How to Properly Store Bulk Herbs and Loose Tea

how to store bulk herbs and loose tea

Story at-a-glance -

  • Herbs and teas have a wide variety of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants that help maximize the nutrients you consume each day without adding calories
  • Whole-leaf or loose-leaf tea is healthier and more flavorful than tea bags; however, you can make your own tea bags at home with whole-leaf tea leaves to increase convenience
  • Storing bulk dried herbs and teas requires following strategies to reduce exposure to moisture and oxygen, keeping the product cool and out of direct light

By Dr. Mercola

Herbs and teas contain a wide variety of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants that help maximize the nutrients you consume each day. They help to upgrade your nutrient intake without adding calories. One 8-ounce cup of tea contains only 2 calories. Both herbs and teas have unique medicinal value as well.

For instance, herbal teas may help you relax before bed, making you feel drowsy, allowing you to fall asleep faster. However, some may also cause sleep disturbances, so it's important to know the actions you might expect from the herbs or tea before using them. Fresh herbs add flavor and have been used for thousands of years as natural treatments.1

While herbs are short on calories, many pack a powerful vitamin punch, such as parsley, which has significant amounts of vitamin K, C and A.2 Remember too that while they are natural, herbs and teas may interact with prescription medications you may be taking or with an underlying medical condition. Not all herbs or teas are appropriate for children either.3

Eating fresh herbs adds depth and flavor to your dishes, but may be more difficult to find in the winter months. Growing and drying your own herbs may offer you the benefits of fresh in the summer and healthy dried herbs through the winter. However, before jumping into purchasing loose tea leaves or drying herbs this summer, it's important to know how to best store your products so they retain the greatest amount of flavor and nutrition.

Loose-Leaf Tea Healthier Than Tea Bags

While steeping tea from a bag is slightly more convenient, especially when you're away from home, loose-leaf tea, also known as whole-leaf tea, has some distinct advantages. Whole-leaf tea is made from an entire leaf of the plant, or at least the majority of the leaf, while tea bags are often filled with very small pieces of the tea leaves, sometimes having been reduced to powder.4

When the leaves are broken, they have a larger surface area with greater opportunity for the essential oils that add to the flavor of the tea, to dissipate. When packed in a paper box with paper wrapping, the oils have ample opportunity to be absorbed. This means tea made from tea bags may taste dull and stale sooner than loose-leaf tea that has been properly stored. Some tea bags are made with whole leaf tea, although they are the exception and not the rule.

Tea bags are also blended so the taste is standardized from one box to the next, wherever that brand of tea is sold. Unfortunately, this standardization may come at a price to the quality of the tea, as many manufacturers place a premium on the flavor and price of the final product and not on the nutrient value.5 Tea bags may also contain added toxins and fillers as they are often not organically grown and fillers are added at the point of manufacture.6

There are several ways of using bulk whole-leaf tea to make your own tea bags, thus enjoying the benefits of high-flavor tea and the convenience of being able to steep your tea. One way is to use coffee filters or muslin cloth to make your own tea bag.7 Put your tea in the center of a rectangular cut cloth or filter, fold the sides in toward each other and staple together. Fold the top down twice with string in the fold hanging out, then staple.

If you'd like the do-it-yourself project to be a little easier, consider single-use, drawstring tea bags. You fill the bag with your favorite tea leaves, draw the string closed and pack away for use when you leave home. A morning or afternoon tea is an easy way to incorporate a healthy habit into your daily routine and enjoy the benefits of antioxidants and great flavor.

12 Easy Ways to Use Herbs in Your Kitchen

One of the strongest selling points for eating organic foods is to reduce your exposure to pesticides and insecticides. Organic herbs and teas offer you the same benefits. If you've been cooking with processed flavorings, consider these simple suggestions to incorporate healthy herbs into your cooking.8,9,10

Add chopped fresh or dry parsley or dill to your scrambled eggs.

Add one or two leaves of basil, mint or cilantro to your sandwiches.

Add fresh cilantro, parsley, mint or basil to your salads.

Add a generous amount of oregano or thyme to your homemade salad dressings.

