Herbs 101: Back to the Basics

Recipes, remedies and storing tips

| January/February 2000

How Fresh are Bulk Herbs? 

Buying bulk herbs, teas, and spices that are kept in glass jars at herb and health-food stores is an inexpensive and environmentally friendly way to obtain your herbs. However, it’s difficult to know how long the herbs have been sitting on the shelves. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind when selecting bulk products.

• Look for strong color. Dried herbs should have almost the same color they have when fresh.

• Open the jar and sniff. Not all herbs smell good, but they should smell strong. Herbs, such as peppermint, that contain volatile oils, should make your nose tingle.

• Inspect for contamination. Carefully study the herb jar to look for mouse droppings, signs of mold, live or dead bugs, or excessive amounts of other plant materials, such as dry grass.

• Buy only as much as you need. The longer the herbs sit around, the less potent they become. Buy the amount of herbs you know you’ll need and store them in dark glass jars away from sunlight.

Sources: Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbal Healing for Women. New York: Fireside, 1993.
Ody, Penelope. Pocket Medicinal Herbs. New York: DK ­Publishing, 1997.

Health-Food Customers Look to Herbs 

Medicinal herbs are growing in popularity and seem to be ­attracting increasing numbers of consumers. Herbal ­supplements ranked at the top of the product categories most likely to bring new customers into a health-food store, according to a survey commissioned by Health Products Business magazine. The results were based on phone and questionnaire data collected between December 1998 and February 1999, from 334 health-food stores. Sixty-six percent of the store owners surveyed ranked herbal supplements as the number one product enticing new customers into their stores. And there’s good news for the relatively uneducated herbal consumer: 75 percent of store managers rated their staff’s knowledge of herbal supplements as ­excellent/very good. Homeopathic remedies and aromatherapy products were also ranked high in terms of new customer ­appeal, but ranked lower in terms of staff knowledge.

How to Make a Simple, Beneficial Herb Tea

The purpose of making a cup of herb tea is to extract the medicinal virtues of an herb into a cup of water. For teas made with flowers and leaves, begin with 1 ounce of dried herbs or 2 ounces of fresh herbs; bring 1 quart of water close to the boiling point, then pour over the loose herbs. Steep for about 20 minutes. Strain the liquid and drink several servings throughout the day.

Herbs that have heat-sensitive volatile oils—such as mint or rose petal—are best prepared using a cold method. Use the same proportions as above and let the herbs soak for 24 hours in a glass container in the refrigerator. This will extract the greatest amount of minerals from the herbs but a lesser amount of the tannins, which give herbs such as rose petal and blackberry their astringency and bitter taste.

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