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A pantry full of herbal vinegars is a constant delight. Preserving fresh herbs and roots in vinegar is an easy way to capture their nourishing goodness. It's easy, too. You don't even have to have an herb garden. 

Basic Herbal Vinegar

Takes 5 minutes plus 6 weeks to prepare

You will need:

glass or plastic jar of any size up to one quart/liter

plastic lid for jar or

waxed paper and a rubber band

fresh herbs, roots, weeds

one quart/liter apple cider vinegar

Fill any size jar with fresh-cut aromatic herbs. (See accompanying list for suggestions of herbs that extract particularly well in vinegar.) For best results and highest mineral content, be sure the jar is well filled with your chosen herb, not just a few springs, and be sure to cut the herbs or roots up into small pieces. 

Pour room-temperature apple cider vinegar into the jar until it is full. Cover jar with a plastic screw-on lid, several layers of plastic or wax paper held on with a rubber band, or a cork. Vinegar disintegrates metal lids. 

Label the jar with the name of the herb and the date. Put it some place away from direct sunlight, though it doesn't have to be in the dark, and someplace that isn't too hot, but not too cold either. A kitchen cupboard is fine, but choose one that you open a lot so you remember to use your vinegar, which will be ready in six weeks. 

Apple cider vinegar has been used as a health-giving agent for centuries. Hippocrates, father of medicine, is said to have used only two remedies: honey and vinegar. A small book on Vermont folk remedies--primary among them being apple cider vinegar--has sold over 5 million copies since its publication in the fifties. A current ad in a national health magazine states that vinegar can give me a longer, healthier, happier life. Among the many powers of vinegar: it lowers cholesterol, improves skin tone, moderates high blood pressure, prevents/counters osteoporosis, and improves metabolic functioning. Herbal vinegars are an unstoppable combination: the healing and nutritional properties of vinegar married to the aromatic and health-protective effects of green herbs (and a few wild roots).

Herbal vinegars don't taste like medicine. In fact, they taste so good I use them frequently. I pour a spoonful or more on beans and grains at dinner; I use them in salad dressings; I season stir-fry and soups with them. This regular use boosts the nutrient-level of my diet with very little effort and virtually no expense. Sometimes I drink my herbal vinegar in a glass of water in the morning, remembering the many older women who've told me that apple cider vinegar prevents and eases their arthritic pains. I aim to ingest a tablespoon or more of mineral-rich herbal vinegar daily. Not just because herbal vinegars taste great (they do!), but because they offer an easy way to keep my calcium levels high (and that's a real concern for a menopausal woman of fifty). Herbal vinegars are so rich in nutrients that I never need to take vitamin or mineral pills. 

Why vinegar? Water does a poor job of extracting calcium from plants, but calcium and all minerals dissolve into vinegar very easily. You can see this for yourself. Submerge a bone in vinegar for six weeks. What happens? The bone becomes pliable and rubbery. Why? The vinegar extracted the minerals from the bone. (And now the vinegar is loaded with calcium and other bone-building minerals!) 

After observing this trick its not unusual to fear that if you consume vinegar your bones will dissolve. But you'd have to take off your skin and sit in vinegar for weeks in order for that to happen! Adding vinegar to your food actually helps build bones because it frees up minerals from the vegetables you eat. Adding a splash of vinegar

to cooked greens is a classic trick of old ladies who want to be spry and flexible when they're ancient old ladies. (Maybe your granny already taught you this?) In fact, a spoonful of vinegar on your broccoli or kale or dandelion greens increases the calcium you get by one-third. 

All by itself, vinegar helps build bones; and when it's combined with mineral-rich herbs, vinegar is better than calcium pills. Some people worry that eating vinegar will contribute to an overgrowth of candida yeast in the intestines. My experience has led me to believe that herbal vinegars do just the opposite; perhaps because they're so mineral rich. Herbal vinegars are especially useful for anyone who can't (or doesn't want to) drink milk. A tablespoon of infused herbal vinegar has the same amount of calcium as a glass of milk. 

So out the door I go, taking a basket and a pair of scissors, my warm vest and my gloves, to see what I can harvest for my bone-building vinegars. 

The first greens to greet me are the slender spires of garlic grass, or wild chives, common in any soil that hasn't been disturbed too frequently, such as the lawn, the part of the garden where the tiller doesn't go, the rhubarb patch, the asparagus bed, the coven of comfrey plants. This morning they're all offering me patches of oniony greens. Snip, snip, snip. The vinegar I'll make from these tender tops will contain not only minerals, but also allyls, special cancer-preventative compounds found in raw onions, garlic, and the like. 

Here where tulips will push up soon, in a sunny corner, is a patch of catnip intermingled with motherwort, two plants especially beloved by women. I use catnip to ease menstrual cramps, relieve colic, and bring on sleep. Motherwort is my favorite remedy for moderating hot flashes and emotional swings. They are both members of the mint family, and like all mints, are exceptionally good sources of calcium and make great-tasting vinegars. Individual mint flavors are magically captured by the vinegar. From now until snow cover next fall, I'll gather the mints of each season--peppermint, spearmint, lemon balm, bee balm, oregano, shiso, wild bergamot, thyme, hyssop, sage, rosemary, lavender--and activate their unique tastes and their tonic, nourishing properties by steeping them in vinegar. What a tasty way to build strong bones, a healthy heart, emotional stability, and energetic vitality.. 

