HOW LONG DO HERBS AND HERBAL SUPPLEMENTS LAST? WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT EXPIRATION DATES
& How To Keep Them Fresher, Longer
Whether you use dried herbs to cook with or you take herbal supplements, it can be tricky to know how long they’re good for. The “best by” date for herbs and herbal supplements can depend on a lot of things, including what kind of herbs they are, how they are preserved, and how they’re stored.
Let’s break it down.
When Do Herbal Supplements Expire?
When herbs are dried and preserved, they last much longer than other food products like meat or cheese. While fresh herbs might last a week or two, dried herbs and herbal supplements can last for years. They typically won’t grow mold or become rotten like improperly dried food.
Instead, over time most of them simply become less potent. So while taking an old herbal supplement (probably) won’t kill you, it also won’t work as well as it would if it were fresher.
The FDA doesn’t require that health supplement packaging have an expiration date like it does for prescription drugs. Companies have the option to include this, but only if it’s backed up by research that shows the dried herb or product has been tested and proven to be as strong after the specified time frame. All this means that your herbal supplements might not have an expiration date on them.
But if they do have a sell or best-by date, it’s often still ok to consume them after this date passes. The expiration date for supplements usually reflects how long an herb or supplement will remain at 100% potency. After the date listed, it will slowly get weaker over time. But unless it’s moldy, an old supplement shouldn’t do any harm.
In general, herbal supplements and vitamins last about two years before they start to get weaker. When freeze-dried as most are, the herbal powders interact too easily with oxygen. However, water-based liquids, oils, and probiotics should be used before a year is up because they degrade more quickly.
How Long Do Dried Herbs and Spices Last?
When it comes to herbs and spice used for cooking, the rules aren’t much different. The FDA doesn’t require an expiration date on these foods because they’re made to be stored for a long time. Here’s the general rules to stick by when it comes to herbs and spices:
- Dried herbs like basil, rosemary, and sage are best between 1 and 3 years if you store them correctly.
- Ground and powdered herbs like cinnamon, paprika, and ginger last a little less long because they have more surface area to oxidize.
- Whole spices, on the other hand, last quite long. If you have whole nutmeg, peppercorns, or cloves, those will stay potent for as many as 4 years.
Like herbal supplements, spices and dried herbs don’t become dangerous after their “expiration date.” They simply become less potent and delicious!
In Fresno, California a cache of pharmaceutical medicines was found that had been kept dark and dry for 50 years. They were within 90% potent. This is not true of refrigerated pharmaceuticals like insulin and probably not tetracyclines. The remaining meds in the cache were slightly less potent.
All herbs of commerce have a specific HPLC signature which identifies them. According to Roy Upton, president of the American Herbal Pharmacopeia, there’s a piece of ancient ginseng root at least 750 years old that has been kept in a Chinese university and is occasionally tested. It exhibits the same signatures as fresh ginseng, but is, of course, not quite as strong. He had personally stored a dried rose for some 20 years and found that organoleptically it had a strong rose odor. He also cites an Echinacea sample from the 19th Century, that, by using HPLC was found to have characteristic signatures of similar current Echinacea.
Not all herbs will do this. Valerian, for instance, is known to have different characteristics after being picked fresh or drying. Similarly, St. John’s Wort is usually tinctured in the field by knowledgeable herbalists, as it loses potency fast. Shepherds’ purse lasts about 6 months. Milky stage oats retain their nervine qualities for a matter of days.
How To Tell If Your Herbs Are Losing Potency
No matter what you do, your dried herbs and herbal supplements will get weaker over time. Things like sunlight, air quality, and heat will affect how your herbs last in your pantry. Generally, the less exposure to light, air, and heat, the longer your herbs will stay potent and strong.
When your herbs and herbal supplements start to weaken, you might notice some clumping. Powders will clump into chunks or balls, and may even become hard or semi-solid. You should also keep an eye out for discoloration. When the color of your herbs starts to change, it’s a safe bet that there’s some chemical changes going on.
Of course, the easiest way to tell if your herbs are getting weaker is simply to take the lid off and sniff them. Herbs that are losing their potency won’t have as strong of a scent or flavor as fresher herbs.
How To Store Your Herbs and Supplements To Keep Them Fresher, Longer
There are 3 things that can age herbs and herbal supplements faster than normal: oxygen, light, and heat. So to keep your herbs fresher, longer, make sure to avoid those 3 things no matter what. Here are some quick tips for preserving your supplements:
- Lights Out: Make sure to keep your herbs and supplements away from any light, natural or artificial. It’s best to keep bottles in a drawer or cabinet so they’re protected from light most of the time.
- Tighten Up: Another key to preserving your herbs is keeping out the oxygen. You want to store them in a way that they’re sealed as tightly as possible. If you choose, you can store them in ziploc bags as long as the zipper is nice and secure. And if you keep them in a jar or bottle, always twist the lid on tight.
- Use Glass if Possible: But, only if you keep them cool and filled. Plastic containers can pick up flavors of your herbs and are permeable to air.
- Keep It Cool: You also want to keep herbs and herbal supplements nice and cool. Room temperature is fine, but if you live in a warmer climate make sure to store them somewhere that stays colder than the rest of your house.
What Not To Do
- Skip the Fridge: To keep your herbs potent, you want to keep them cool so your first thought might be to stick them in the fridge. However, fridges tend to be damper than other environments, so this can actually have the opposite effect that you’re going for. Unless the packaging recommends keeping the product in the fridge, a cool cabinet should be fine.
- Keep It Closed: Inside the bottle, bag or jar you use, your herbs and supplements are exposed to a small amount of oxygen. But every time you open it up, more oxygen rushes in to make your herbs less potent. You can minimize this by tightly closing the lid immediately when you’re done with the supplement. Don’t lead bottles and jars hanging around with a lid.
- Make It Quick: Of course, the best thing you can do is to use your herbal supplements and spices as quickly as possible so they don’t have the chance to weaken.
Now you know how long your herbs and supplements will Last, it’s time to brush up on your knowledge about how herbs and eastern medicine can help you. And don’t forget to check out our herbal blends to help keep you happy and healthy.