Making your own herbal vinegars is a quick and easy way to harness some of the plant magic right outside your door. Vinegars are a great herbal option for those who choose to avoid alcohol, as well as being kid-friendly. Even making them can be a fun activity to do with any children in your life!
Using vinegar as the base for these herbal preparations lets you receive the benefit of all the amazing minerals in these spring plants. Alcohol-based tinctures are widely used in herbalism and are wonderful for extracting certain constituents and properties, but when we’re looking for the minerals that plants offer, we want to turn to water-based methods, such as vinegars and teas.
The vinegar we’re discussing today will incorporate three herbs often viewed as “weeds” - cleavers, chickweed, and dandelion. With the dandelion, we’ll be harvesting both the leaves and the flowers. All three of these plants are very common in Tennessee. If you can only find one or two in your yard, though, that’s okay! You can make an herbal vinegar with a single type of plant, and it will still be great. As always, make 100% sure of proper plant identification and that your yard hasn’t been sprayed with any chemicals.
Using a pair of scissors, you can give the plants a little “haircut” to harvest what you need for this project. To make a pint jar of vinegar, I would gather about three cups of loosely-packed plant material. The herbs will reduce in volume once we cut them up. So if you are able to find cleavers, chickweed, and dandelion in your yard, harvest approximately a cup of each. If you end up with a little more than you needed, you can always make a second pint and gift it to someone!
Once you’re back inside with your plants, you’ll want to cut them up and place them into your pint jar. You can either cut them directly into the jar using your scissors, or roughly chop them with a knife and cutting board. We’re looking to break them down a little bit and increase the surface area of the plant matter but we don’t need to finely dice them either. Cutting everything into half inch or inch long pieces will work well.
Your jar should now be at least half full with the cut plants. You can go past half full, but you don’t want to overfill the jar or pack it too tightly – make sure there’s room for the vinegar to get in there and do its work. Now go ahead and pour your apple cider vinegar over the herbs. Fill almost to the top, leaving a half inch of head room in the jar. Use your scissors or a spoon to make sure all of the plant matter is fully submerged.
That’s it! You’ve made your first herbal vinegar. Now you need to cap the jar. Just a note here: vinegar can rust metal, so if you are closing your jar with a metal ring and lid you’ll want to put a square of parchment paper under the lid. If you’re using a plastic lid, you can omit the parchment paper. Also go ahead and label your jar. I’ve found painter’s tape to be great for this, because it peels off easily without leaving a sticky residue. Write the date as well as each plant you included.
Store your vinegar out of direct sunlight but somewhere where you’ll see it regularly and not forget about it. Give it a shake about once a day whenever you walk by and notice it. After 2-3 weeks, you can go ahead and strain the plant matter out of your vinegar and it’s ready to use! I’ll often start my day with a spoonful of an herbal vinegar in a little water just as a general tonic. You can also incorporate this vinegar into your cooking wherever a recipe normally calls for vinegar. Herbal vinegars make delicious, bright additions to homemade oil and vinegar salad dressings. You can also dress your greens with a new added flavor for some variety.
I think you’ll discover herbal vinegars are a simple investment with a flavorful pay off. And they also make wonderfully unique gifts for any adventurous home cooks in your life!
Sara Schuster is a queer herbalist, homesteader, and medicinal herb farmer. She offers herbal products, educational workshops, and herbal consultations through her business, Fox and Elder. She is also the host of the Tending Seeds podcast. Sara can be reached at FoxandElder.com, as well as on Instagram and Facebook.