Make fresh pesto with basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese and raw walnuts; add over chicken.

Rub a mixture of dried thyme and rosemary on your chicken before roasting.

Add fresh mint to iced tea or sparkling water.

Add fresh basil to your tomato sauce.

Sautee green beans or zucchini and basil, parsley or mint for added flavor.

Combine basil with raspberries or strawberries.

Rosemary works well with chicken, pork or salmon; it blends with tomatoes and spinach or add it to your quinoa.

Sage works well with squash and sweet fruit like apples. It holds up well in cooking and adds a flavor punch to sausage and cheeses.

Consider Stocking These Herbs

One of the best ways to keep fresh herbs handy for your dishes is to grow them yourself. Many herbs will grow throughout the year indoors when given a window with direct sunlight. They brighten your kitchen and provide inspiration for your cooking. Whether you snip them at home or purchase at the store, fresh herbs are relatively fragile and don't usually last more than a week after cutting.

To keep the fresh flavor longer, cut them and place in ice cube trays with bone broth. Freeze, remove from the tray and transfer to a plastic bag and keep frozen for use in soups and stews.11 Different herbs offer unique benefits to your health. Consider keeping these at home, whether fresh or dried:

Sage — Used in the Middle Ages to help prevent the plague, sage has a long history of medicinal benefits. Current research has demonstrated that sage may help prevent dementia, specifically Alzheimer's disease.12 In a four-month study, sage extract was also shown to improve cognitive function in people who already suffered from Alzheimer's disease.13

Holy Basil — This is a different type of basil than regular or Thai basil. Small studies have demonstrated an improvement in immune function, an inhibition in the growth of bacteria and yeasts14 and a reduction in blood sugar levels.15

Thyme — A member of the mint family, thyme contains a potent antioxidant oil called thymol. Teas made with thyme may be used to treat vaginal yeast infections and athlete's foot, and may be consumed to help speed recovery from an illness.16

Rosemary — This robust herb has anti-inflammatory effects that help suppress seasonal allergic responses, including runny nose and itchy, watery eyes.17

PeppermintPeppermint helps relax the smooth muscle in your colon, reducing pain and bloating associated with irritable bowel syndrome,18 but not the diarrhea often associated with the condition.19 As an aromatherapy agent, it helps reduce nausea.20

Oregano — Commonly found in Italian and Greek cooking, oregano has antiviral and antibacterial properties. It is high in antioxidants and the oil of oregano has been used for treatment of fever, cough and congestion.21

Five Teas to Boost Your Health

Tea is a tasty and healthy way of consuming antioxidants that help prevent damage from oxidation of your food during digestion. Consider drinking a couple of cups throughout the day. Different tea leaves offer different benefits you may find help you to sleep, reduce anxiety or calm an upset stomach.

Chamomile — This is one of the most popular teas in the world, with a hint of apple flavor and naturally sweet taste. Chamomile tea is a good source of magnesium that may help you de-stress at the end of the day and has a mild soothing and sedative property to help you sleep at night.

Matcha — This is the most nutrient-rich green tea and will come in the form of a stone-ground fermented powder. The best quality Matcha teas come from Japan. This tea has up to 17 times the antioxidants of wild blueberries and seven times more than dark chocolate.

Mint — Mint tea is popular for soothing your stomach and helping to alleviate heartburn, indigestion and nausea.

Lavender — Too strong to be used in tea alone, you may mix dried lavender leaves with four times the amount of mint leaves. Lavender has many health benefits I've covered in "Lavender: The Flower With Many Faces."

Black tea — Made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, the leaves are rolled, fermented, dried and then crushed before being added to tea bags. You may purchase black tea as whole-leaf tea and make your own bags at home. It has a slightly bitter flavor and contains the highest amount of caffeine of any tea.

