A pantry full of herbal vinegars is a constant delight. Preserving fresh
herbs and roots in vinegar is an easy way to capture their nourishing
goodness. It’s easy, too. You don’t even have to have an herb garden.
Basic Herbal Vinegar
Takes 5 minutes plus 6 weeks to prepare
You will need:
glass or plastic jar of any size up to one quart/liter
plastic lid for jar or
waxed paper and a rubber band
fresh herbs, roots, weeds
one quart/liter apple cider vinegar
Fill any size jar with fresh-cut aromatic herbs. (See accompanying list
for suggestions of herbs that extract particularly well in vinegar.)
For best results and highest mineral content, be sure the jar is well
filled with your chosen herb, not just a few sprigs, and be sure to
cut the herbs or roots up into small pieces.
Pour room-temperature apple cider vinegar into the jar until it is full.
Cover jar with a plastic screw-on lid, several layers of plastic or
wax paper held on with a rubber band, or a cork. Vinegar disintegrates
Label the jar with the name of the herb and the date. Put it some place
away from direct sunlight, though it doesn’t have to be in the dark,
and someplace that isn’t too hot, but not too cold either. A kitchen
cupboard is fine, but choose one that you open a lot so you remember
to use your vinegar, which will be ready in six weeks.
Apple cider vinegar has been used as a health-giving agent for centuries.
Hippocrates, father of medicine, is said to have used only two remedies:
honey and vinegar. A small book on Vermont folk remedies–primary among
them being apple cider vinegar–has sold over 5 million copies since
its publication in the fifties. A current ad in a national health magazine
states that vinegar can give me a longer, healthier, happier life. Among
the many powers of vinegar: it lowers cholesterol, improves skin tone,
moderates high blood pressure, prevents/counters osteoporosis, and improves
metabolic functioning. Herbal vinegars are an unstoppable combination:
the healing and nutritional properties of vinegar married to the aromatic
and health-protective effects of green herbs (and a few wild roots).
Herbal vinegars don’t taste like medicine. In fact, they taste so good
I use them frequently. I pour a spoonful or more on beans and grains
at dinner; I use them in salad dressings; I season stir-fry and soups
with them. This regular use boosts the nutrient-level of my diet with
very little effort and virtually no expense. Sometimes I drink my herbal
vinegar in a glass of water in the morning, remembering the many older
women who’ve told me that apple cider vinegar prevents and eases their
arthritic pains. I aim to ingest a tablespoon or more of mineral-rich
herbal vinegar daily. Not just because herbal vinegars taste great (they
do!), but because they offer an easy way to keep my calcium levels high
(and that’s a real concern for a menopausal woman of fifty). Herbal
vinegars are so rich in nutrients that I never need to take vitamin
or mineral pills.
Why vinegar? Water does a poor job of extracting calcium from plants,
but calcium and all minerals dissolve into vinegar very easily. You
can see this for yourself. Submerge a bone in vinegar for six weeks.
What happens? The bone becomes pliable and rubbery. Why? The vinegar
extracted the minerals from the bone. (And now the vinegar is loaded
with calcium and other bone-building minerals!)
After observing this trick its not unusual to fear that if you consume
vinegar your bones will dissolve. But you’d have to take off your skin
and sit in vinegar for weeks in order for that to happen! Adding vinegar
to your food actually helps build bones because it frees up minerals
from the vegetables you eat. Adding a splash of vinegar to cooked greens
is a classic trick of old ladies who want to be spry and flexible when
they’re ancient old ladies. (Maybe your granny already taught you this?)
In fact, a spoonful of vinegar on your broccoli or kale or dandelion
greens increases the calcium you get by one-third.
All by itself, vinegar helps build bones; and when it’s combined with
mineral-rich herbs, vinegar is better than calcium pills. Some people
worry that eating vinegar will contribute to an overgrowth of candida
yeast in the intestines. My experience has led me to believe that herbal
vinegars do just the opposite; perhaps because they’re so mineral rich.
Herbal vinegars are especially useful for anyone who can’t (or doesn’t
want to) drink milk. A tablespoon of infused herbal vinegar has the
same amount of calcium as a glass of milk.
So out the door I go, taking a basket and a pair of scissors, my warm
vest and my gloves, to see what I can harvest for my bone-building vinegars.
The first greens to greet me are the slender spires of garlic grass,
or wild chives, common in any soil that hasn’t been disturbed too frequently,
such as the lawn, the part of the garden where the tiller doesn’t go,
the rhubarb patch, the asparagus bed, the coven of comfrey plants. This
morning they’re all offering me patches of oniony greens. Snip, snip,
snip. The vinegar I’ll make from these tender tops will contain not
only minerals, but also allyls, special cancer-preventative compounds
found in raw onions, garlic, and the like.
Here where tulips will push up soon, in a sunny corner, is a patch of
catnip intermingled with motherwort, two plants especially beloved by
women. I use catnip to ease menstrual cramps, relieve colic, and bring
on sleep. Motherwort is my favorite remedy for moderating hot flashes
and emotional swings. They are both members of the mint family, and
like all mints, are exceptionally good sources of calcium and make great-tasting
vinegars. Individual mint flavors are magically captured by the vinegar.
