Herbal Vinegars: A Healthy & Tasty Addition to Your Diet

Vinegar infused with a variety of herbs makes a wonderful addition to your health regime. The word vinegar comes from the French vin aigre, which means “sour wine.” When air is exposed to fermented liquid, bacterial activity occurs and the result is acetic acid or sour vinegar. These are different from culinary vinegar in that the long infusion time allows the medicinal benefits of the herbs to move into the liquid, in the culinary version, its just the flavor.

Vinegar is mentioned several times in the Bible and Hippocrates prescribed the drinking of vinegar for his patients in ancient Greece. Columbus had barrels of vinegar on his ships for the prevention of scurvy. In fact, ancient civilizations as far back as the Sumerians used vinegar as a condiment, a preservative, a medicine, an antibiotic and a detergent. It is antibacterial and anti-fungal and gives the immune system a good boost. As a high potassium electrolyte balancer, it re-mineralizes the body and helps normalize the blood’s acid/alkaline balance. Vinegar is proving most beneficial to people with arthritis because it breaks down calcium deposits in the joints while supplying minerals to the bones. Here are just a few of its other benefits:

  • Reduces cholesterol (the dangerous LDL cholesterol type)
  • Regulates the water content in the cells and body
  • Reduces water retention in the body
  • Removes excess sodium from the body
  • Helps regulate blood pressure
  • Assists in preventing circulatory problems
  • Helps with diminishing premature calcification of the arteries
  • Helps increase concentration and memory
  • Assists in blood circulation

Adding the healing and nutritional properties of vinegar to the aromatic and health-protective effects of green herbs makes for a potent health combination.

What can I do with it?

Herb vinegar can be used in cooking in equal amounts where ever other liquids like wine, fruit juice, plain vinegar, lemon, or lime juice are called for. One or two tablespoons of a good, strong herbal vinegar goes a long way towards supplying your body’s mineral needs. I love vinegar, but straight up it’s pretty intense, so I mix it with a little water and drink it first thing in the morning. I’m told that it tastes very good in a glass of tomato juice.

You can really boost the nutritional value of your salads with homemade dressings. Healthy olive oil, super-nutritious herbal vinegar, raw garlic and wild nutritive herbs are the building blocks for classy, high-powered dressings ( one part vinegar to two or three parts olive oil, salt and pepper to taste).

Use your herbal vinegar to can and pickle vegetables. Pickled carrots are a favorite of mine, as are mushrooms. It’s like pulling out a jar of summer sun in the dead of winter.

Homemade mustard is incredibly easy to make, and often much tastier than jarred recipes. The basic recipe is to soak whole mustard seeds in vinegar for a day or two, sweeten, and then grind into a paste (8 Tbl seeds, 2/3 c vinegar, 1/4 c sugar, 1 tsp salt). You can also use dry mustard, which produces a creamy mustard and, because you skip the two day soak, can be put together very quickly (equal parts mustard and vinegar, 1/2 part sugar, pinch of salt.)) There are endless variations once you have the basic recipe. Many condiments like barbecue sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise, marinades, and chutneys all have vinegar in them.

Herbal vinegars are also wonderful to use externally; their restorative powers have been renowned since ancient times. It is said that Helen of Troy took vinegar baths, adding a cup or two to her bathwater to cleanse and soothe her skin. Vinegar is also a classic remedy for sunburn, bad breath and dandruff. I love to use herbal vinegar to remove soap residue from the skin and hair. (Do not apply straight vinegar to your skin or hair, instead dilute it with water at a ratio of one part vinegar to eight parts water). It also makes a wonderful toner (50/50 vinegar/water) for oily skin. Vinegar is a great hair conditioner and can improve cleanliness and shine, just add 1 tablespoon vinegar to your hair as you rinse it. If you have dandruff, massage full-strength vinegar into your scalp several times a week before shampooing. If you have itchy skin, pour 1 c vinegar into a tub full of warm (not hot) water. Soak for at least 15 minutes.

