There are two times of year that I feel inspired to do a bit of tidying and organizing—at the turn of a new year and in the first days of spring. These different seasons call for different types of cleaning. I love doing a deep green clean in the spring when I can open my windows and hear the birds serenade me as I reinvigorate my space. But winter inspires more organization and the urge to purge the things that are no longer serving their purpose for me. One of the annual new year traditions I have found beneficial for my herbal practice and happy homestead is refreshing my spice rack and home apothecary. I clean out the older materials so that I can open up space for fresh new ingredients that are better able to serve my body and my mind.
How long do spices and herbs last?
Your senses will tell you a lot. The vibrancy and aroma of botanicals fade as they oxidize over time. If you notice that your herbal allies are no longer smelling or looking like they should, it’s time to refresh your stock. At Mountain Rose Herbs, we recommend using herbal powders within one year of purchase. For cut or whole herbs and spices, 1-2 years is an ideal timeframe. Roots and barks, however, are generally potent for about 2-3 years. In general, older herbs just lose their potency, so they won’t work in the way that you are likely intending to incorporate them into your wellness routine. All is not lost if your herbs are a bit stale, though. There are still some fun and useful ways to enjoy them.
As an individual who values a zero-waste lifestyle, I’ve come up with some creative ways to utilize these less-than-fresh botanical goods. Here are some of my favorite sustainability hacks for you to try.
- Stovetop Potpourri: By adding herbs and spices to a pot of simmering water on the stove, you can enjoy the aromatic components in your personal space.
- Homemade Soap with Herbs: Adding an herbal infusion from cut or whole herbs or herbal powders adds a nice element to homemade soap, and using the herbs and spices topically is a wonderful way to get some of the benefits of our past-their-prime plant allies.
- Body Scrub: I learned this hack when I couldn’t bear to discard my herbs after making herbal infusions. By blending herbs together with oil, you can create an herbally-awesome body scrub! If working with powder, you’ll cover the material with just enough oil to make it workable. For cut or whole herbs, you can use a blender with added oil to macerate the material. If you prefer more grit, you can add some salt or sugar to the mixture, though I like to make mine a finer consistency to create a microderm-abrasion type of effect.
- Herbal Carpet Freshener: Sprinkle herbal powders (ones that don’t stain!) into your carpet and vacuum as you normally would. Some good choices include lavender, rosemary, and peppermint powder.
- Scented Candles: Add powdered herbs to your favorite scented candle recipe. (You will not want to use cut or whole herbs as this can pose a fire hazard).
- Herbal Fairy Dust: For all of the magical-minded children out there, making an aromatic “fairy dust” from older herbal powders is a fun way to invoke creativity and give the plant material a life better suited for its diminished level of freshness. Some fun choices are rose, lavandin, rosemary, or chamomile powder.
- DIY Fire Starters with Herbs: I found these artful fire starters to be a great way to use up old herbs and spices. They make great gifts, and create quite the aromatic ambiance when lighting your fireplace or campfire.
- Herbal Mandala Art: Herbal mandalas are just about the most fun and artistically creative use of older herbs. You can make your herbal eye-candy in a way that can later be composted, or you can add some glue to a board and create herbal art to enjoy for longer.
- Cleaning Vinegar: Infuse your past-prime plant pals in vinegar to add some zest to your DIY cleaning solution.
- Compost: And then there is the old faithful solution of composting. Composting plant material is a great way to feed your garden for the coming season. Anything we can do to add vitality back to the land is always a win. When you compost, nothing is truly ever wasted!
Looking for other ways to tidy up your herb-stash?
You may also enjoy:
- How to Clean and Reuse Bottles and Jars
- How to Create a Home Apothecary
- Sustainable Living at Home: 5 Natural Kitchen Swaps