Storage

Keep freshly ground spices chilled rather than storing them at room temperature. To keep them fresh longer, grind and make them into a paste by adding a little of olive oil. Store in small sealed containers or freeze for up to 6 months.

Keep ground spices in small glass jars with airtight seals in a cool, dark cupboard. Opaque jars made either of china or metal don't need to be stored in a dark place but should still be kept in a cool (but not chilled) place.

The dried herbs may be kept in containers that are airtight or at any rate made of non-hygroscopic materials. Be sure to label them individually; in the end, with so many closed containers that look alike, there is no other way to distinguish them.

Make sure to keep the herbs and spices dry, don't use a wet measuring spoon to dip into the bottle and don't hold the bottle near steam.

Spices don't spoil or go bad, but they do lose strength. Here's a general guideline for storing your herbs and spices..

• Whole Spices & Seeds: 3 to 4 years

• Ground Spices: 2 to 3 years

• Leafy Herbs: 1 to 3 years

• Seasoning Blends: 1 to 2 years


Decoctions

A tea, or to use the French term, a tisane, is an infusion of flavorful plant material in hot water, below the boiling point. While the best-known tea herb is Camellia sinensis, yielding green teas, black teas, and oolong teas, including herbs and spices, can also be brewed into delicious tisanes or herbal teas. The technique differs according to the material you choose to brew.

The following method is recommended for leafy herbs, such as mint or wintergreen, and for flower parts, such as monarda or saffron. First, begin with fresh cold water, preferably filtered or bottled water is usually best, if your tap water does not taste good. Bring an ample quantity of water to a full boil in a kettle. Do not overboil the water, for it will lose its aeration and the tea will taste flat.

If possible, choose a ceramic or glass teapot; metal pots often impart a taste. Warm the pot with a little hot water from the kettle, then pour it out. Add one teaspoon of dried herb for each cup you want to make. The exact measurement depends upon the type of herb selected, its freshness and strength, and your own preferences.

Make sure the water is properly hot. Pour the water over the leaves, cover the pot, and let the tea steep for 3 to 5 minutes. If you want to make the beverage stronger, use more herb rather than more time because the best flavor generally steeps out first. When the tea is ready, pour it through a strainer into cups. Stir in sugar if desired; for herbs, such as balm leaves, honey is a more harmonious sweetener.