Choosing Your Vinegar
There are several kinds of vinegar on the market these days. There’s balsamic, wine vinegars, rice vinegars and malt vinegars among others. While it might be fun to experiment with different flavors, colors and concoctions, for all practical purposes apple cider vinegar is the vinegar of choice for most home-brewed herbal vinegars.
Avoid using white distilled vinegar. The process of distillation renders it nutrition-less, removing minerals such as potassium, and important acids which ward off bodily toxins and unfriendly bacteria. This highly processed vinegar can actually rob your body of minerals when ingested, therefore it should not be used internally. It does, however, work well in all kinds of household cleaning chores.
In a well-stocked health food store you may find several grades of apple cider vinegar. You may have to choose between filtered and unfiltered: In the process of fermenting apple cider there is a natural sediment that settles to the bottom. Filtered vinegar will be clear with no sediment, unfiltered will have some floaties in it. This is entirely a matter of personal preference. I like things as close to natural as possible, so I generally choose unfiltered.
Raw or pasteurized? Raw, living vinegar has an interesting organism called a “vinegar mother” living in it. It usually floats on the top of the vinegar and has a rubbery, mushroom-like texture. If raw vinegar is used, a new mother will grow on your herbal vinegar. While this is harmless, and in some minds a sign of good, enzyme-rich vinegar it can be unappetizing for others. I have experimented with raw herbal vinegars and have had some results akin to a science experiment gone awry. Left too long, the “mother” can actually consume all the goodness of the vinegar, leaving behind a questionable, watery substance. If you decide to use raw vinegar, I recommend using the vinegar within a couple of months rather than long storage.
Choosing Your Herbs
Since there is such a broad range of herbs that can be used in an herbal vinegar, there’s a lot of room to play. The best herbal vinegars are made using nutrient-dense herbs and roots, what herbalists call nutritive, tonic, or alterative herbs. These tend to be food herbs, completely safe, non-toxic, nutritional powerhouses. Even strong-tasting and bitter herbs make yummy vinegars, as the vinegar essence somehow dominates or masks the bitterness.
Potent, medicinally-active herbs are not generally made into vinegars. Vinegar won’t necessarily extract the desired chemical constituents in a medicinal herb in the way that alcohol can. Vinegars are best thought of as a super-nutritious food or food supplement rather than a pharmaceutical preparation.
Fresh or Dry?
I make all my vinegars with fresh herbs. Although it is possible to used dried herbs if you have no access to fresh, I consider these inferior to fresh-herb vinegars. There is inevitable some loss of vitality, life-force, enzymes and nutrients in the storage of dried herbs.
Simples or Compounds?
I like to make simple vinegars, which means in herbal-ese that I use one herb in each jar. Others might enjoy making compounds by mixing two or more different kinds of herbs together for their synergistic effects. There are no hard and fast rules when making nutritive vinegars. Everyone wins!
Here’s a short list of some of the herbs that shine in vinegars:
A Word About Lids
Cover the jar with a tight-fitting lid. Do not use metal lids as vinegar will rust and corrode the metal! Although this is a great testimony to vinegar’s powerful action on metals and minerals, it will contaminate your vinegar with undesirable heavy metals.
Plastic lids are best. Mayonnaise jars often have lids that fit standard mason jars so I always save these for my vinegars. If you don’t have a plastic lid, you can put a couple of layers of plastic from old bread bags or sandwich bags underneath a metal lid or secure them with rubber bands.