure maximum benefits and safe preparations.

Dehydrating Herbs

  1. USE A DEHYDRATOR: When using a dehydrator, low and slow is the way to go. Keep the temperature of your dehydrator set between 95º-110ºF. Choose the lower temp for arial parts and the higher temp for roots, barks, berries, stems, and dense flowers. This preservation approach does take several hours, but setting the temperature higher in an attempt to dry them faster will only break down the medicinal properties of your herbs. If you have a model that doesn’t have a temperature setting, most do fine on the low setting, but check your manual to be sure. My favorite dehydrator brand is Chard. They’re very affordable and very efficient.
  2. AIR DRYING: Air drying your herbs takes even longer but has the bonus of no electricity or babysitting an appliance. The only special considerations for air drying your herbs, is that they must stay out of direct sunlight and have adequate circulation. This method works well for arial parts of the plant, but dense plant pieces, roots, barks, and dense blossoms should not be air dried to avoid the risk of mold.
  3. OVEN DRYING: As mentioned, herbs prefer lower heat. If your oven doesn’t have a setting of 100ºF, I personally wouldn’t use this technique. Many modern appliances, however, have dehydrator setting on them and this is a great option without investing in dehydrators.

Freeze Drying Herbs

Freeze drying is the gold standard of herb preservation. It removes the moisture from the plant yet maintains the bioactive compounds like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and essential oils. Because freezing and drying are both utilized in this process, the flavor, aroma, color and texture are also retained. When stored properly, freeze drying can extend the shelf life for several more years vs dehydrating alone.

Medicinal herbs should be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Exposure to light and heat can cause the herbs to break down and lose their potency. Ideally, you should store your herbs in a cool, dark place.

Tincturing Herbs

Tincturing is the process of preserving herbs in a high proof alcohol. This process pulls the medicinal properties out of the herb into the alcohol, giving you a concentrated herbal preparation. Because of the use of alcohol, this type of herbal preservation can be stored for several years if prepared and stored properly.

There are other types of liquid form preparations that are available such as glycerites and oil infusions. However, the shelf life of these preparations are significantly lower and should not be utilized for long term preservation.

stainless steel dehydrator with herbs inside
dehydrated herbs
Tinctured herbs in jars

Storing Your Herbs

Store herbs in airtight containers to prevent moisture and air from getting in. Mason jars with tight-fitting lids are a good option for storing herbs. Be sure to clearly label your herbs with their name and the date that they were preserved. Trust me, even the most organized person won’t remember what herb is in an unmarked jar.

Be sure to store your jars in a cool dark space. Light and heat will break down herbs and effect their potency and safety.

Be aware of what you are storing your herbs with. Strong-smelling items like garlic, onion, or cleaners, can affect the smell and taste of your herbs.

Be aware of your humidity levels. If you live in an area that tends to be more humid, you may want to run a humidifier and keep track of the humidity levels in your storage area.

Check in with your herbs. It’s good practice to check on your herbs if you don’t regularly work with them. You’ll want to check for signs of moisture, any discoloring, and off smells. Pay close attention to your denser herbs like berries, barks, roots, and dense blossoms for signs of mold or other degrading.

If you notice any of these signs, do not try to salvage seemingly unaffected herbs in the container. For your safety, throw them out.

Herbs are prolific. Beyond the 3 ways we’ve talked about that you can preserve medicinal herbs, they can be used fresh, as fertilizer for other plants, and in a variety of medicinal and topical preparations. You’ll still likely have plenty of your crop to practice these preservation techniques. Properly done, you’ll have enough preserved to last you until next year’s harvest.

To see my YouTube video on preserving medicinal herbs after a harvest, click HERE.

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