From now until snow cover next fall, I’ll gather the mints of each season–peppermint,
spearmint, lemon balm, bee balm, oregano, shiso, wild bergamot, thyme,
hyssop, sage, rosemary, lavender–and activate their unique tastes and
their tonic, nourishing properties by steeping them in vinegar. What
a tasty way to build strong bones, a healthy heart, emotional stability,
and energetic vitality..
Down here, under the wild rose hedge, is a plant familiar to anyone
who has walked the woods and roadsides of the east: garlic mustard.
I’ll enjoy the leaves in my salad tonight, as I do all winter and spring,
but I’ll have to wait a bit longer before I can harvest the roots, which
produce a vibrant, horseradishy vinegar that’s just the thing to brighten
a winter salad and keep the sinuses clear at the same time.
And what’s this? A patch of chickweed! It’s a good addition to my vinegars
and my salads, boosting their calcium content, though adding scant flavor.
In protected spots, she offers year-round greens.
Look down. The mugwort is sprouting, all fuzzy and grey. I call it cronewort
to honor the wisdom of grey-haired women. The culinary value of this
very wild herb is oft o’erlooked. I was thrilled to find it for sale
in Germany right next to the dried caraway and rosemary, in a little
jar, in the supermarket. Cronewort vinegar is one of the tastiest and
most beneficial of all the vinegars I make. It is renowned as a general
nourishing tonic to circulatory, nervous, urinary, and mental functioning,
as well as being a specific aid to those wanting sound sleep and strong
bones. Cronewort vinegar is free for the making in most cities if you
know where this invasive weed grows.
To mellow cronewort’s slightly bitter taste and accent her fragrant,
flavorful aspects, I pick her small (under three inches) and add a few
of her roots to the jar along with the leaves. I cut the tall flowering
stalks of this aromatic plant in the late summer or early autumn, when
they’re in full bloom, and dry them. The leaves, stripped carefully
from the stalks, provided stuffing (and magic) for our winter dream
pillows; they are said to carry one into vivid dreams and visions.
The sun is bright and strong and warm. I turn my face toward it and
close my eyes, breathing in. I feel the vibrating life force here. Everything
is aquiver. I smile, knowing that that energy will be available to me
when I consume the vinegars I’ll make from these herbs and weeds. As
I relax against the big oak, I breathe out and envision the garden growing
and blooming, fruiting and dying, as the seasons slip through my mind’s
The air grows chillier at night. The leaves fall more quickly with each
breeze. The first mild frosts take the basil, the tomatoes and the squash,
freeing me to pay attention once again to the perennial herbs and weeds,
and urging me to make haste before even the hardy herbs drop their leaves
and retreat to winter dormancy.
The day dawns sunny. Yes, now is the time to harvest the last of the
garden’s bounty, the rewards of my work, the gifts of the earth. I dress
warmly (remembering to wear red; hunting season’s open), stash my red-handled
clippers in my back pocket, and take a baskets in one hand and a plastic
tub in the other.
Then I’m out the door, into autumn’s slanting sunshine and my quiet
garden. My black cat bounds over to help me harvest and, after a while,
the white cat emerges from under the house to purr and signal her satisfaction
with my presence in her domain this morning.
My gardening friends say the harvest is over for the year, but I know
my weeds will keep me at work harvesting until well into the winter.
In no time at all my deep basket is full and I’m wishing I’d brought
another. Violet leaves push against stalks of lamb’s quarter. Hollyhock,
wild malva, and plantain leaves jostle for their own spaces against
the last of the comfrey and dandelion leaves. (I think dandelion leaves
are much better eating in the fall than in the spring, much less bitter
to my taste after they’ve been frosted a few nights.) The last of the
red clover blossoms snuggle in the middle. Though not aromatic or intensely
flavored, a vinegar of these greens will be my super-rich calcium supplement
for the dark months of winter.
My baskets are overflowing and I haven’t gotten to the nettles and the
raspberry leaves yet. They’re superb sources of calcium, too. Ah! The
gracious abundance of weeds, or should I say “volunteer herbs?”
I actually respect them more than the cultivated herbs; respect their
strident life force, and their powerful nutritional punch, and their
added medicinal values that help me stay healthy and filled with energy.
The main work of this frosty fall morning is to harvest roots: dandelion,
burdock, yellow dock, and chicory roots. I’ve been waiting for the frost
to bite deep before harvesting the nourishing, medicinal roots of these
weeds. With my spading fork (not a shovel, please) I carefully unearth
their tender roots, leaving a few to mature and shed seeds so I have
a constant supply of young roots. I love the feel of the root sliding
free of the soil and into my hands, offering me such gifts of health.
Burdock I admire especially, for its strength of character and its healing
qualities. I settle down to do some serious digging to unearth their
long roots. For peak benefit, I harvest at the end of the first year
of growth, when the roots are most tenacious and least willing to leave
the ground. Patience is rewarded when I dig burdock. Eaten cooked or
turned into a vinegar (and the pickled pieces of the root consumed with
the vinegar), burdock root attracts heavy metals and radioactive isotopes
and removes them quickly from the body. For several hundred years at
least, and in numerous cases that I have witnessed, burdock root is
known to reverse pre-cancerous changes in cells.