How Do I Make An Herbal Vinegar?

Takes 5 minutes plus 6 weeks to prepare

You will need the following:
~ bamboo skewers (long and short)
~ plastic funnel and plastic measuring spoons.
~ glass or plastic jar of any size up to one quart
~ plastic lid* for jar or cork or waxed paper and a rubber band
~ fresh herbs (ground herbs or spices will make the vinegar cloudy)
~ one quart good-quality apple cider vinegar, room temperature

Gently wash and pat dry the herbs. Treat any fruits (blueberries, raspberries, etc.) the same. Fill jar with fresh-cut aromatic herbs, really pack it in for the best results and make sure you cut the herbs into small pieces.

Pour apple cider vinegar into the jar until it is full. Screw on lid, insert cork, or cover with several layers of wax paper held on with a rubber band. (Any vinegar can be used, but they’ll have very different flavors. Do not use distilled vinegar as much of the healthy properties have been boiled away.)

Label the jar with the name of the herb and the date. Put it some place away from direct sunlight, where it will keep cool. You may need to add more vinegar after a day or so, as the herbs may soak up some of the liquid – you’ll want to keep the plant material completely covered.

After six weeks, remove the plant material and return the vinegar to the jar. Use freely!

* Vinegar disintegrates metal, don’t use it at all when making these.

Which herbs?

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. Here’s some of my favorites:

  • Raspberries and mint: Raspberries are astringent, tonic, parturient. Raspberry leaves have a long tradition of use in pregnancy to strengthen and tone the tissue of the womb, assisting contractions and checking any hemorrhage during labor. The fruit is diuretic, laxative, diaphoriretic, and cleansing. Mint is antispoasmodic, digestive, diaphoretic, antipyretic, carminative and has stomach-soothing qualities.
  • Tarragon and garlic: Tarragon considered to be an appetite stimulant; garlic is anti-microbial, antibacterial, anticarcinogenic, antifungal, anthelmintic, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral. Garlic has a lipid-lowering effect, it decreases total serum cholesterol, while increasing high-density lipoproteins (the good cholesterol). Studies show that garlic decreases systolic blood pressure and diastolic pressure.
  • Lemon thyme and sage: Thyme is carminative, anti-microbial, anti-spasmodic, expectorant, astringent, anthelmintic, anti-catarrhal, diaphoretic, tonic, and vulnerary. Sage is carminative, anti-spasmodic, anti-microbial, astringent, anti-inflammatory, sudorific, expectorant, tonic, aromatic, nervine, vermifuge, emmenagogue, diuretic, stimulant, diaphoretic, stomachic, and antiseptic.
  • Spearmint and lemon
  • Sage, spearmint, and thyme
  • Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme: Parsley is diuretic, expectorant, emmenagogue, carminative, anti-spasmodic, hypotensive, aperient. The fresh herb is a rich source of vitamin C. It is an effective diuretic, helping the body get rid of excess water. It is an emmenagogue stimulating the menstrual process. It is also a carminative, easing flatulence and the colic pains that may accompany it. Rosemary is carminative, anti-spasmodic, anti-depressive, rubefacient, anti-microbial, emmenagogue, stimulant, cephalic, tonic, astringent, diaphoretic, nervine, aromatic. It is a circulatory and nervine stimulant, which in addition to the toning and calming effect on the digestion is used where psychological tension is present. Useful for flatulent dyspepsia, headache or depression.
  • Lemon grass, thyme, garlic, and orange peel
  • Oregano, thyme, parsley, and basil : basil is an antispasmodic, galactogogue, carminative, expectorant, and mild sedative.

A pantry full of herbal vinegars is a constant delight. Small amounts of flavored vinegars can make a positive impact on your health, and they provide a wonderful variety of beauty tricks.

References

All herbal information is from “Herb Knowledgebase” http://www.holistic-online.com/herbal-med/Hol_Herb_Directory_Index.htm. Accessed September 8, 2012; and Ody, Penelope, The Complete Medicinal Herbal.

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