Storing Your Own Herbs and Spices

By Grubbycup
Published: March 16, 2023
Key Takeaways

Collecting and using fresh cooking herbs from the garden is a treat, but with a little effort a good spice or herb harvest can be stored and used for months.

In botany, an herbaceous plant is a non-woody vascular plant that either dies or dies back to ground after flowering. Other disciplines including culinary, religious, medicinal, and aromatherapy tend to define herbs and spices somewhat differently.

Herbalists tend to regard any useful part of a plant as an herb, and the American Spice Trade Association uses the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations definition of: “The term spice means any aromatic vegetable substance in the whole, broken, or ground form… whose significant function in food is seasoning rather than nutritional.”

From a culinary home-usage standpoint (which is the standpoint most concerned over the difference between an herb and a spice without a reason to have one or the other be all inclusive), herbs and spices are used to add flavor, color, or otherwise enhance a dish.

A rule of thumb on the matter is that if the leaves of a plant are used then it is an herb, and if any other part of the plant (stems, seeds, flowers, fruits, bark, etc.) is used then it is a spice. For example, cilantro is an herb as it is the leaves from a cilantro plant. Coriander is a spice as it is the seeds from a cilantro plant.


Herbs and Spices You Can Grow at Home

a box full of harvested herbs such as rosemary and thyme.

Some common herbs to grow at home include basil, fresh dill, oregano, mint, tea, and thyme. Depending on your gardening zone the spices dill seeds, cayenne, ginger, turmeric, coriander, mustard, and paprika can be grown.

There are many other herbs and spices, as with fruits and vegetables, that can be grown in your local gardening zone or indoors. While some require specialized conditions to do well, others have a fairly large range that they can thrive in. Basil, in particular, is not only available in many gardening zones, but is generally considered an easy plant to grow. Spice peppers such as cayenne and paprika can be grown in areas where other peppers do well.

While many fresh herbs can be used throughout much of their growth cycle, the best time to harvest is generally right before flowering. Spices are often (but not always) collected from the plant after flowering as they may use the flowers, fruits, or seeds of the plant.


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Preserving Your Homegrown Herbs and Spices

an assortment of frozen herbs in bags and ice cube trays

A good harvest can bring in more herbs and spices than is immediately needed. By preserving herbs and spices they can be enjoyed for much of the rest of the year as well.

One simple and easy way to preserve herbs is by freezing. Put a portion size in an ice cube tray with a little water or oil and freeze. Once solid, remove from trays and put into labeled and dated freezer bags, then to use, add a cube or two while cooking.

Another common way to preserve herbs and spices is by drying them and then storing. Herbs and some spices are generally allowed to air dry until mold is no longer a danger when sealed in a container. In humid climates or if the material is too thick to air dry, a dehydrator or warm (not hot) oven can be used to speed the process.

Whole spices tend to keep longer than ground spices, so for best results store them whole and grind right before use. Dried herbs and spices tend to start out more flavorful than their fresh counterparts, but the flavor tends to fade the older they get, especially if not kept in proper conditions.


Proper Storage for Herbs and Spices

assorted herbs and spices stored in glass jars

Harvested and dried herbs and spices should be stored under dry, airtight, consistently cool, and dark conditions.

Herbs and spices should be well dried before sealing into containers. They should be stored in dry conditions as moisture can quickly lead to molding. It is best to err on the drier side of caution, as herbs and spices that are a little too dry are usable, however, herbs kept too moist will mold which can ruin even the best-grown herbs and spices.

Even before visible damage occurs, moist plant material when molding may exhibit an ammonia aroma indicating it is too late to prevent damage. Mold spores are ubiquitous in the environment, so completely eliminating them is generally not practical. A more practical solution to prevent mold is to keep herbs and spice in a dry enough environment to prevent any mold spores present from growing and establishing colonies.

While it is nice to open a jar of fragrant herbs or spices and smell the delightful aroma, each time the jar is opened a small portion of the volatile oils (and especially terpenes) that have evaporated into the air are lost. A significant part of the flavor of spices involves volatile oils oxidizing in the air. Storing spices whole and then grinding right before use minimizes the amount lost in storage and maximizes the amount available during use. Humidity in the jar will also be affected by humidity in the room it is opened in. Both of these can reduce the quality of herbs and spices.

Lavender wands, herbal wreaths, or simple hanging sprigs of herbs and spices can be a pretty and aromatic way to proudly display homegrown harvests. Unfortunately, for the best storage herbs and spices should be kept in the dark as much as possible to avoid light damage, and in sealed containers to delay terpene evaporation.

One advantage to growing herbs and spices is the ability to grow more than one needs for cooking purposes, so some of the harvest can be stored properly for cooking needs, and the excess can be used for decoration and display.

When stored unopened in an airtight container, herbs and spices can remain potent for months or even years. Mason jars (or other airtight lidded glass jars) are popular storage containers. Ideally, the sealed jars are kept in a dark, infrequently disturbed cool area. It is often best to keep the main store of an herb or spice in a larger jar, and transfer some to small containers for everyday use as needed.


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Written by Grubbycup | Indoor Gardener, Owner & Writer of Grow with Grubbycup

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Grubbycup has been an avid indoor gardener for more than 20 years. His articles were first published in the United Kingdom, and since then his gardening advice has been published in French, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Czechoslovakian and German. Follow his gardening adventures at his website

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