What to do with Old and Outdated Spices and Herbs

Bulk herbs and spices from the market in old Cahors, France.
On a particularly frigid afternoon earlier in January, I finally cleaned out my spice cupboard.

I'm not sure why I put this chore off for so long, as it is not especially unpleasant. I probably had at least 100 jars of varying sizes, most dating back to my early days of blogging. Experts say purchased ground spices are only good for a year or two (their volatile oils begin to dissipate after grinding), and recommend you purchase whole spices instead, grinding them on an as-needed basis.

I have often ignored this advice, but I won't in the future. Retiring early has forced me to think twice about unnecessary purchases (did we really need four jars of peppercorns?).

To grind spices, I usually use a mortar and pestle, but there are many spice grinders on the market. If you have a coffee grinder, that can also be used to grind spices.

Cleaning out a spice cabinet is a half-day job in my kitchen. But I was highly motivated to do the job in order to justify buying some new, salt-free mixes from Penzeys, a Wisconsin vender I have been using for more than 20 years.

I emptied out at least 50 percent of my spice collection, recycling most of the bottles, and only tossing out the mixes that contained salt.

I don't like wasting anything.

What can you do with old spices, past their expiration dates and no longer fragrant and flavorful? Plenty, as it turns out.

Use them as carpet refresher. Here's a simple recipe I used and it really made my house smell good, much like herbs de Provence:
  • 2 tablespoons culinary lavender
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon ground thyme
  • 1 tablespoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup dried peppermint tea leaves
Combine in a small jar or bowl; shake to blend.

I used the mix on the carpet in our TV room, which gets a lot of traffic. It reminded me of the essential oils used by massage therapists to create a relaxing ambiance. I made more, and will use it whenever I vacuum.

I also made some squirrel repellent, which I use near the bird feeders in our back yard. Squirrels don't like hot spices, but birds ignore them.

I blended:
  • 3 tablespoons cayenne pepper
  • 3 tablespoons dried red peppers
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
I used it on and around our feeders and have not observed squirrels chasing birds away for several weeks now. It made the back yard between the kitchen window and the horse barn smell wonderful.

I also use old spices - but nothing containing salt - in my compost, along with coffee grounds and tea leaves.

Discarded herbs and spices may also be used in candle making or soap making, or in tea dyes and other organic dyes. See this link for some additional ideas.

Here is a handy chart for determining how long you can keep spices before they "go bad" or are less potent. Here's another one that includes flavor packets and extracts.

Now that my cupboard is clean, I find I am using spices and herbs more frequently in my cooking.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin


Christine said…
Very informative post, Mimi. I did not know about hot spices being a squirrel deterrent. I wonder if it would keep chipmunks out of my greenhouse? I don't purge my spice closet very often but you've put the bug in my ear. Good winter project!
Mimi Johns said…
Try it, Christine, and let me know if it works. I'm going to try it in and around the horse barn, which we need to remodel, because squirrels get it there. Also, I'm going to buy cayenne pepper in bulk from the dollar store because this is an expensive project, if the spices are not old.
Janine Smith said…
You should know that using hot spices to deter wildlife causes their eyes to burn, and many animals will scratch their eyes and hurt themselves badly. Would you like someone to cover your Habitat with stinging, burning spices? Please be kind to them!
M.D. Johns said…
Good point. I never found that this method works well, anyway.

Popular Posts