Dandelion and chicory are my allies for long life. They support and
nourish my liver and improve the production of hydrochloric acid in
my stomach, thus insuring that I will be better nourished by any food
I eat. I make separate vinegars of each plant, but like to put both
their roots and their leaves together in my vinegar. A spoonful of either
of these in a glass of water in the morning or before meals can be used
to replace coffee. Note that roasted roots used in coffee substitutes
do not have the medicinal value of fresh roots eaten cooked or preserved
Yellow dock is the herbalist’s classic remedy for building iron in the
blood. Like calcium, iron is absorbed better when eaten with an acid,
such as vinegar, making yellow dock vinegar an especially good way to
utilize the iron-enhancing properties of this weed. (It nourishes the
iron in the soil, too, and is said to improve the yield of apple trees
it grows under.)
And at that thought, I awaken from my reverie and return to spring’s
sunshine with a smile. The white cat twines my legs and offers to help
me carry the basket back inside to the warmth of the fire. The circle
has come around again, like the moon in her courses. Autumn memories
yield spring richness. The weeds of fall offer tender green magic in
the spring. What I harvested last November has been eaten with joy and
I return to be gifted yet again by the wild that lives here with me
in my garden.
Notes on making herbal vinegar
It is vital to really fill the jar. This will take more herb
or root than you would think.
A good selection of jars of different sizes will enable you
to fit your jar to the amount of plant you’ve collected. I especially
like babyfood jars, mustard jars, olive jars, peanut butter jars and
juice jars. Plastic is fine, though I prefer glass.
Always fill jar to the top with plant material; never fill
a jar only part way.
Pack the jar full of herb. How much? How tight? Tight enough
to make a comfortable mattress for a fairy. Not too tight and not too
loose. With roots, fill jar to within a thumb’s width of the top.
For maximum strength herbal vinegar, snip or chop herbs and
For maximum visual delight, leave plants whole.
Regular pasteurized apple cider vinegar from the supermarket
is what I use when I make my herbal vinegar. Unpasteurized apple cider
vinegar can also be used. Note that unpasteurized vinegar forms vinegar
“mothers.” Vinegar mothers are harmless. (Actually, they’re
of value. I’ve seen vinegar mothers for sale for fancy prices in specialty
food shops.) In a jar filled with herb and vinegar, the vinegar mother
usually grows across the top of the jar, clinging to the herb, and looking
rather like a damp, thin pancake.
Rice vinegar, malt vinegar, wine vinegar, or any other natural
vinegar can be used, but they are much more expensive than apple cider
vinegar and many have taste which overpower or clash with the taste
of the herbs.
I don’t use white vinegar, nor do I use umeboshi vinegar (a
The reason that most recipes for herbal vinegar tell you to
boil the vinegar is to pasteurize it! I do not find it necessary to
heat the vinegar as it is already pasteurized and the final vinegar
tastes better if the herbs are not doused with boiling vinegar.
Plants That Make Exceptionally Good-Tasting Herbal Vinegars
Apple mint leaves, stalks
Bee balm (Monarda didyma) flowers, leaves, stalks
Bergamot (Monarda sp.) flowers, leaves, stalks
Burdock (Arctium lappa) roots
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) leaves, stalks
Chicory (Cichorium intybus) leaves, roots
Chives and especially chive blossoms
Dandelion (Traxacum off.) flower buds, leaves, roots
Dill (Anethum graveolens) herb, seeds
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) herb, seeds
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Garlic mustard (Alliaria officinalis)
Goldenrod (Solidago sp.) flowers
Ginger (Zingiber off.) and Wild ginger (Asarum canadensis) roots
Lavender (Lavendula sp.) flowers, leaves
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) new growth leaves and roots
Orange mint leaves, stalks
Orange peel, organic only
Peppermint (Mentha piperata and etc.) leaves, stalks
Perilla (Shiso) leaves, stalks
Rosemary (Rosmarinus off.) leaves, stalks
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) leaves, stalks
Thyme (Thymus sp.) leaves, stalks
White pine (Pinus strobus) needles
Yarrow (Achilllea millifolium) flowers and leaves
Plants To Use When Making an Herbal Calcium Supplement
Amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus) leaves
Chickweed (Stellaria media) whole herb
Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) leaves
Dandelion leaves and root
Lambsquarter (Chenopodium album) leaves
Mallow (Malva neglecta) leaves
All mints, including sage, motherwort, lemon balm, lavender, peppermint,
Mugwort (cronewort) (Artemisia vulgaris)
Nettle (Urtica dioica) leaves
Parsley (Petroselinum sativum) leaves
Plantain (Plantago majus) leaves
Raspberry (Rubus species) leaves
Red clover (Trifolium pratense) blossoms
Violet (Viola ordorata) leaves
Yellow dock (Rumex crispus and other species) roots
Herbal Vinegars Where You Eat the Pickled Plants, too
|About the Author:
Susun Weed, green witch and wise woman, is an
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