Down here, under the wild rose hedge, is a plant familiar to anyone who has walked the woods and roadsides of the east: garlic mustard. I'll enjoy the leaves in my salad tonight, as I do all winter and spring, but I'll have to wait a bit longer before I can harvest the roots, which produce a vibrant, horseradishy vinegar that's just the thing to brighten a winter salad and keep the sinuses clear at the same time. 

And what's this? A patch of chickweed! It's a good addition to my vinegars and my salads, boosting their calcium content, though adding scant flavor. In protected spots, she offers year-round greens. 

Look down. The mugwort is sprouting, all fuzzy and grey. I call it cronewort to honor the wisdom of grey-haired women. The culinary value of this very wild herb is oft o'erlooked. I was thrilled to find it for sale in Germany right next to the dried caraway and rosemary, in a little jar, in the supermarket. Cronewort vinegar is one of the tastiest and most beneficial of all the vinegars I make. It is renowned as a general nourishing tonic to circulatory, nervous, urinary, and mental functioning, as well as being a specific aid to those wanting sound sleep and strong bones. Cronewort vinegar is free for the making in most cities if you know where this invasive weed grows.

To mellow cronewort's slightly bitter taste and accent her fragrant, flavorful aspects, I pick her small (under three inches) and add a few of her roots to the jar along with the leaves. I cut the tall flowering stalks of this aromatic plant in the late summer or early autumn, when they're in full bloom, and dry them. The leaves, stripped carefully from the stalks, provided stuffing (and magic) for our winter dream pillows; they are said to carry one into vivid dreams and visions. 

The sun is bright and strong and warm. I turn my face toward it and close my eyes, breathing in. I feel the vibrating life force here. Everything is aquiver. I smile, knowing that that energy will be available to me when I consume the vinegars I'll make from these herbs and weeds. As I relax against the big oak, I breathe out and envision the garden growing and blooming, fruiting and dying, as the seasons slip through my mind's eye.... 

The air grows chillier at night. The leaves fall more quickly with each breeze. The first mild frosts take the basil, the tomatoes and the squash, freeing me to pay attention once again to the perennial herbs and weeds, and urging me to make haste before even the hardy herbs drop their leaves and retreat to winter dormancy. 

The day dawns sunny. Yes, now is the time to harvest the last of the garden's bounty, the rewards of my work, the gifts of the earth. I dress warmly (remembering to wear red; hunting season's open), stash my red-handled clippers in my back pocket, and take a baskets in one hand and a plastic tub in the other. 

Then I'm out the door, into autumn's slanting sunshine and my quiet garden. My black cat bounds over to help me harvest and, after a while, the white cat emerges from under the house to purr and signal her satisfaction with my presence in her domain this morning. 

My gardening friends say the harvest is over for the year, but I know my weeds will keep me at work harvesting until well into the winter. In no time at all my deep basket is full and I'm wishing I'd brought another. Violet leaves push against stalks of lamb's quarter. Hollyhock, wild malva, and plantain leaves jostle for their own spaces against the last of the comfrey and dandelion leaves. (I think dandelion leaves are much better eating in the fall than in the spring, much less bitter to my taste after they've been frosted a few nights.) The last of the red clover blossoms snuggle in the middle. Though not aromatic or intensely flavored, a vinegar of these greens will be my super-rich calcium supplement for the dark months of winter. 

My baskets are overflowing and I haven't gotten to the nettles and the raspberry leaves yet. They're superb sources of calcium, too. Ah! The gracious abundance of weeds, or should I say "volunteer herbs?" I actually respect them more than the cultivated herbs; respect their strident life force, and their powerful nutritional punch, and their added medicinal values that help me stay healthy and filled with energy. 

The main work of this frosty fall morning is to harvest roots: dandelion, burdock, yellow dock, and chicory roots. I've been waiting for the frost to bite deep before harvesting the nourishing, medicinal roots of these weeds. With my spading fork (not a shovel, please) I carefully unearth their tender roots, leaving a few to mature and shed seeds so I have a constant supply of young roots. I love the feel of the root sliding free of the soil and into my hands, offering me such gifts of health. 

Burdock I admire especially, for its strength of character and its healing qualities. I settle down to do some serious digging to unearth their long roots. For peak benefit, I harvest at the end of the first year of growth, when the roots are most tenacious and least willing to leave the ground. Patience is rewarded when I dig burdock. Eaten cooked or turned into a vinegar (and the pickled pieces of the root consumed with the vinegar), burdock root attracts heavy metals and radioactive isotopes and removes them quickly from the body. For several hundred years at least, and in numerous cases that I have witnessed, burdock root is known to reverse pre-cancerous changes in cells. 

