Expired Herbs
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Erin Terrelle Gray
Posted on: January 27, 2000

I happened to have come across a bottle of Hawthorn Berry herbs in my medicine cabinet. They will have expired by the end of this month, but it is a full bottle. I am interested in losing weight and I would hate to throw away such an expensive bottle of herbs. How good are they after the expiration date? I hope you don’t think this question is silly and I hope even more that you will respond.

It is very difficult to pin down an exact expiry date for most herbs and herbal medicine, despite the common practice by manufacturers of putting expiry dates on packages. Unlike drugs, herbs can contain many constituents that contribute to their medicinal effects. In many cases, the active constituent or constituents are not even known to science, so how can anyone claim to know when such a herb has "expired"?

Even if when we know what the active constituents are, there are often many of them in a single herb, each with different rates of degradation. Some herbs such as the aromatic herbs peppermint and lemon balm owe their medicinal effect to votatile oils that are easily lost. Other herbs that possess more stable compounds such as alkaloids or steroids will last longer.

The degradation rate of herbs depends also on the storage conditions of the herb, and even on the quality of the herb before storage – how it was grown, harvested, dried and processed.

Most herbalists use a rule of thumb. Some insist that herbs should be stored no longer than one year. This is rather simplistic and overly conservative, but it is an effective and easy rule to apply because it does not require expensive testing, and it works for those herbs for which there are no adequate tests available.

Other herbalists use different rules for the different types of herbs, putting the expiry date of the volatile herbs at one year and more than one year for the more stable herbs.

In the case of hawthorn berry it is very likely that the product is still effective and can be taken safely. Of course, we cannot provide the assurance that the product is still safe and effective – but in our estimation, the chances are pretty good that it still is.

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