I always get worried when I am seeing people post about making a tea, decoction, or other herbal infusions and then them using them a week later. AH! If there is just water in there and no preservatives that is bad, bad, bad! Lets talk about the shelf life of different herbal products today and how you can use some simple preservatives to keep them longer. *These numbers are general but should be used as a guide.*
Water Extracts (infusion, decoction, tea)
Any extracts made with water are going to go bad the fastest of all herbal products. This is simply because water is where life comes from-including mold and bacteria that can be harmful to us. Generally water extracts are safe for about 10 hours if they are just sitting out on the counter. This goes for all teas and cold infusions as well. Drink those cold infusions up quickly after they have sit overnight.
You can easily double this shelf life by putting your water extract into the refrigerator. If you refrigerate your water extract you should drink up your herbs withing 24-48 hours. I say 48 hours is often pushing it and mold colonies can still begin to grow. When in doubt-dump it or water your plants with your tea. Do not endanger yourself.
There are two common ways to extend the life of concentrated water extracts past the 48 hour mark but they both require preservatives.
Make A Syrup
Making a syrup is not hard to do. You can follow instructions here or simply make a stronger infusion than you normally do and add honey. You want to add 1 part honey to every 1 part of tea (1 cup of tea + 1 cup of honey). A lot of honey is required so you want to make sure you have a very strong water extract. Normally this is made by concentrating the liquid after steeping.
With honey in your water extract (1:1) I generally feel safe leaving my syrup on the counter for about a month or up to 6 months in the refrigerator. I have used syrups that were in my fridge a year later but I do not recommend this.
Make A Tincture
You can also add alcohol to your water extract to extend the life. Normally to make a tincture the herbs are extracted directly into the alcohol. This is a bit different because the herb material does not necessarily go into the alcohol. Each of these methods will extract different molecules from the herb depending on their solubility so decide carefully.
Just like with adding honey you want to add 95-100% alcohol (190-200 proof) in a 1:1 ratio to your water extract. Similarly to syrups, you want to make sure that your water extract is nice and strong or you will be drinking a lot of alcohol to get your medicine this way. I generally believe this preservative method should keep your extracts up to 5 years if done properly (at least a year if not done properly). You can imagine this could be expensive however with using the high alcohol percentage.
So with these added costs and added work, simply make your tea each day and quickly enjoy it that day. Better encouragement to make your medicine and take it!
Jillian Carnrick, founder and manager of The Dancing Herbalist, has a Masters of Science Degree in Herbal Medicine, practices as a nutritionist, and is a Certified Personal Trainer and Exercise Is Medicine Professional through the American College of Sports Medicine. The Dancing Herbalist posts on this blog every Thursday. For more of our posts, join us on Patreon. Jillian also presents regular live classes in The Dancing Herbalist’s home herbalist courses online. For more learning opportunities or work one-on-one with Jillian with her wellness and herbal consultations visit The Dancing Herbalist.com.