The thing about herbal vinegars is that they are not culinary vinegars. Culinary vinegars place a small amount of a strong smelling/tasting herb (eg tarragon) in vinegar in order to extract the taste. Herbal vinegars place a large amount of herb in vinegar for a long time in order to extract minerals, vitamins, and other goodies that you don’t get from culinary vinegars. They also taste and smell wonderful.
Herbal vinegars are both food and medicine. You can use them as a culinary vinegar too.
This is the basic fill a jar twice method that I use for tinctures, vinegars, oils etc:
* fill the jar once with chopped herb
* then fill again with vinegar.
* stir to release air and put a tight lid on
* label with date, plant, source etc and leave six weeks before decanting
* use a plastic lid. Metal lids rust when exposed to vinegar. Metal lids with that smooth lining seem to be ok, but will rust if the lining is scratched.
* I use apple cider vinegar (acv) because it tastes good, is easily accessible and is made in NZ from NZ apples. ACV has a long history of folk lore use for health and healing. You can use other food vinegars. I’m leery of the more commercial non-apple ones, because they seem industrial to me.
* you can use raw (unpasteurised) vinegar, or pasteurised vinegar. Raw vinegar will smell more like a fermented product, pasteurised will smell just like vinegar and the herb you infuse. I like raw vinegar because it’s a live culture, but pasteurised is fine too. With raw vinegar you have less leeway – it is more likely to go off if you leave it too long or the plant sticks up above the vinegar. I don’t think I’ve ever had pasteurised go off. If you have problems with raw vinegar, try pasteurised until you get the hang of it and then try the raw again.
* put the infusing jar on a plate or other container to catch any seepage. Top up the vinegar as needed (check every day to start with, then once a week). It’s important that the herb stays completely submerged beneath the vinegar to prevent mould forming.
* some vinegars will form a ‘mother’ (in a decanted vinegar this will be a floating mass). This is part of the fermentation process and isn’t a problem.
What to do with herbal vinegar
* use it as a mineral supplement
* put it on salads or grains for a tasty, nourishing treat. Vinegar (along with salt and fat) aids digestion and increases availability of the nutrients in your meal.
* put 1 tablespoon in a glass of water and drink
* herbal vinegars can be used externally for medicinal compresses or soaks.
* some herbal vinegars make lovely cosmetics – I use lavender or elderflower dilute for a hair rinse.
* herbal vinegars are also good to clean with. Choose herbs that are antiseptic like pine, lavender, thyme, rosemary etc.
* herbal vinegars can be used as medicine. People that can’t take alcohol based tinctures sometimes use vinegar as a menstruum instead. Vinegar extracts different things from plants than alcohol (some medicinal herbs were traditionally extracted into vinegar instead of alcohol because of this), so they’re not direct substitutes, but vinegar and herbs in vinegar do have their own healing powers.
Brigitte has one of the best tutorials I’ve seen on making the vinegar itself.
The list of plants you can put up in vinegar is almost endless – if you can eat a plant then you can probably make herbal vinegar from it.
Warning: there is a kind of bug you get when you make herbal vinegars, where you end up putting up every interesting plant you come across. Be prepared by hoarding jars and assigning extra storage space in your cupboards.
Here’s some of my favourites:
From left to right:
1. dandelion blossom ~ made in the spring from the flowers, but you can use any or all parts of the dandelion.
2. yellow dock root ~ I prefer yellow dock seed vinegar, but missed the ripe seeds this year. The root is best harvested once the plant has died back and after the frosts have started. Rumex crispus (yellow or curly dock) or R obtusifolia (broad leafed dock) are both fine for seed or root. I’ve not done the leaf, but am sure it would be interesting.
3. elderberry ~ berries might still available in some areas (just) if you get to them before the birds. Elderflower is a beautiful vinegar too, I like it for a hair rinse.
4. milkthistle/variegated thistle leaf ~ this should be around at the moment too.
5. plantain ~ best picked when leaf is lush and before seeding. I haven’t done this but I suspect you also could use the whole plant (leaf, seed and root, depending on the time of year). Both varieties are fine, this one was the broad leafed one. I love the subtle, dusky pink colour.
6. hawthorn berry ~ a good one to make up now. Leaf and flower in the spring would be good too.
7. fennel seed ~ also an autumn vinegar. I’ve made leaf vinegar in the past too, but prefer the stronger seed brew.
8. fat hen ~ I made this in summer from the whole above ground parts (leaf, stalk, seed). I was a bit sceptical about it, thinking it might be a bit boring, but it’s now one of my favourites.
9. shiitake ~ an imported plant! I make this from dried shiitake stalks left over from using whole shiitake mushrooms in cooking. Shiitake is an excellent immune assistant, and this vinegar is one of the tastiest.
10. feijoa ~ another import for down here but up North they’ll be ripe soon. I made this originally to see if the delightful fragrance of feijoa persisted (it does but mildly). I used the skins (because the fruity pulp had to be eaten), but if you had alot you could make some with the whole chopped fruit.
11. dandelion root ~ late autumn or winter vinegar (after the frosts and before the plant puts on its spring growth). The white colour is from the inulin in the root, a complex sugar that has many health benefits [link]
If you’re completely insane you can make Fire Cider.
Further reading on herbal vinegars and minerals:
A good overview from Black Toad herbals on which herbs have what vitamins and minerals in them.
Brigitte’s post on Herbal Minerals has a list of minerals, some of their functions, and the herbs they can be found in. You could make herbal vinegar from most of those.