“Hands-on experience at the critical time, not systematic knowledge, is what counts in the making of a naturalist. Better to be an untutored savage for a while, not to know the names or anatomical detail. Better to spend long stretches of time just searching and dreaming.”
— E.O. Wilson, The Naturalist
Looking for a simple herbal project to do with your kids? How about making some herbal vinegars? For those of us in the northern hemisphere, this is a great time of the year to make vinegars as we have lots of herbs in abundance right now.
Why herbal vinegars?
There are many reasons for making and using herbal vinegars. Typically, apple cider vinegar is used which has a lot of healing properties itself. Vinegar helps to build strong bones, improves skin tone, lowers cholesterol, and much more. Vinegar is great at extracting minerals from plant materials, something water and alcohol isn’t always good at. Vinegars are versatile in their use too. They can be applied externally to sunburns and fungi for soothing relief. Internally, vinegars can be added to a glass of water for a refreshing healthful drink, combined with an herbal syrup to make shrub (how to can be found in the Blackberry issue), combined with herbal infused oils to make salad dressing, and sprinkled on beans and grains. We can use leaves, flowers, roots and seeds for making vinegars, though they should be harvested in season. Roots are best harvested in the spring or fall, leaves before the plant flowers (or after if it is an early blooming plant) and flowers right as they open.
Herbal vinegar making basics
Herbal vinegars are easy to make, making them a great project to do with kids. Letting kids make their own vinegars from their chosen plants empowers them to take control of their health. Kids who make their own herbal remedies are more likely to want to use their own herbal remedies.
To make a vinegar, you will need:
A jar with a lid
Apple cider vinegar
Fresh herbs of choice
Knife and cutting board
Chop up the herbs you are using. You can make a simple (a single herb in vinegar) or blend a few herbs together. Simples are more versatile and can be blended later to make more elaborate vinegars but combinations are wonderful too (see the note of fire cider at the end of this article).
Fill your jar half to 3/4 full of chopped up herbs. Pour the vinegar to fill the jar to the top, leaving 1/2 inch air space.
Place a piece of waxed paper over the top of the jar, then screw the lid on. The waxed paper will prevent the vinegar from corroding the lid if it is metal (you can omit the waxed paper if your lid is plastic).
Label your vinegar and set aside for 4 – 6 weeks, out of direct sunlight.
The pickled herbs can be chopped and added to salads or eaten straight when it comes time to strain them off. We find it easiest to just leave the pickled herbs in the vinegar and eat them as we want, using the vinegar as needed, until the jar is empty.
Your herbal vinegars should last indefinitely, they are well preserved but will be most potent in the first year of use.
Herbs that make great herbal vinegars
Many herbs can be added to vinegars. Herbs that have lots of minerals work well, as do aromatic herbs. This is a short list of possibilities.
Bergamot (Monarda spp.) flowers and leaves
Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus, R. villosa, R. canadensis) leaves
Burdock (Arctium lappa) roots
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) leaves
Chickweed (Stellaria spp.)
Chicory (Chicorium intybus) roots
Cleavers (Galium aparine)
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) leaves and roots
Fir (Abies spp.) needles
Lavender (Lavedula spp.) flowers and leaves
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) leaves
Mugwort (Artemeisa vulgaris) leaves
Nettles (Urtica dioica) leaves
Pine (Pinus spp.) needles
Plantain (Plantago spp.) leaves
Raspberry (Rubus idaeus, R. occidentalis) leaves
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) blossoms
Rose (Rosa spp.) petals
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Sage (Salvia officinalis) leaves and flower buds
Spruce (Picea spp.) needles
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Violet (Viola spp.) leaves
Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus) roots
Don’t forget about fire cider!
Fire cider should be the staple in every home for winter health! A combination of Apple cider vinegar, honey, Garlic, Onion, Cayenne, Horseradish and other herbs, this traditional herbal recipe was brought to popularity by herbalist Rosemary Gladstar many, many years ago. For more info on the benefits of fire cider and how to make your own, download our fire-cider-ebook . For a more in depth look, you may choose to purchase the ebook with corresponding Herbal Roots zine ebooks.
Recipes to try using your vinegars
Wellness Mama Four Thieves recipe:
Bon Appetit on herbal oxymels:
The Kitchn on Elderberry Shrub:
Do you use herbal vinegars? What are your favorites? Do your kids like making and using herbal vinegars? Tell us about your experiences with herbal vinegars in the comments.