Dandelion and chicory are my allies for long life. They support and nourish my liver and improve the production of hydrochloric acid in my stomach, thus insuring that I will be better nourished by any food I eat. I make separate vinegars of each plant, but like to put both their roots and their leaves together in my vinegar. A spoonful of either of these in a glass of water in the morning or before meals can be used to replace coffee. Note that roasted roots used in coffee substitutes do not have the medicinal value of fresh roots eaten cooked or preserved in vinegar. 

Yellow dock is the herbalist's classic remedy for building iron in the blood. Like calcium, iron is absorbed better when eaten with an acid, such as vinegar, making yellow dock vinegar an especially good way to utilize the iron-enhancing properties of this weed. (It nourishes the iron in the soil, too, and is said to improve the yield of apple trees it grows under.) 

And at that thought, I awaken from my reverie and return to spring's sunshine with a smile. The white cat twines my legs and offers to help me carry the basket back inside to the warmth of the fire. The circle has come around again, like the moon in her courses. Autumn memories yield spring richness. The weeds of fall offer tender green magic in the spring. What I harvested last November has been eaten with joy and I return to be gifted yet again by the wild that lives here with me in my garden. 

Notes on making herbal vinegar

Ø It is vital to really fill the jar. This will take more herb or root than you would think. 

Ø A good selection of jars of different sizes will enable you to fit your jar to the amount of plant you've collected. I especially like babyfood jars, mustard jars, olive jars, peanut butter jars and juice jars. Plastic is fine, though I prefer glass.

Ø Always fill jar to the top with plant material; never fill a jar only part way. 

Ø Pack the jar full of herb. How much? How tight? Tight enough to make a comfortable mattress for a fairy. Not too tight and not too loose. With roots, fill jar to within a thumb's width of the top.

Ø For maximum strength herbal vinegar, snip or chop herbs and roots. 

Ø For maximum visual delight, leave plants whole.

Ø Regular pasteurized apple cider vinegar from the supermarket is what I use when I make my herbal vinegar. Unpasteurized apple cider vinegar can also be used. Note that unpasteurized vinegar forms vinegar "mothers." Vinegar mothers are harmless. (Actually, they're of value. I've seen vinegar mothers for sale for fancy prices in specialty food shops.) In a jar filled with herb and vinegar, the vinegar mother usually grows across the top of the jar, clinging to the herb, and looking rather like a damp, thin pancake.

Ø Rice vinegar, malt vinegar, wine vinegar, or any other natural vinegar can be used, but they are much more expensive than apple cider vinegar and many have taste which overpower or clash with the taste of the herbs.

Ø I don't use white vinegar, nor do I use umeboshi vinegar (a Japanese condiment).

Ø The reason that most recipes for herbal vinegar tell you to boil the vinegar is to pasteurize it! I do not find it necessary to heat the vinegar as it is already pasteurized and the final vinegar tastes better if the herbs are not doused with boiling vinegar. 

Plants That Make Exceptionally Good-Tasting Herbal Vinegars

Apple mint leaves, stalks

Bee balm (Monarda didyma) flowers, leaves, stalks

Bergamot (Monarda sp.) flowers, leaves, stalks

Burdock (Arctium lappa) roots

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) leaves, stalks

Chicory (Cichorium intybus) leaves, roots

Chives and especially chive blossoms

Dandelion (Traxacum off.) flower buds, leaves, roots

Dill (Anethum graveolens) herb, seeds

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) herb, seeds

Garlic (Allium sativum)

Garlic mustard (Alliaria officinalis)

Goldenrod (Solidago sp.) flowers

Ginger (Zingiber off.) and Wild ginger (Asarum canadensis) roots

Lavender (Lavendula sp.) flowers, leaves

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) new growth leaves and roots

Orange mint leaves, stalks

Orange peel, organic only

Peppermint (Mentha piperata and etc.) leaves, stalks

Perilla (Shiso) leaves, stalks

Rosemary (Rosmarinus off.) leaves, stalks

Spearmint (Mentha spicata) leaves, stalks

Thyme (Thymus sp.) leaves, stalks

White pine (Pinus strobus) needles

Yarrow (Achilllea millifolium) flowers and leaves

Plants To Use When Making an Herbal Calcium Supplement

Amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus) leaves

Cabbage leaves

Chickweed (Stellaria media) whole herb

Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) leaves

Dandelion leaves and root

Kale leaves

Lambsquarter (Chenopodium album) leaves

Mallow (Malva neglecta) leaves

All mints, including sage, motherwort, lemon balm, lavender, peppermint, etc.

Mugwort (cronewort) (Artemisia vulgaris)

Nettle (Urtica dioica) leaves

Parsley (Petroselinum sativum) leaves

Plantain (Plantago majus) leaves

Raspberry (Rubus species) leaves

Red clover (Trifolium pratense) blossoms

Violet (Viola ordorata) leaves

Yellow dock (Rumex crispus and other species) roots

Herbal Vinegars Where You Eat the Pickled Plants, too





Yellow Dock

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Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year

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Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way

Author: Susun S. Weed. The menopause "bible" for women who want strong bones and healthy hearts without recourse to hormones. A treasure trove of accessible, reliable, non-drug remedies. Introduction by Juliette de Bairacli Levy. 350,000 copies in print. 228 pages, index, illustrations.

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