Welcome to Day 14 of the 40 Day Herbalist Challenge! Today’s Challenge is all about herbs and vinegar. Vinegar is another very useful ingredient in the home herbalist’s tool kit and can make a wide range of recipes and concoctions. Read on to learn about vinegar extracts (sometimes called aceta), infused vinegars, and herbal oxymels! Today’s Challenge also includes a recipe for a parsley and sage infused vinegar.
Time needed: 30 minutes
Tools and Supplies:
1 Cup of Vinegar
A glass canning jar
Vinegar exists thanks to a type of bacteria that eats alcohol (ethanol) as its main energy source. The byproduct that the bacteria make is called acetic acid, and vinegar is essentially acetic acid+water. Vinegars can be made at home from juice, apple cider or a wide variety of fruit wines. The process for vinegar creation is fairly simple, and many excellent tutorials are available from other sources. Our main point today is that vinegar is incredibly useful in making herbal preparations.
Vinegar rivals water in its versatility. It can be used to make extracts, oxymels, tonics, and liniments, herbal vinegars for cooking, and various concoctions for skin and hair care. Vinegar has unique extraction properties that are different from alcohol, but it can make a good alternative if alcohol isn’t available or isn’t desired.
Vinegar works a little differently than alcohol or water as an extract medium, which is mainly important to very technical herbalists who like to compare the different extracting liquids (which are sometimes called a menstruum or menstruums). However, if you plan to avoid the use of alcohol altogether and want to use vinegar as your sole menstruum, the differences between the two should be taken into consideration.
Vinegar is exceptional at extracting certain constituents from plants, mainly the alkaloid class of compounds and minerals, but has a much lower efficiency rate for other parts of a plant’s chemical make-up.
Vinegar extracts can be made either with a weight to volume ratio, or with the no-measure/folk method. As with alcohol based extracts, a 1:5 weight of plant material to volume of vinegar is a good ratio for most herbs.
For making a vinegar extract with the folk method, add ground or powdered herbs to a glass jar and stir in enough vinegar to cover the herbs with an extra quarter inch or so of vinegar. Allow the vinegar to stand for two weeks, and be sure to shake the jar daily.
The serving size for an herbs + vinegar extract is usually around same as for an alcohol extract. To use, add the measured amount of extract to a few ounces of water and sweeten with a little honey or juice if the taste is a problem. Vinegar extracts have a shelf life of approximately six months to a year.
Infused vinegars use the same process as making a vinegar extract, but the ratio of vinegar to herbs is a little higher so that the end result is less concentrated.
Depending on the ingredients, infused vinegars and vinegar extracts can be used as daily tonics or cooking ingredients, or even skin and hair care products. Additionally, liniments for sore muscles, washes for sunburn and skin irritations, skin toner and hair rinses can all be made with a vinegar base and a few herbs.
An oxymel is a beverage made with honey and vinegar. Oxymels date back to ancient Greece, but have experienced a moderate revival with modern herbalists. My basic oxymel recipe is equal parts infused vinegar and honey. You can use less or more depending on what you like, even as high as 5 parts honey to 1 part vinegar.
Combine your honey and vinegar in a jar and stir gently until everything is combined. Or, if you’re like me, you might put the honey and vinegar in the jar, lid up, and shake everything together, which takes about 15 seconds. Your oxymel may be a bit foamy for a day or so, but it will settle.
Oxymels can be used plain by the spoonful, or mixed into water as a beverage. Don’t worry, unless dill is the herb involved, oxymels won’t taste like pickle juice. The honey makes oxymels taste deliciously sweet and sour, and they are wonderful thirst quenchers after exercise or hard work outdoors.
Of course, any discussion about herbs and vinegar isn’t complete unless you mention herbalist Rosemary Gladstar’s recipe for Fire Cider! This infused vinegar recipe has entered into the modern folklore as a winter wellness staple. Recipes usually feature lots of pungent, spicy herbs like horseradish, garlic, and cayenne with a little citrus, and everyone seems to have their own favorite version. There’s actually a bit of a trademark brouhaha going on at the moment because a company called Shire City Herbals trademarked the name Fire Cider in 2012 and has been sending Cease and Desist letters to small herbal companies that have been selling their own versions of Fire Cider. There’s a lawsuit going on currently to get things sorted out, and I highly encourage everyone to read up on it over on the Free Fire Cider website and boycott Shire City.
Besides learning to make your own Fire Cider (the original recipe is at the link I just mentioned above), I hope you will also enjoy making today’s recipe: Parsley and Sage Vinegar!
Parsley and Sage Vinegar (or Oxymel)
- ¼ cup finely minced fresh parsley
- 1 tbsp finely minced fresh sage
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- Combine the herbs and vinegar in a clean glass jar with a lid. Gently shake the herbs for a few seconds and then transfer the jar to the refrigerator. Because you haven’t applied heat or the other ingredients used to make pickles, refrigeration is best. That way you won’t inadvertently start fermenting your fresh herbs.
- Check on your jar daily for two weeks. After two weeks, you can strain and begin using your tonic. It’s nice as a salad dressing if you mix it with olive oil, or you can add honey to taste and create an oxymel!
Parsley has lots of good vitamins and minerals while sage brings nervine and overall tonic properties to the recipe. It makes a good vinegar recipe to keep on hand in the winter if you want something less spicy than a traditional Fire Cider but still want some extra vitamin C and pungent potency to keep your immune system stoked.