Herbal Extracts: Herbal Vinegars

Herbal vinegars are widely popular both as a condiment and an ingredient in homemade salad dressing, but they also have their place in the medicine cabinet. In fact, many plants that are traditionally prepared as herbal vinegars easily straddle the divide between medicine and spice. And while both alcohol and water are stronger solvents for most medicinal constituents, vinegar extracts hold their own in several areas:

 

  • Medicinal vinegar extracts can be a good choice for people who avoid alcohol-based tinctures.
  • Vinegar draws out minerals more effectively than alcohol and thus makes an excellent solvent for mineral-rich herbs.
  • Culinary vinegars are a delightful way to enjoy the flavors and medicinal qualities of our favorite kitchen herbs.
  • In particular, the flavor and heat of spicy herbs easily lends itself to vinegar.
  • Vinegar is made from the bacterial fermentation of alchol into acetic acid and water. It varies in acidity, depending on the type. Apple cider vinegar is the most popular for medicinal preparations.

Most herbalists prefer to make culinary vinegars, including spicy vinegars like fire cider, from fresh herbs rather than dried. Just make sure to check the percentage of vinegar you wish to use; look for 5 - 6% or higher when preparing herbal vinegars with fresh herbs in order to minimize spoilage. It is optimal to refrigerate vinegars made with fresh herbs as the fresh herbs will dilute the vinegar with their water content.

For medicinal and mineral-rich vinegars, it is preferable to extract your vinegar with dried herbs, as your finished product will be a stronger medicine, with a longer shelf life. Vinegar-based extracts have a shorter shelf life than alcohol based tinctures and should generally be used within six months to one year for fresh herbal vinegars and one to five years for dried herb vinegars.

Materials List for Herbal Vinegars

Canning jar of appropriate size with a plastic lid or a metal lid lined with a piece of natural wax paper.

  • Dried or fresh herbs
  • Labeling materials
  • Vinegar of choice
  • Straining cloth
  • Flip-top bottle or used glass vinegar bottle to store your finished vinegar

Directions for Herbal Vinegars with Fresh and Dried Herbs

  • Wash and sterilize a one-quart canning jar. One way to sterilize the jar is by placing it in a pot of hot water, propped up on a mason jar lid to keep it off the bottom of the pot. Bring the pot to a boil, and boil for 10 minutes. Let cool and remove carefully. Avoid touching the inside of the jar with any nonsterilized implements.
  • If using fresh herbs, wash your herbs and chop coarsely.
  • Loosely fill the jar with the desired fresh herbs or fill halfway with dried herbs and top off with your vinegar of choice. Note that the stronger tasting the herb, the less you might want to use.
  • Fasten the lid onto the jar.
  • Label with the name of the herb, the date, and the type of vinegar.
  • Place in a dark cabinet for four to six weeks.
  • Strain through a cloth - either muslin, tight-weave cheesecloth, cotton gauze fabric or a clean t-shirt. Be sure to press the herb when you strain either by wringing it out or putting it through a potato ricer.
  • Pour the strained vinegar into a sterilized jar with a lid that won’t corrode, and label with the ingredients and date.
  • Store in the fridge and use within six months to one year if made with fresh herbs or one to five years if made with dried herbs.

Herbal vinegars made from tonic, food herbs, such as nettle, chickweed, dandelion, cleavers and violet can be taken liberally: 1 Tablespoon, one to three times a day. The general dosage for vinegars made from stronger medicinal herbs is 1 teaspoon, three times a day. Consider taking the vinegar with food, as it will be better assimilated, and the acid will be less likely to aggravate digestion or cause issues with tooth enamel.

Spicy vinegars can also be added to honey and be taken daily to stimulate the immune system and warm the body. The heat of these preparations helps clear out the sinuses and can effectively ward off impending infection. Hot peppers, horseradish, onions, ginger, garlic, and sometimes peppercorns for the basis of a fire cider - a medicinal vinegar.

Vinegars made from high-mineral herbs are a great way to sneak some extra nutrition into the diet. When you add vinegar to foods that are high in minerals, such as dark leafy greens, the acidity helps the body assimilate those minerals.

Recipe for Springtime Vinegar

  • 1/2 cup dried stinging nettle leaves
  • 1/2 cup dried dandelion leaf and flowers
  • 1/2 cup dried violet leaf and flowers
  • 1/2 cup dried cleavers, leaf and stem
  • 1/2 cup dried chickweed

Add the ingredients to a sterilized quart jar with the vinegar of your choice and follow the directions for dried herb vinegars. The daily dosage is 1 to 3 tablespoons. Enjoy!

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