Storing herbs correctly

I wanted to take a moment out and talk about the way that herbs and herbal products are stored and packaged.  Far too often I am seeing packaging being chosen for its looks (and marketability) over its practicality and stability.

For those of you who don’t know, some of my work is done as a Clinical Naturopath, and I specialise in Environmental Medicine – in English this means it’s my job to investigate sources of heavy metal toxicity in a person.  For example when a woman presents in my clinic with estrogen-related issues, it is my job to rule out the possibility of toxic levels of metals such as Copper and Aluminium in their system. 

Interestingly, Copper and Aluminium are two of the metals I most frequently see being used in the processing and presentation of herbal medicine products. It is important to understand that some components of plants can be corrosive to these metals, and inadvertently if you are using them on a long term basis, you may be absorbing relatively large levels of these minerals over time.

The parts of the plants which are the most actively corrosive are the resins, oleoresins, and essential/volatile oils.  If you are making any products that contain any of these things, it is wise to use Stainless Steel, ceramic or glass when you are heating them.

Also be wary of products such as essential oils, resins or salves which contain either of these, which have been packaged and stored in Aluminium tins.  I know it looks pretty, but often these salves are kept and used over a period of months, and have time to sit with the product and release some of the metal into it.  Some of you will argue that they are plastic lined or coated?  Over time these can break down, and honestly these aren’t something you want in your system either!

I personally don’t like to use much in the way of essential oils in products, for a few reasons, but many of the companies who are processing the plants into the oils still use copper distiller systems.  Copper is an amazing conductor, but it’ also one of the easiest metals to leach into herbal products.  If you are looking to distil your own plant matter, I strongly urge you to look at using a stainless steel one, especially if you might be using your own product over a long period of time.

Generally speaking, your dried herbs  and resins should be stored in glass, which is preferably dark in colour, or at least stored out of direct sunlight if its clear; light degrades the delicate active plant constituents quickly. Heat can do the same thing, so the cooler the storage cupboard, the better.

If breakability is an issue for you, the harder plastic jars will be fine, as they have been tested against corrosive materials. 

The last thing I urge you to consider is the documented levels of chemicals which can be found in the bleached teabags we commonly use.  Over the course of a day/week/month/year/ lifetime, these fat-soluble chemicals can build up in the body and reap havoc on our hormones.    If you are an avid tea drinker like I am, I strongly recommend you swap to using loose-leaf herbs and teas in a teapot. It’s a far less toxic way to drink your favourite brew.

Please be mindful of how you consume your herbs, because if you are anything like me (and use plant medicine on a daily basis), the last thing you want to do is accumulate unwanted toxins along the way.