HolisticWisdom.org web site
Linda Diane Feldt
RPP, NCTMB, Holistic Health Practitioner and Herbalist
Herbal Vinegars: It’s all about minerals – Linda Diane Feldt
Most of us have seen the artistic sprig of tarragon or basil suspended in a jar of vinegar. Very few know about the potent mineral rich decoction that is the origin for this more decorative version.
Vinegar has a long history of uses. Just a few of the claims include use for digestion, reducing cholesterol, metabolic effects, treating high blood pressure, improving brain functioning, soothing arthritis, as a deodorant, and the cosmetic use for lessening grey hair, wrinkles, and as a powerful cleaning agent in the home.
Hippocrates, sometimes called “The Father of Medicine” was said to use two remedies -- honey and apple cider vinegar. While the anecdotal evidence for vinegar’s healing has been noted for thousands of years, the scientific studies to support these claims have for the most part not yet caught up. But we do know some things about vinegar’s properties.
Herbal vinegars are “enriched” by infusing the vinegar with the green plants. Infused vinegar is mineral rich, due to its ability to extract the minerals from plants Not only is the vinegar transformed into a mineral rich liquid, but because vinegar can increase calcium and other mineral absorption by as much as 1/3, the minerals from the plants become more bio-available.
This ability to boost mineral absorption may account for some of the health benefits. Calcium is an essential mineral for health and function – so vital that is it contained in every plant. While vinegar alone can make that calcium easier to absorb (think vinegar and oil salad dressing, using vinegar on pot greens) herbal vinegars deliver an even greater impact – one tablespoon of an herbal vinegar prepared as described below can deliver 300 mg or more of easily absorbed calcium.
I’ve seen calcium be a factor in many problems but most commonly sleeplessness, menstrual cramps and discomfort, anxiety, and of course bone loss and fractures. The common American diet is grossly deficient in calcium and other minerals, and the simple lack of calcium contributes to a host of everyday problems as well as more sever complications as we age.
You could start with making your own vinegar, but for the purpose of this brief article it is easiest to use pasteurized apple cider vinegar. The Co-op carries a few varieties, locally produced Edensoy is a great brand. The white vinegars and other varieties can also be used, but the mix of flavors can be less predictable and they also often cost more. Using high quality vinegar pays off in taste, and the overarching philosophy of supporting organics applies here as well.
In your garden, there are both weeds and cultivated greens that will make great herbal vinegars. All the calcium rich plants: kale, collards, chard, beet greens, and more are great candidates for an herbal vinegar. The nutritious weeds including dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), garlic mustard (Alliaria officinalis), yellow dock (Rumex crispus), chickweed (Stellaria media), lambs quarters (Chenopodium album), amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus), purslane (Portulaca oleracea), plantain (Plantago majus), and red clover (Trifolium pratense) can all be used.
Edible roots, flowers, seaweed, even mushrooms can all be used in vinegars. Some of my favorites are chive blossoms, dandelion and yellow dock roots, and I take the stems of shitake mushrooms that aren’t very pleasant to eat and let them sit in vinegar. The result is a nutrient rich deeply flavored vinegar perfect for use as a condiment.
You can also use greens purchased at the co-op, the fresher the better.
Glass, enamel, plastic, and stainless steel can be used. Glass jars are perfect, but be sure to use a plastic or glass top. Metal lids can react with the vinegar and negatively affect the taste. You can also use a plastic bag for the top, secured with a rubber band.
You’ll want to chop the plant material somewhat fine, to expose more surface area to the vinegar. Keep everything clean and dry.
Making the herbal vinegar
After you’ve collected your plant material, you can remove debris and use it as is if you’re confident it is clean, otherwise wash and dry it thoroughly. Chop, and put it in the clean jar. For leafy greens, fill the jar to the top, but don’t compress it. For roots, seaweed, and other more dense or dried material fill the jar between 1/2 and 3/4 of the way full. Then, simply fill to the top with apple cider vinegar, pt on the non metal lid, and store it in a cool place out of direct light for 6 weeks.
After 6 weeks, strain with cheesecloth, a coffee filter, or a clean dish towel. Compost the plant part and store the vinegar in a jar with a plastic or cork top. Be sure and label it.
The nutritional value
Each herbal vinegar will be different depending on the plants used, where and how the plants were grown, the type of vinegar used, and other factors. We know it will be mineral rich, bio-available, and calcium levels have been measured to be as high as 300 mg per tablespoon with a vinegar made with plants very high in calcium. The lack of precision in nutritional value is normal, we don’t have to know the exact values in our foods to know which are healthy and good for us. You may feel more comfortable with the exact data from the label of a calcium supplement, but even with that information how your body responds will vary with how and when you take the pill and your ability to absorb the calcium.
Good sources of minerals are critical for our bodies. That knowledge is partly why supplements have become so popular. Knowing that these critical minerals are available from food we can grow to trust the plants that will provide it – and maximize the plants potential - rather than turning away from the sources that the human species has evolved with. Regular use of herbal vinegars is a time tested and reasoned choice to help us take in and utilize what we need.
How to use it
For a sleep aid, a tablespoon of vinegar in water before bed can help. The vinegar can be used as part of a salad dressing, in most recipes that call for vinegar, as part of your homemade sauces and as a condiment over cooked greens, grains, and vegetables. It is also great as part of a marinade, whether you’re using it for tempeh, tofu, potatoes, or meat. A pasta or quinoa salad with an herbal vinegar dressing is a summer favorite, and in the winter baked or roasted vegetables and stews come alive with vinegar as part of the recipe.
Herbal vinegars also make great gifts. With a collection of nice bottles, you can decant the vinegar and add a whole sprig of plant for decoration. But be sure and tell the recipient why this vinegar is extra special!
For more information:
The co-op is offering a class on herbal vinegars (date?) Additional recipes and nutritional values can be found in Susun Weed’s book Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way, and a longer list of plants to use is on her website http://www.susunweed.com/Article_Herbal_Vinegar2.htm .
Originally printed in the summer 2006 Ann Arbor People’s Food Co-op Newsletter