Medicinal vinegars (Vinegar Extracts) have been around since ancient times and were an excellent way to preserve and dispense herbs before distilled spirits were known about.
While the advantages of using vodka or brandy to make your herbal tinctures are many – including greater potency and longer shelf life, there are those who wish to avoid alcohol for personal reasons or cost factors, making vinegar extracts ideal for them to create.
Vinegar extracts (also known as “aceta”) are weaker than alcohol based tinctures, so the required dose is higher.
While vinegar won’t draw out as many of the beneficial components of an herb that alcohol will, it does excel at drawing minerals and vitamins from a plant.
Add those extra nutrients to the already established benefits of apple cider vinegar and you have a great option for your herbal remedies toolbox!
Making a Medicinal Vinegar (Vinegar Extract):
According to my well loved book, Making Plant Medicine, by Richo Cech, the standard formula to follow is 1 part dry herb to 7 parts vinegar.
I’m not always that precise when I make herbal remedies – I’m something of a “pinch of this and a pinch of that” type. That works too! Don’t let the feeling of having to be SO precise or the world will end, keep you from trying your hand at making this type of stuff. It’s hard to mess it up!
Cover tightly, shake and store in a cool, dark place to macerate for about two or three weeks, shaking daily. (If you are better at remembering than me!)
Make sure that you use a plastic top or a layer of plastic wrap or wax paper between the jar and a metal lid. Otherwise, the vinegar will eat away at the metal and ruin the whole batch.
Dry herbs generally make a stronger extract than fresh and have a longer shelf life. If you do use fresh plants, be sure to store in a cool place or even better, the refrigerator.
Vinegar Extracts (aceta) have a shelf life of around 6 months, if not longer.
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Dosing a Vinegar Extract:
While there are people that have no problem with the taste of straight vinegar, I am not one of them!
To dose, I mix with an equal part of honey. (By doing this, you are making a most basic of oxymels – more on those in a minute.)
Drink some water after taking and swish your mouth out a bit as you do. Vinegar should not stay against the teeth for long, as it’s not good for them. Even better, put your spoonful into a cup of plain water, juice or even ginger ale and then drink.
Two to three teaspoons at a time, up to five times per day, is the usual dose.
Be careful taking vinegar on a routine daily basis though. I do realize that some do and are perfectly fine doing so, but if you are on medications, struggle with low blood potassium, or are just unsure of how it will affect you, check with your doctor or naturopath first.
Making an Oxymel:
An oxymel is just a sweet and sour herbal syrup. It contains: vinegar, honey & herb(s). They’re very beneficial for respiratory conditions, so the herbs contained therein will usually reflect that.
For the cold method of making an oxymel: fill a small jar about half to three-fourths full of herbs. Pour honey over them, then vinegar. Use about 1/3 of the jar filled with honey to 2/3 of the rest vinegar OR for a sweeter syrup, try 1/2 jar honey and 1/2 jar vinegar. It’s a very flexible amount.
Both honey and vinegar act as preservatives, so you’re not going to ruin the mixture by altering the ratios. Stir it all together; it might not blend well at first, that’s okay. Just stir or shake it every day for about two weeks, then strain the herbs out, bottle it up and store in a cool place or the refrigerator.
For the hot method of making an oxymel (faster): Simmer your herbs and vinegar together for ten to twenty minutes. Strain out and stir in honey while the vinegar is still warm.
Take oxymels by the spoonful, as needed, for sore throats, thick congested coughs or as a general treatment to combat cold and respiratory symptoms.
The shelf life for oxymels is about 9 months to 1 year.
Sample Recipe: Rosemary-Sage Oxymel
- a handful of rosemary sprigs
- a handful of sage leaves
- 1/3 of the jar filled with honey
- topped off with apple cider vinegar
This is a good one to keep on hand specifically for upper respiratory infections. (Not intended for pregnant or nursing women.)
A few herbs to consider when creating medicinal vinegars or oxymels (not an exhaustive list, by any means):
- Rosemary: Useful for low energy and poor circulation, good for digestion and nerves. Avoid daily use or medicinal levels if pregnant.
- Sage: antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral. Contraindications: dries up milk flow, not for medicinal use by pregnant or nursing women, do not take for an extended amount of time.
- Thyme: for upper respiratory infections, coughs, bronchitis, antiviral and antibacterial
- Oregano: antibacterial, antiviral, useful for upper respiratory infections
- Bee Balm (Monarda): sore throat, antibacterial, helpful for thick congested coughs, fever
- Mint: stomach soothing, digestive aid
- Rose Petals: astringent, anti-inflammatory
- Elder Flowers: specific for sore throats, immune stimulating
- Raspberry Leaves: general tonic for women
- Lemon Peel: can be added for flavor
If you’re unable to grow your own herbs, Mountain Rose Herbs is my favorite resource for high quality, organic dried herbs.