Let me begin by saying that I recommend gathering your own herbs if at all possible, in part because this is the only way to really ensure the quality and treatment of the plants is truly optimal. And do realize, that pretty much wherever you are, you have the ability to collect some of your own food and medicine. Any child can learn to recognize a few basic (but very important) herbs, and so can you! Perhaps most important, is that this is one of the best ways to form a lasting and powerful relationship with the plants.
However, I know that many of you have neither the time, expertise, land, energy or even desire to realistically harvest the bulk of your herbs. So here’s some of my experience-based understandings to help you knowledgeably purchase your medicinal herbs. Over the years, I’ve seen that many herbs will behave in their expected way even if not of the premium organic, small farm variety. I’ve also noticed that some plants simply MUST be harvested very carefully from a healthy environment in order for them to work well (if at all). With a few of these herbs it’s totally clear that they just don’t work, as in the Skullcap is completely inert. In other cases, they seem to work, kind of, of they work well in some ways but the breadth and depth of their effect has been lost somewhere in the industrial process, (Ashwagandha is especially prone to this).
First of all, just completely avoid all plant matter that is some indeterminate shade of yellow-brown and has that distinct musty smell. Reject any herb that does not still look very much like it did while alive, it should still be vibrant and inspirited. If you’re buying from an herb store, it’s really preferable that the proprietor of the shop know where the herbs came from, when they were harvested and purchased and something about the nature of the herb itself (something besides the newest drivel from alt. health glossies).