Sustainable use of herbs means researching how the plants are sourced, harvested and stored and determining what you will use in a reasonable amount of time. Assessing your consumption and making choices based on actual need is essential to being a good steward of Earth’s resources. Choose readily available, easy-to-grow herbs with many uses.
Explore the idea of wildcrafting, a.k.a. foraging, which is the practice of gathering herbs, plants, and fungi from the wild. When done with care and with plants that can sustain the harvest, wildcrafting is an ideal choice for those familiar with their local wild herbs and when to safely pick from what nature provides. Wildcrafting requires a good amount of plant knowledge so don’t go foraging on a whim. Take a class with a local horticulture society, garden club, or one offered by a local college agricultural extension program.
When wildcrafting is not feasible, source herbs from a domestic grower. The majority of herbs sold online can come from as far away as Egypt. With a little research you can find herb farms in the United States and maybe one within reasonable driving distance of your home (See: Sustainable Herbal Farm and Ethical Wildcrafters in the US). If you are fortunate to find a local herb grower, it really is your best source because they harvest herbs in small quantities and sell them immediately. You receive fresh herbs that, when properly prepared or dried and stored, retain potency. In addition, local growers are always happy to provide customer education regarding uses and proper storage.
Dried herbs should not be exposed to light and air. It’s best to store herbs in amber or other dark-colored glass, preferably in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment. Potent, well preserved dried herbs should retain their natural color and have a very strong aroma; roots should remain dry and mold-free.
To ensure herb availability for future generations, try to incorporate as many of these practices in your use of herbs for both medicinal and cooking purposes.