Sunday, January 15, 2012

Be Your Own Herbal Expert - Pt 5 by Susun Weed

Herbal medicine is the medicine of the people. It is simple, safe, effective, and free. Our ancestors used - and our neighbors around the world still use - plant medicines for healing and health maintenance. It's easy. You can do it too, and you don't need a degree or any special training. Ancient memories arise in you when you begin to use herbal medicine - memories which keep you safe and fill you with delight. These lessons are designed to nourish and activate your inner herbalist so you can be your own herbal expert.

In our first session, we learned how to "listen" to the messages of plant's tastes. In session two, we learned about simples and how to make effective water-based herbal remedies. The third session helped us distinguish safe nourishing and tonifying herbs from the more dangerous stimulating and sedating herbs. Our fourth session focused on poisons in herbs and herbal tinctures, which we made and then collected into an Herbal Medicine Chest.

In this, our fifth session, we will find out how to help ourselves and our families with herbal vinegars, one of the green blessings of the Wise Woman Way.


Herbal vinegars are an unstoppable combination: they marry the healing and nutritional properties of apple cider vinegar with the mineral and antioxidant richness of health-protective green herbs and wild roots. Herbal vinegars are tasty medicine, enriching and enlivening our food while building health from the inside out.

Herbal vinegars are far better for the bones and the heart than soy beverages. They have a reputation for banishing grey hair and wrinkles. Sprayed in the armpits, herbal vinegars are highly effective deodorants. As a hair rinse (try rosemary or lavender vinegar) they add luster and eliminate split ends.

Anything vinegar can do, including clean the kitchen, herbal vinegars can do better.


Minerals are important for the health and proper functioning of our bones, our heart and blood vessels, our nerves, our brain (especially memory), our immune system, and our hormonal glands. No wonder lack of minerals can lead to chronic problems and getting more can make a big difference in health in a few weeks. One of the best ways to get more minerals - besides drinking nourishing herbal infusions and eating well-cooked leafy greens - is to use herbal vinegars.


It is not true that ingesting vinegar will erode your bones. Adding vinegar to your food actually helps build bones because it frees up minerals from the vegetables you eat and increases the ability of the stomach to digest minerals. 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, apple cider vinegar is said to help build bones; when enriched with minerals from herbs, I think of it as better than calcium pills.


Some people worry that eating vinegar will upset the balance of gut flora and contribute to an overgrowth of candida yeast in the intestines. Some people have been told to avoid vinegar altogether. My experience has led me to believe that herbal vinegars help heal those with candida overgrowth, perhaps because they're so mineral rich. I've worked with women who have suffered for years and kept to a strict "anti-candida" diet with little improvement, and seen them get better fast when they add nourishing herbal vinegars (and fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso, and yogurt) to their diets.


Fill any size jar with fresh-cut aromatic herbs: leaves, stalks, flowers, fruits, roots, and even nuts can be used. For best results and highest mineral content, be sure the jar is well filled and chop the herb finely.

Pour room-temperature vinegar into the jar until it is full. Cover jar: A plastic screw-on lid, several layers of plastic or wax paper held on with a rubber band, or a cork are the best covers. Avoid metal lids - or protect them well with plastic - as vinegar will corrode them.

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.

You can decant your vinegar into a beautiful serving container, or use it right from the jar you made it in.

Which Vinegar?

I use regular pasteurized apple cider vinegar from the supermarket as the menstrum for my herbal vinegars. I avoid white vinegar. Malt vinegar, rice vinegar, and wine vinegar can be used but they are more expensive and may overpower the flavor of the herbs.

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 apple cider vinegar. Some of the many benefits of apple cider vinegar include: better digestion, reduction of cholesterol, improvements in blood pressure, prevention/care of osteoporosis, normalization of thyroid/metabolic functioning, possible reduction of cancer risk, and lessening of wrinkles and grey hair.

Notes for Herbal Vinegar Makers

 Collect jars of different sizes for your vinegars. I especially like baby food jars, mustard jars, olive jars, peanut butter jars and individual juice jars. Look for plastic lids.

 The wider the mouth of the jar, the easier it will be to remove the plant material when you're done.

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

 Really fill the jar. This will take far more herb or root than you would think. How much? With leaves and stems, make a comfortable mattress for a fairy: not too tight; not too loose. With roots, fill your jar to within a thumb's width of the top.

 After decanting your vinegar into a beautiful jar, add a spring of whole herb. Pretty.


