You’ve seen herbal vinegars in upscale food boutiques and catalogues, usually stoppered or corked glass jars with sprigs of herbs floating in translucent liquid. Gorgeous. And pricey.
Why not make your own?
Herbal vinegars are inexpensive and easy to make, and you can make different vinegars for different purposes: culinary, medicinal, cosmetic, and even household cleaning.
I like to use apple cider vinegar for any product I’m likely to eat, drink, or use on my skin or hair. It’s natural, readily available, and cheap. (I save the distilled white vinegar for laundry and household cleaning purposes.)
I grow my own herbs (very easy) or collect them from the wild (fun, but you need to learn from a knowledgeable, experienced collector). If I were buying them, I’d choose unsprayed herbs from a known source to prevent a concentration of pesticides from contaminating my vinegar.
Which herbs to use?
Fresh rather than dried plant materials make the best vinegars.
Singly or in combination, any herb, flower, or small fruit whose flavor you enjoy will make a tasty vinegar for culinary use.
Vinegars made with culinary herbs such as basil, oregano, rosemary, dill, garlic, thyme, and sage add pizazz to salad dressings, soups, and sauces. Add a spritz to cooked vegetables instead of butter. Or use edible flowers such as nasturtium, violets, and calendula.
Just about any edible berry will make a delicious vinegar. You can use fruit vinegars as you would use a vinegar made from leafy herbs. But the fruit vinegars really come into their own added to a fruit cup or pie filling to cut the sweetness and create a more complex flavor.
Vinegars for cosmetics and health
Any herb or fruit vinegar used as a final rinse will add luster and manageability to any hair type. Hair-specific herbs include rosemary, chamomile, and sage.
Similarly, a splash of herbal vinegar makes a time-honored, antiseptic skin toner.
Some research shows that vinegar helps people feel full sooner, so they eat less. It may cut the risk of diabetes and lower cholesterol.
Vinegar (herbal or straight) makes a good antiseptic or disinfectant that will kill nearly all bacteria and most molds and viruses.
Vinegar extracts healing phytochemicals from wild, edible medicinal herbs such as dandelion and burdock roots, dandelion blossoms, elderberries and their blossoms, chickweed, stinging nettle, pine needles, and others. The specific uses of these vinegars as remedies for healing goes beyond the scope of this blog.
If you like the taste, you can use "medicinal" vinegars for culinary purposes. Pine-needle vinegar (which I plan to make next spring) reportedly makes a tasty stand-in for balsamic.
How to make herbal vinegar
Whichever herb you choose, the procedure for making it is similar.
- Remove yellow, wilted, or diseased leaves. Rinse herbs in cool, running water to remove dirt and bits of debris; then dip briefly in a sanitizing bath (a teaspoon of chlorine bleach in six cups of water). Rinse again in cool water and pat dry.
- Remove large stems from leafy herbs (chop or leave whole), chop roots, and remove only the petals from flowers you plan to use.
- Pack a clean glass container (a canning jar, a discarded peanut-butter jar) loosely with the herbs you’ve chosen. Cover with vinegar warmed to room temperature.
- Tamp the herbs down to release the air bubbles; then add more vinegar to completely submerge the plant material. Cap the container tightly, set in a dark, warm place, and let the herbs steep for a month to six weeks. Use a plastic cap or a piece of plastic film tied with a rubber band to prevent the acidic vinegar from corroding a metal top.
- Strain out the herbs and repeat the process with fresh herbs if you want a stronger-flavored vinegar. Otherwise, decant the vinegar into a cork- or capped glass container.
- Store your herbal vinegars in a dark, cool place.
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.