Do Herbs Have a Shelf Life?
These are common questions we’re asked. And, as with many things, the answer is a bit complicated, depending on a variety of factors.
- Depends on the herb
- Depends on how it is stored
- More specifically, depends on access to light, air, and heat.
Herbs Don’t Expire…
Not like you might think of milk or meat going bad. Or a fruit or piece of bread growing mold.
Expiration dates on items are often not that useful. A typical time frame on supplements is one or two years from manufacturing. But it’s not like they are good one day, and worth throwing away the next.
Herbs simply lose potency over time. And really, time isn’t the main issue. Time is just a factor that comes into play based on the light, air, and heat they are stored in. Limit those things and they can last a long time. Herbs won’t even last a month if exposed to a lot of light, air, or heat.
The Signs of Loss of Potency
What you’ll often see is clumping up. The powder starts to join together and, sometimes, even become as hard as a rock. Or you’ll see discoloration of the herb. If there are visual changes in its appearance, then there are almost certainly chemical changes going on.
Of course, one other thing that may occur with this is that it doesn’t deliver the same effects as the fresher herb material does, because of the loss of potency.
Different Herbs are More or Less Sensitive
Some of our more sensitive herbs include:
Tongkat Ali – When oxidized it begins to clump up. When oxidized it seems to be less effective in its hormonal supporting action.
Schisandra – Just compare our Schisandra to most of the stuff you find on the market. Most Schisandra is black in color. That means it has heavily oxidized. Ours, coming from the USA and processed differently, maintains its bright red color. But left out in the air, it will lose its vibrancy of color. That also means it loses some potency.
Other Berries – Similar effects can be seen with the Goji and Seabuckthorn, and to a lesser degree, the Longan Berry Extract. These can clump up as well as lose their vibrant color.
Many of our herbs, from ant extract to eleuthero, albizia to horny goat weed, can end up clumping up, in turning to rock over time with poor storage.
Meanwhile, Shilajit is essentially immortal. It’s been around, being processed by the mountains for thousands of years. As a mineral pitch, it’s timescales are very different than our own. In that sense, it does not appear to lose potency.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t change forms. This is especially true of the resin. One thing that can happen is that it hardens up. It’s still good to take, but you may need to chip or grind it up using it as a powder instead. You can also try the double boiler system, as described in this article, Sticky Shilajit Resin Problems, to soften it up.
What About Tinctures?
Tinctures stay potent for a long, long time. By having an alcohol content over 30% the herbal constituents are very well preserved. You’ll notice that all tinctures, including our own, are typically done in amber glass.
As covered below, this further helps to refract the light and keep them long lasting. Personally, I would have no problem taking a tincture that has been around for ten years’ time.
Just don’t leave the bottles open and you’re good to go with tinctures.
How to Properly Store Herbs
If the problems are air, light, and oxygen, storage of herbs should aim to reduce all these things. Light is the easiest thing to eliminate. No matter what you put the herbs in, they should generally be stored in cabinets or drawers, where ambient light doesn’t get to them.
Secondly, we sell, use, and highly recommend Miron glass. You can see some experiments that have been done comparing this glass to normal, clear glass, or even amber glass, and just how well they preserve the herb by bouncing off almost all light.
While expensive compared to regular glass, as long as you don’t break them, they’re a long-term investment that can pay dividends in keeping your herbs well preserved. Amber and cobalt glass are better than clear glass but not as good as Miron glass.
Air or oxygen can be partially eliminated just by keeping your herbs well sealed. If you keep them in the bags, make sure the Ziploc is sealed. (Sometimes harder done then said, if the powder gets in the zipper part!)
If you put them in jars, just screw the lid on tight. And make sure the jar is the right size for the herb, meaning try to not have lots of extra space. If the herb fits in a pint jar, don’t put it in a quart jar. In all of these cases, air will still get inside, but it can be minimized.
And heat is the easiest thing to take care of. Room temperature tends to be fine. You don’t need to refrigerate any of the herbs or anything like that.
Plastic Bags or Glass Jars?
We don’t like that we’re currently using plastic packaging. Ideally, we want to get rid of plastic completely and we’re working on that. You can read about the Dangers of Plastic HERE and BPA Plastic HERE and why you should seek to minimize it.
But plastic is good at preserving the herbs, so any other option must also preserve quality, at least as close to the same degree as possible.
Then there is the expense of other packagings, as well as shipping the herbs too. Our early experiments in glass jars for the capsules proved to have some problems too as they broke during shipment. Like I said, a work in progress.
For these reasons, one thing we recommend is that you transfer your herbs from the bags into glass jars after you receive them.
But, as shown in the “time capsule” from the video, the mylar bags our herbs are currently packaged in, are very good and preserving the herbs. Contrast the opened bag of Cordyceps, which hardened into rocks, to the still sealed Reishi. The latter of which was still powdered, and I’m now consuming it because it was so well preserved.
So, if you’re not going to start consuming an herb immediately, keeping it sealed in the outer bag is a good way to go.
What Not To Do
It might be helpful to contrast this to some things you should avoid.
Do not leave bottles or bags open and lying around.
- While sunlight is great for you, do not leave herbs sitting in the sun. Read more HERE.
- Don’t take forever to consume your herbs. Consume in a timely manner.
Hopefully, this article has given you the details you need to better preserve the quality of your herbs. If you have any additional questions and comment, please post them in the comments below…