How to Preserve Bulk Herbs and Teas

The purchase of quality bulk herbs and teas may be expensive, especially when the products oxidize and become unusable. Incorporating these plants may help improve your physical and emotional health, as well as reduce your reliance on Western medicine. Properly stored, many herbs and teas may last up to nine months, but they are best used in the first three to five months after purchase. To preserve your investment, you'll need to take some simple steps to maintain potency and flavor.22,23,24,25

Dry — Before storing herbs or teas they should be in the driest form possible if you are harvesting from your own garden. A good way to test is to crumble a leaf between your fingers. It should crumble easily and be almost crisp to the touch. Your herbs and tea should also remain dry in storage. This means keeping them in an airtight container to retard moisture and air, which can cause the product to oxidize, losing flavor and health benefits.

Keep out of direct sunlight and heat — The sun hitting jars of teas and herbs may look pretty, but the light will destroy the benefits and reduce the flavor. Instead, store in dark containers and keep away from sunny areas. Consider using small jars of herbs or teas on your counter space for decoration only, leaving the usable product out of the sun.

Some teas may store best in your refrigerator or freezer to reduce moisture and keep them cool. To do this, squeeze as much air out of a single-use package as possible before placing in your refrigerator or freezer. Remove the package several hours before use and keep unopened until the package and leaves reach room temperature to reduce the risk of condensation of the leaves.

Stay cool and dry — Your herbs and teas will retain their potency best when stored away from areas that may retain moisture, like a bathroom or even kitchen. Store on the coolest side of your home.

Watch the temperature — The best temperature for your teas and herbs is at a steady 65 to 75 degrees F (18 to 24 degrees C). For this reason bathrooms and kitchens, where the temperature often fluctuates, may not be your best option. If your home's seasonal fluctuations vary more than 1 or 2 degrees outside this range consider a root cellar or the addition of an air conditioner.

Keep away from strong odors — Teas and herbs may absorb odors from their surrounding environment, reducing the flavor. Store your ready-to-use herbs and teas in a cabinet away other foods.

Consider the container — The best containers are colored glass or stainless steel with airtight seals, completely dry and odor free. The worst containers are clear glass that let in light, containers that leak, paper or plastic.

Date the canister — To ensure healthy, flavorful herbs and teas, date your storage canister with the date you purchased or harvested from your garden to ensure you use the oldest canister first and within the first five months after purchase or harvest.

Teas Can Be Infused or Fermented

Consider fermenting the herbs to add probiotic and enzymatic elements or making an herbal infusion. Infusions are made with boiling water that is allowed to cool. The initial heat releases any dissolved gasses from the herbs and then as the water cools, a tight lid restricts the gas from re-dissolving into the water. This is known as the "wonder water" effect.26

Using dried herbal leaves, add 1 ounce to a 1-quart Mason jar and fill to the top with boiling water. Screw the lid on tightly and leave it at room temperature for four hours. Once cooled, you may strain out the plant. Drink approximately two cups per day until it has been finished. Infusions spoil rapidly, so store the unused portion in the refrigerator for 24 hours and make a new batch when you need one.

Fermenting herbs for herbal tea is yet another way of consuming herbs and tea, with additional benefits and flavor. This recipe for fermented herbal tea is courtesy of Cultures for Health.27

Ingredients

  • 1 quart of clean, fresh water
  • 1/4 cup loose herbal tea (your choice)
  • 3 tablespoons honey or unrefined cane sugar
  • 1/3 cup whey from yogurt or kefir or 1/8 teaspoon powdered starter culture or a few tablespoons of lacto-fermented vegetable brine

Instructions

  1. Prepare the herbal tea by bringing the water to a boil. Add the 1/4 cup herbs to a quart jar and pour boiling water over herbs.
  2. Cover and allow to steep for at least 10 minutes to extract the properties of the herbs.
  3. Strain the tea from the herbs into another quart jar. Add sweetener while still hot in order to dissolve the sugars. Allow to cool to room temperature with a lid on to keep out dust and bugs.
  4. When the tea and sweetener have cooled add the whey or other culture starter. Stir well with a wooden spoon, cover loosely with either a towel and rubber band or a canning lid that hasn't been tightened all the way.
  5. Place in a dark, warm place for a couple of days and check for fermentation. Is it slightly sour or slightly fizzy?
  6. If you desire a more carbonated drink you can add a bit more sweetener and cap the jar tightly. After another day (three total, depending on temperature) you should have a bubbly brew.
  7. Drink immediately or move to cold storage.