ByJoanna Lacey

May 26, 2021
spices and herbs in glass jars on shelf

Sometimes it can be challenging to live a low-waste or zero-waste lifestyle when you find yourself in possession of things you’re not sure how to use up. That was the case for me with items from Mom’s spice shelf.

My mom always had a shelf in her kitchen cabinet where she kept her cooking essentials: oils, sugar, flour, and multiple jars of spices. I can still see them there; some had been on that shelf for years!

When Mom passed away, I didn’t know what to do with all of her little jars of spices and herbs. How old were they? Would I be able to use them up before they went bad or lost their flavor? Since I don’t like to waste anything, I took them home to see what I could do with them.

I checked to see which ones I still wanted to use for cooking (the ones that seemed fresh and were not past the expiration date). For the rest, I would have to think about what I wanted to do before throwing them away.

What To Do With Expired Spices & Herbs?

One obvious choice for expired spices and herbs is the garden. The elderly man who took care of the garden in front of my mom’s building used pepper to keep away pests like squirrels. And I could compost the green herbs.

Before I discard anything and send it to a landfill, I’ve gotten in the habit of searching for “another use for …” on the internet. So, I tried this for Mom’s old spices.

Some of the best ideas that I found are to stud an orange with cloves to make an old-fashioned pomander, simmer spices with citrus peels to make a pleasant home aroma, and my favorite: add a little cinnamon and ginger to your sugar scrub for some zest and fragrance.

How Can I Avoid Wasting Herbs & Spices?

Thinking about spices made me wonder how, as a single person, I could enhance my cooking with herbs and spices and not be wasteful by having to discard any spices that I couldn’t use up.

One way to avoid purchasing lots of jars of spices is to buy a spice blend. Think “curry spice” or “Italian medley.” And when I buy a bunch of fresh herbs, I freeze what I haven’t used so they don’t spoil. I can then take out as much as I need and put the rest back into the freezer. The frozen herbs work well for soups, stews, and even pasta dishes!

Another solution is to grow your own and just pick what you need. I have basil and scallions growing in my kitchen right now. Starting in late spring, I will have lavender, thyme, and cilantro in our library’s community garden. I pick as much as I want to use and leave the rest of the plant for others to enjoy.

I think that if we are thoughtful in our use and purchase of delicate and perishable items like herbs and spices, we can further reduce our carbon footprint by not wasting product or the water and energy used in growing and transporting the food that we eat.

Feature image by monicore from Pixabay. This post was originally published on April 27, 2019.

By Joanna Lacey

Joanna Lacey lives in New York and has collected thousands of ideas from the frugal habits of her mother and grandmother. You can find her on Facebook at Joanna the Green Maven.