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Herbal Vinegars

With fresh herbs from my garden in abundance, I am interested in making some herbal vinegars. Can you offer some instruction and recommendations on which herb flavors marry well?

Vinegar is one of the most healthful ingredients on the planet. The word is derived from the French vin aigre which means sour wine. It is an acid liquid that comes from fermented juices of fruits and some seeds and grains. The history of using vinegar for health and food goes back over 5,000 years and there are so many uses for it, it would take this entire edition of Catalyst to name them all. Household uses include stain, lime deposits, crayon, and chewing gum removal, cleaning ovens, glass, brass, bronze and copper, deodorizer, insect repellant and fabric softener. Cosmetic uses are as numerous as vinegar rinses help maintain proper ph balance of hair and skin. Internally, vinegar has been recommended through the ages for settling bad stomachs, alleviating morning sickness, headaches, sore throats and athlete's foot, and it was thought to help someone avoid the plague. I often recommend it as a gentle liver cleanse. A tablespoon of best quality apple cider vinegar in one cup of warm water first thing in the morning is very beneficial.

One of my favorite stories about vinegar is that of the famous herbalist, Samuel Thompson. Born in 1769, he was a New Hampshire farmer who, out of necessity, had to try to figure out cures for his family and community's horrible illnesses of the day due to the fact that most of the "doctors" were using mercury to cure their patients, and by doing so were poisoning them to death. The story goes that his two year old daughter was extremely ill with "the canker rash" which was throughout her mouth, nose and eyes and threatening her sight. He had her curl up in his lap, and he covered them both in a blankets. He had placed a bucket with a hot stone in it between his feet and instructed his wife to pour vinegar over the stone that created steam and caused them both to sweat profusely. She started to improve, and he kept up the therapy every few hours for a week and the girl recovered. Thompson learned to use the therapy often, as he was the one usually called when the doctor departed having determined there was no more that could be done for the dying patient.

When flavoring vinegar, we mostly use ones made from grapes or apples, but there is also rice, malt, and others. Before you decide what herbs to use, choose which vinegar you want to use. Here are some suggestions for herb combinations that go well with certain vinegars.

Apple Cider Vinegar garlic and dill,
tarragon, chives, lemon balm
Mustard, garlic, red pepper

White Wine Vinegar
Basil, chives, garlic
Rosemary, lavender, salad burnet
Mint, thyme, chives
Fennel, orange zest, mint
Lemon verbena, chive, parsley
Sage, parsley, shallots
Cilantro, oregano, garlic, hot pepper

Red Wine Vinegar
Oregano, thyme, garlic, bay
Ginger, clove, mustard, cumin, tarragon
Lovage, mint, garlic

A general rule of thumb is to use delicately flavored herbs and vinegars together like rice wine vinegar and summer savory or red wine vinegar with rosemary and garlic. The combinations are endless. You can also add fruits and spices. Raspberries, and orange with cinnamon, clove, rosemary and mint would be a taste sensation!

Directions for making flavored vinegars vary but here are the basic steps. Start with very clean, non reactive containers like glass. Use a very generous amount of herbs and cover them with the vinegar you have chosen. Close the container tightly and set it sit out of direct light for about a week. Taste it to determine whether it is flavorful enough. You may strain out the vinegar and add fresh herbs to it for more concentrated flavors. Let it sit another week. Strain out the spent herbs and bottle in attractive containers.

An important consideration is to make sure the vinegar is free of harmful bacteria. A problem can look like mold on top or residue in the bottom of the bottle that has recently formed. Some recipes call for boiling the vinegar and herbs together to insure a sterile mixture. The shelf life is usually between 3-6 months.

Sometimes I'd rather not wait a week for my vinegar so I will make what I like with what I have after my early morning visit to my garden and use it that evening. One time I mixed lavender, lovage and chives together in red wine vinegar and used it with olive oil on salad that evening. Along with the fresh halibut I had baked wrapped in fennel leaves and crusty bread. dinner was out of this world!


Merry Harrison, RH(AHG) is a clinical herbalist, teacher, author and wildcrafter.
For class schedule and to ask questions: www.millcreekherbs.com


Reprinted with permission: Catalyst Magazine


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