Preserving Medicinal Herbs

It’s harvest time. The time that all of our planning, cultivating, nurturing, and literal blood, sweat, and tears all come to fruition and we’re faced with abundance. Now what do we do with them? These aren’t like tomatoes. You can’t just stick them in the freezer and wait until you’ve collected enough to turn them into shelf-stable tomato sauce. They need to be preserved right away. So how do we do that? Medicinal herbs need to be harvested at their medicinal peak, and preserved in a way to maintain all of those wonderful properties. The last thing we want to do is hang them until they’re dry…maybe forget about them for a couple of weeks…and eventually get to them and they’re brown and lifeless. Those won’t make a very good herbal preparation. They need special considerations if you want to preserve all that goodness. It’s not all about dehydration though. There are several ways to preserve them, ensuring you’ll have a readily available source of herbal medicines to last you through the winter. 

Dehydration

  1. Since we already started talking about dehydration, let’s talk a little more about it. If you want to preserve medicinal herbs in bulk, a food dehydrator is a handy tool. Follow these steps:

1. Wash and pat dry the herbs if they are visibly dirty or you are concerned about contamination.

2. Place them on the dehydrator trays, leaving space between each herb.

3. Set the dehydrator to the appropriate temperature for herbs (no higher than 95ºF) and let it run until the herbs are completely dry.

4. Store the dried herbs in airtight containers in a cool, dark place.

stainless steel dehydrator

Air Drying

hanging herbs
  1. Drying is one of the most traditional and effective methods for preserving medicinal herbs. Here’s how to do it:

1. Remove any damaged or discolored leaves, stems, or flowers.

2. Bundle small gatherings of herbs and tie them at the end. Hang them upside down in a dry, well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight.

3. Once they are 100% dried, store them in airtight containers in a cool, dark place.

Freeze Drying

  1. Freeze drying herbs is the gold standard of preservation. This technique locks in the medicinal properties in a way that the other techniques cannot. Here’s how to freeze dry medicinal herbs:

1. Wash and dry the herbs if needed.

2. Freeze the herbs.

3. Freeze dry the herbs as directed in your freeze dryer directions.

4. Label the container with the herb type and the date, then store them in a cool, dark place.

Infused Oils

herbal infused oils
  1. Infused oils are a fantastic way to preserve medicinal herbs while extracting their beneficial properties. Here’s how to make them:

1. Fill a clean, dry jar with dried herbs.

2. Cover the herbs with a carrier oil like olive, jojoba, or coconut oil.

3. Seal the jar tightly and store it in a cool, dark place for about 4 weeks, shaking it daily.

4. Strain the oil into a clean container, and your infused herbal oil is ready for use. Store it in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months. Use infused oils as a base for making herbal soap and beauty products.

Tinctures

  1. Herbal tinctures are concentrated liquid extracts that preserve the medicinal properties of herbs. Here’s how to make a tincture:

1. Fill a glass jar with the appropriate amount of dried or fresh herbs. The amount is determined by the herb.

2. Pour vodka, gin, or brandy over the herbs to the top of the jar, ensuring they are fully submerged.

3. Seal the jar and store it in a dark place for 6-8 weeks, shaking it daily.

4. Strain the liquid into a glass dropper bottle, and your herbal tincture is ready for use.

Mugwort and amber bottles

Vinegars

  1. Herbal vinegars are not only a preservation method but also a delightful way to add flavor and health benefits to your meals. Here’s how to make them:

1. Fill a clean glass jar with fresh or dried herbs.

2. Heat vinegar (apple cider or white wine vinegar works well) to near boiling.

3. Pour the hot vinegar over the herbs, ensuring they are completely submerged.

4. Seal the jar and store it in a cool, dark place for a few weeks.

5. Strain the vinegar into a clean bottle, and store it in a cool dry place. Use on its own or as a base for dressings or marinades.

Preserving your medicinal herbs, whether they’re homegrown or bought online, ensures you have a stocked home apothecary at your disposal throughout the year. No matter which technique you choose to utilize, they all have their own benefits and unique advantages. By following these steps, you can be sure to keep the quality and potency of your herbs so you can count on them when your family needs them.

If you’d like to see how I preserve our dried herb harvests and purchased hauls, click this link and I’ll see you on YouTube!

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