Pick the needles of white pine on a sunny day. Make herbal vinegar with them. Inhale deeply the scent of the forest. I call this my "homemade balsamic vinegar."


Herbal vinegars taste so good, you'll want to use them frequently. Regular use boosts the nutrient level of your diet with very little effort and virtually no expense.

 Pour a spoonful or more on beans and grains as a condiment.

 Use them in salad dressings.

 Add them to cooked greens.

 Season stir-fries with them.

 Look for soups that are vinegar friendly, like borscht.

 Substitute herbal vinegar for plain vinegar in any recipe.

 Put a big spoonful in a glass of water and drink it. Try it sweetened with blackstrap molasses for a real mineral jolt. Many older women swear this "coffee substitute" prevents and eases their arthritic pains.


In our next sessions we will learn more about herbal medicine making, with a focus on oils, explore the difference between fixing disease and promoting health, learn how to apply the three traditions of healing, and how to take charge of our own health care with the six steps of healing.


Test vinegar's ability to absorb minerals. Put a fresh bone in a jar and completely cover it with vinegar. What happens? Does the bone become pliable and rubbery? How long does it take? Will eating vinegar dissolve your bones? Only if you take off your skin and sit in it for weeks!


Make eggshell vinegar. Fill a jar one-quarter full of vinegar. Drop crushed eggshell into it. What happens? Does the vinegar foam? How long does it take? Eggshells are exceptionally rich in bone-building minerals. Can you taste the calcium in this vinegar? Add some eggshell to your other vinegars if you wish to increase their ability to keep your bones strong.


Make four or more vinegars with the same plant, using different types of vinegar, including both pasteurized and unpasteurized apple cider vinegar. (For the others, use rice vinegar, malt vinegar, wine vinegar, or even white vinegar, but not umeboshi vinegar.)

Taste your vinegars daily for a week, then weekly for five more weeks. You may, if you wish, decant some of your vinegars for use after six weeks. But you may also wish to keep observing them as they age (for years, if you wish). I have some vinegars which are more than thirty years old and still in good shape. Note which stay edible the longest, and what happens to those that become inedible.


Buy a quart or more of unpasteurized apple cider vinegar. Use two cups to make several small herbal vinegars: one with roots, one with leaves, and one with flowers. Boil the other two cups. Make one herbal vinegar with the boiling hot vinegar. Make another with the boiled vinegar after it has cooled. Continue as in experiment number three.


1. Redo experiment number two using different kinds of eggshells - white ones and brown ones, store-bought and farm-bought, from caged birds and free-range birds. Can you see any differences? Taste or smell any differences?

2. Make vinegars at different times of the year and compare them.


 Unpasteurized vinegar can form a "mother." In a jar filled with herb and vinegar, the vinegar mother usually grows across the top of the herb, and looking rather like a damp, thin pancake. Kombucha is a vinegar mother. Does your local health food store sell mothers? Kombucha? What is a vinegar mother? Is it harmful?

 What is an ionic form of a mineral?

 What is a mineral salt?

 How do our bodies take up and utilize minerals?

Plants That Make Exceptionally Good-Tasting Herbal Vinegars

Apple mint (Mentha sp.) 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 (Taraxacum off.) flower buds, leaves, roots

Dill (Anethum graveolens) herb, seeds

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) herb, seeds

Garlic (Allium sativum) bulbs, greens, flowers

Garlic mustard (Alliaria officinalis) leaves and roots

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 (Mentha sp.) leaves, stalks

Orange peel, organic only

Peppermint (Mentha piperata and etc.) leaves, stalks

Perilla (Shiso) (Agastache) 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

Weedy Herbal Calcium Supplement

Use one or more of the following plants to make an herbal vinegar that can reverse and counter osteoporosis. Dose is 2-4 tablespoons daily.

Amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus) leaves

Cabbage leaves

Chickweed (Stellaria media) whole herb

Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) leaves

Cronewort/Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) young leaves

Dandelion (Taraxacum off.) leaves and root

Kale leaves

Lambsquarter (Chenopodium album) leaves

Mallow (Malva neglecta) leaves

Mint leaves of all sorts, especially sage, motherwort, lemon balm, lavender, peppermint

Nettle (Urtica dioica) leaves

Parsley (Petroselinum sativum) leaves

Plantain (Plantago majus) leaves

Raspberry (Rubus species) leaves

Red clover (Trifolium pratense) blossoms

Violet (Viola odorata) leaves

Yellow dock (Rumex crispus and other species) roots

Herbal Vinegars Where You Eat the Pickled Plants Too





Yellow Dock