Erin is the Communications Manager at Mountain Rose Herbs and a graduate of the Columbines School of Botanical Studies. She spends her days photographing flowers, creating herbal treats, and wildcrafting medicinal plants in the magnificent Oregon Cascades.
Did you know that vinegar can be infused with medicinal herbs to create wonderful alcohol-free extracts? While not as potent as alcohol-based tinctures, an herbal vinegar extract is a strong alternative for children, anyone abstaining from alcohol, or those with alcohol sensitivities.
Vinegar has been used for thousands of years to preserve food, disinfect surfaces, deodorize and make medicinal formulas. In fact, before stills were used to produce high-proof alcohol, most herbal extracts were made with solvents like water, wine and vinegar. The original Four Thieves formula used to protect robbers against infection during the plague is thought to have been made with vinegar as the base.
We know that vinegar, especially organic raw apple cider vinegar, offers health benefits in addition to its extraction abilities. Studies show that vinegar can be helpful for diabetes, high cholesterol, digestion, skin health, hair care, fatigue, detoxification and weight control. Medicinal extractions can be made with vinegar alone or with both vinegar and alcohol to create an acetous tincture. This method will release more active properties than vinegar alone, but straight vinegar extracts still have a lot to offer as medicine if properly prepared.
Dried herbs tend to produce the most effective medicinal vinegar extract, but fresh herbs can be used to make nutritive flavoring vinegars for culinary recipes, since the vinegar will extract minerals as well as the flavor of the herbs. My favorite vinaigrette is made with fresh nettle and mugwort-infused vinegar, but thyme, oregano, garlic and rosemary are nice, too. Dried herbs are preferred when making vinegar-based medicinals since fresh herbs will surrender their juices in the solution. This juice tends to water down the extract and saturate the solvent (vinegar) before it has time to draw out the more powerful constituents you are looking for in a medicine. Powdered herbs are recommended due to the increased surface area of herb they offer in the extraction.
1. Chop or grind your dried herb to a coarse powder. You can also find many powdered medicinal herbs available online or at your local health food store. Fill 1/5 of your sterilized jar with the herb. Pour organic apple cider vinegar over the herb until the jar is filled to the top. Cover tightly and allow to extract for 14 days in a cool, dark place. Be sure to shake the jar daily.
2. After 2 weeks, strain the herb through cheesecloth. Set the strained liquid in a capped jar on a shelf and allow the sediment to settle overnight. Decant the clear liquid layer into another sterilized jar using a strainer. Cap tightly, label and store for up to 6 months in a cool, dark place. You can also refrigerate the vinegar if you'd like.
3. If you are infusing the vinegar with roots or barks, there is one more step you might want to take. Once the mixture has extracted for 2 weeks and the herbs have been strained out, heat the infusion just short of boiling and filter through cloth while hot. The heat will help congeal albumin in the solution that can then be removed when straining. Excess albumin can encourage your extract to spoil quickly.
As a general guide, take 1 tablespoon of the vinegar extract up to 5 times a day when needed, unless you are working with potent low or drop dosage herbs. Due to the acid content in vinegar, be sure to avoid direct contact with your teeth. You may want to mix each dose of medicinal vinegar with water or tea to dilute the acidity.
For more information about making medicinal herbal vinegar extracts at home, check out Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech and The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook by James Green.