Photo by Sarah Baldwin
Vinegar has been one of humanity’s staple brews for millennia, with the earliest known record of its use dating back 10,000 years. Its discovery was likely a happy accident when wine was left out and exposed to air, allowing wild yeasts to ferment the beverage into the health-promoting concoction we know as vinegar. In fact, the word vinegar comes from the French term vin aigre, meaning “sour wine.”
There are many different types of vinegar, and most of them possess medicinal properties even without the addition of herbs. Vinegar has been used in folk medicine for numerous issues from indigestion and arthritis to wounds and warts. Many folks consider it to be a health-promoting tonic and imbibe vinegar daily to ease various chronic issues and maintain vibrant health.
Vinegar has been used as an antimicrobial long before the term was created. In times of plague during the Middle Ages, an herbal vinegar known as Four Thieves was used to prevent infection by legendary French robbers who stole from the dead and dying. According to Maggie Oster in her book Herbal Vinegar, recipes for Four Thieves vary, but they often include rosemary, rue, sage, wormwood, mint, lavender, and camphor.
Indeed, modern research has shown vinegar to have antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-tumor properties. It can also help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as normalize blood sugar. Adding vinegar to a meal promotes better absorption of calcium, which is especially important for aging women. In fact, vinegar does a great job of extracting minerals from foods and herbs and making them more available to our bodies. Herb-infused vinegars combine the best of both worlds: You get the healing power of plants combined with the added mineral absorption and health benefits of vinegar.
Herbal vinegars are easy to make, very similar to crafting a tincture. Mineral-rich medicinals like chickweed and nettle as well as aromatic leaves like bergamot and lemon balm make great vinegar infusions. You can also choose spicy plants like garlic and ginger or other kitchen-friendly herbs such as rosemary and dill. Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a good choice because it’s readily available at health food stores in an organic, unpasteurized form. You can use the simpler's method of chopping up fresh herbs, filling a jar, and covering the herbs completely with ACV. Or, you can weigh out one ounce of fresh herbs for every two liquid ounces of vinegar.
Be sure to use a plastic lid, since vinegar will corrode metal lids quickly. In a pinch, you can also put a layer of plastic wrap between your lid and the jar. Depending on the desired strength and flavor, let the herbs soak for 2-6 weeks, shaking the jar daily. Then simply strain out the plants and enjoy!
Herbal vinegars have a wide variety of applications both topical and internal. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Sarah Baldwin is immersed in the world of herbalism, writing and teaching about the physical and spiritual benefits of healing plants. She is the author of The Herbal Healing Deck, an earthy and mystical oracle deck featuring guidance and wisdom from medicinal plants. Sarah is a regular contributor to Plant Healer Magazine and The Herbarium and has also written course material for The Herbal Academy. Her interests include gardening, yoga, meditation, dance, and music.
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