Did you know that vinegar can be infused with herbs to create wonderful alcohol-free extracts? While not as potent as alcohol based tinctures, an herbal vinegar extract is a strong alternative for children, anyone abstaining from alcohol, or those with alcohol sensitivities.
Vinegar has been used for thousands of years to preserve food, disinfect surfaces, deodorize, and to make formulas. In fact, before stills were used to produce high proof alcohol, most herbal extracts were made with solvents like water, wine, and vinegar. The original Four Thieves formula used to protect robbers against infection during the plague is thought to have been made with vinegar as the base.
We know that vinegar, especially raw apple cider vinegar, offers health benefits in addition to its extraction abilities. Studies show that vinegar can be helpful for maintaining normal blood sugar and cholesterol levels, is helpful for maintaining healthy skin and hair as well as aids in digestion and managing fatigue. Extractions can be made with vinegar alone or with both vinegar and alcohol to create an acetous tincture. This method will release more active properties than vinegar alone, but straight vinegar extracts still have a lot to offer if properly prepared.
Dried herbs tend to produce the most effective herbal vinegar extract, but fresh herbs can be used to make nutritive vinegars for culinary recipes, since the vinegar will extract minerals as well as the flavor of the herbs. My favorite vinaigrette is made with fresh nettle and mugwort infused vinegar, but thyme, oregano, garlic, and rosemary are nice too. You can learn more about culinary vinegars in our previous blog post.
Herbal Vinegar Extract Method
Chop or grind your dried herb to a coarse powder. You can also find many powdered herbs available on our website. Fill 1/5 of your sterilized jar with the herb. Pour organic apple cider vinegar over the herb until the jar is filled to the top. Cover tightly and allow to extract for 14 days in a cool, dark place. Be sure to shake the jar daily.
After 2 weeks, strain the herb through cheesecloth. Set the strained liquid in a capped jar on a shelf and allow the sediment to settle overnight. Decant the clear liquid layer into another sterilized jar using a strainer. Cap tightly, label, and store for up to 6 months in a cool, dark place.
If you are infusing the vinegar with roots or barks, there is one more step you might want to take. Once the mixture has extracted for 2 weeks and the herbs have been strained out, heat the infusion just short of boiling and filter through cloth while hot. The heat will help congeal albumin in the solution that can then be removed when straining. Excess albumin can encourage your extract to spoil quickly.
As a general guide, take 1 tbsp of the vinegar extract up to 5 times a day when needed, unless you are working with potent low/drop dosage herbs. Due to the acid content in vinegar, be sure to avoid direct contact with your teeth. You may want to mix each dose of vinegar with water or tea to dilute the acidity.
For more information about making herbal vinegar extracts at home, check out Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech and The Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook by James Green.