When it comes to medicinal herbs, freshness and proper handling are key to getting the most potency and value. Usually due to improper storage procedures, bargain-store herbs are often not as potent as they could be. They may have sat in the store for a long time, or worse, may have been exposed to light and air, which causes dried herbs to lose their potency. Additionally, purchasing herbs from an unreputable source leaves you vulnerable to uncertainties, such as not knowing when the herbs were harvested or how they were stored and transferred.
For smart herb buying, look for herb sellers who store their dry medicinal herbs in dark, amber glass containers, and in a temperature and humidity controlled environment. Potent, well preserved dried herbs should retain their natural color, and have a very strong aroma.
Green herbs, such as lemon balm, should still be green. Flowers such as calendula should have a vibrant yellow-orange color, and hibiscus should retain its deep maroon color. Roots should show no signs of mold and should be very dry.
When evaluating a new herb source, you may also want to ask how often the store’s stock is rotated. This should happen rather frequently. Medicinal herbs which have already been packaged into capsules or made into tinctures provide some extra assurance, provided that the herbs were fresh when they were used to make the products. Look for tinctures preserved with alcohol or glycerine, as they hold up well over time.
Local growers are usually a great source, because they harvest their herbs in small quantities, and sell them immediately. In addition, they usually know a lot about how to handle and preserve herbs.
Medicinal herbs are not an item you should try to save a few bucks on, but you can certainly save time by purchasing your herbs from reputable sellers, such as Heron Botanicals, Blessed Herbs or Mountain Rose Herbs.
As with changes in or questions about supplements or any change to your health regimen, it is a good idea to consult your Naturopathic Doctor for advice and assistance.
Murray, N.D., Michael, and Pizzorno, N.D., Joseph. 2012. New York, NY: Atria Paperback. The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.
Bone, Kerry; Mills, Simon. 2013. Elsevier Ltd. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. 2nd ed.