Long before there was the improved technology in distillation processes whereby they make high-proof alcohols, man made his extracts from water (teas and decoctions), vinegar and wines. Not only that, we used it for disinfecting, deodorising and using it as a preservative. Have you ever seen a bottle of vinegar go off, probably not.
A Bible verse used as an excuse to drink alcohol found in 1 Timothy 5:23 “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.” is really the Apostle Paul telling Timothy, “Take your medicine”. It was health advice! And it was a wine extraction in this case. Humans have for many thousands of years made herbal extractions.
Anyway, a liquid used in the process of drawing or extracting the goodies out of the herb is called a ‘Menstruum’, and here, it is vinegar. Vinegar is an acid, usually up to 5% or a little higher, and therefore has the ability to bite in and extract elements out of the herb. But it is not the best form of extraction, and does benefit with extras such as, a grain alcohol.
Next time you use a vinaigrette, especially when made from fresh herbs, you are basically using a type of culinary Vinegar extract, but not exactly as described here.
Reasons why to make a Vinegar Extract
Vinegar is relative cheap and easy to obtain for most people and often it is already in their cupboard, ready to be used on their fish and chips, therefore, it is an easy and cheap solution.
Vinegar acts both as a solvent, that is a menstruum, and a preservative and therefore, can be used entirely on its own. This is helpful to some who cannot take alcohol, such as young children, those with liver disease, alcohol sensitivities and strict religious reasons.
Since apple cider vinegar is excellent for the stomach and digestive tract, you could design an apple cider vinegar extract, which is excellent for digestion and the GI tract, with herbs that work synergistically to improve absorption, digestion of foods and assimilation of nutrients. Or you can add mucilaginous/emollient herbs to make things gentle on the stomach.
Alkaloids found in many herbs, when mixed with an acid, the alkaloid turns chemically into a type of alkaloid salt. This means they become more bioavailable.
Many of the vinegar extractions if made of the ‘right’ herbs, that is, aromatic and tasteful, can be applied to salads and other meals and therefore providing medicinal benefits as well as great flavour.
How to do a Vinegar Extract
My preferred type of vinegar is Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV), organic and unfiltered, as they say, with the ‘mother in’ as well, and I personally use it everyday, as it already has many natural benefits. Without even doing any extraction.
The only downside I have heard of ACV, is that it is so already full of ‘extras’ that it finds it hard to absorb any more, but it does still work.
There are plenty of vinegars you can use, such as, malt, rice, wine, cane and a less known one, raisin vinegar? Either way, try to make sure your menstruum is as organic, and natural as possible.
I wouldn’t use white vinegar unless you know exactly ‘what’ is was made from, as it can made from natural fermentation processes or from coal tar, petroleum products and in the laboratory then diluted, which could or would be poisonous. And another reason I would avoid white vinegars, is because they are basically nutrition less.
Vinegar extraction can use both dry and fresh herbs, but if you going to make a vinegar extract, you are on the whole, much better off using dry herbs, as fresh herb extractions are not as strong. This is partly because dried herbs are ‘semi’ broken due to the drying process, a bit like dried soil with its cracks, and if you reduce them to a more powdered form, then you have greater surface area for the vinegar to extract from.
One of the reasons for not using fresh herbs is that during the extraction process, a lot of juices flow out into the vinegar and prevent the more but slower constituents from coming out.
Sage Vinegar Extract
This one is good for weak constitutions and low metabolism
- Fill a 500ml / 1 pint glass jar with crushed sage leaves almost to the top
- Add and cover with your preferred vinegar and place a lid on it
- Allow to sit, that is – macerate for 2 weeks
- Shake each day
- Strain and rebottle and label and date
Take it three times per day, by adding 20 to 40 drops in some water.
This exact same process above can be used for other herbs such as, Horseradish, Gentian, Wormwood (although this would very bitter), and Burnet. A balm to help in removing chickenpox crusts is a Burdock root vinegar. A Chamomile vinegar extract can be drunk as a health tonic.
A few culinary choices
Made to the same processes above, you could make some salad dressings out of either Basil, Nettle, Thyme, Fennel, Rosemary or Garlic.
Variations of Vinegar Extracts
Although you can use straight vinegar as a menstruum and that’s what this post is mostly about, you can add as a variation, additional grain alcohol or similar, as this will increase the extraction efficacy and shelf life.
A mixture of vinegar and alcohol is called an acetous mixture, a straight vinegar extract is called an acetum and plural – aceta.
As mentioned above, you can choose a range of vinegars and alcohols, but the alcohol does need to be very high proof.
Vinegar extracts on there own don’t seem to have a long shelf life, so you can either make an acetous mixture, vinegar/alcohol or add the alcohol later as a preservative, which sort of defeats the purpose of not adding the alcohol in the first place, or trying to avoid it.
An interesting variation, well sort of, is an Oxymel, ‘Oxy’ meaning acid, and ‘Mel’ meaning Honey.
This remedy is principally used as a means to hide the taste of bitter herbs, or reduce the ‘heat’ of some. It is simply made by placing the chosen herbs, and 5 parts honey and 1 part vinegar into a saucepan and simmering it down until it is the consistency of Treacle. Then bottle and label name with a date.
The dosage is whatever the prescribed use of the herb is.
Choice of Herbs for a Vinegar Extract
When it comes to choosing a herb or herbs for a vinegar extract, really you can use any herb, but as a guidance, I would suggest:
- Only use dry herbs for real efficacy
- If they are raw, and whole, grind them into smaller particles
- Vinegar extracts are usually done at a ratio of 1:7
- Vinegar/alcohol extracts are done at a ratio of 1:5 due the stronger combination
- Some low-dosage herbs need to done at a ratio of 1:10
Low dosage herbs are ones that are very potent and should be used sparingly.
Always be careful of any possible allergic reaction to any herb, even though most are safe.
Though not really a safety issue, taking apple cider vinegar or most vinegars frankly, can be quite strong, I mean, if you take it straight, it feels like its stripping the lining off your oesophagus. I know, I do take small sips straight often.
So you can either dilute it a bit with water, which may dilute the original mixture, or add a little raw honey. But don’t use honey when consuming bitter herbs as this defeats their use.
Please remember, this blog cannot and should not replace a health care professional, and is for informational and educational purposes only and is not for medical advice or treatment, and no cure is implied in anyway. If you have a known serious condition, or are pregnant, please consult your health care professional, before use.
Russell a.k.a Herbal Panda
“Just remember, we have tastes for salt, sour and bitter, just as much as sweet and savoury”Herbal Panda