Herbal Vinegars to the Rescue
published in the July 2004 issue of Herb Quarterly Magazine*
by Maggie Julseth Howe
Most herbal vinegar recipes I've found extol the uses of this flavoring in foods, from salads and sauces to marinades, soups, and much more. But while we can't deny vinegar's indispensable role in the kitchen, its applications go well beyond salad dressing. In fact, the unassuming vinegar bottle sitting in your kitchen cupboard has uses of which you may never have dreamed.
Since ancient times, vinegar has been used as a skin toner, mouthwash, hair rinse, and deodorant. It's also a preservative and was, at one time, a medical "cure-all". The addition of herbs to vinegar only increases its versatility, not to mention its effectiveness as a natural cleanser, deodorizer, skin toner, and conditioner.
For the past few years, I've experimented with many non-food uses for herbal vinegars, and have been delighted with the results. Making herbal vinegars is a wonderful, inexpensive way to experiment with the bountiful produce of the herb garden. The process is simple and almost fool proof, bringing both practical and therapeutic results.
The recipes and suggestions listed here represent but a few of the many household applications of herbal vinegar. Once you start using it as a replacement for the more expensive, harsh, and possibly toxic cleansers and beauty products in your home, you'll begin to see that vinegar's potential has almost no limits.
Herbal Vinegar: The Recipe
To make your own herbal vinegar, first select a clean, clear, widemouth glass jar or jug. Next, select your vinegar. An organic, raw apple cider vinegar provides the most beneficial properties, but white and/or non-organic vinegars will also work (and can be much easier to find). Finally, gather your herbs, choosing your favorites or using suggestions in the recipes that follow.
Fill the jar with roughly chopped herbs or spices, fresh or dried. Pour in your vinegars to the top of the jar, cap, and set the jar in he sun for a week or two to let the flavors infuse. When you judge the vinegar to be strong enough, strain the herbs, using cheesecloth or a coffee filter, and rebottle the vinegar. You're now ready to use the vinegar around the home, with the help of the suggestions that follow.
Take a Bath
Herbal vinegars make wonderful bath additive, as it naturally balances skin pH, gently toning excess dryness or oiliness. Its mild, natural antiseptic action helps deply cleanse the largest organ of your body - the skin - without being harsh or drying. Adding herbs to vinegar heightens these healing properties, and allows you to tailor your bathing vinegar to the needs of your skin type.
To create your own bathing vinegar, first choose your favorite herb or herb blend - or use the suggestions below. Make the vinegar using the recipe above, then simply add 1/2 to 1 cup to a warm tub, and soak for 20 minutes. Vinegar also makes a wonderful sunburn-, rash-, and insect-bite soother. Use a cotton ball to apply undiluted herbal vinegar to an insect bite, and the itch or sting will subside.
* Mints, sages, and rosemary refresh the skin, helping mitigate the presence of oils.
*Comfrey, calendula and chamomile make soothing vinegars, excellent for dry or sensitive skin.
*Lavender and rose create beautiful, jewel-toned bathing vinegars that make wonderful gifts when packaged in clear, recycled-glass containers.
I wouldn't make it through the summer without my own special Rose-Calendula bathing vinegar - you'll be amazed how it helps take the itch and irritation out of a sunburn!
Fill a widemouth container with freshly picked rose petals and calendula blossoms. Cover with apple cider vinegar, and steep for 2 weeks. Strain, bottle, and keep next to the tub for sunburn emergencies!
To use: add ½ to 1 cup to a tub of warm water and soak for 20 minutes. After bathing gently pat your skin dry, and gently apply aloe vera or a natural lotion. You may mix 1 part vinegar with 2 parts water and place it in a spray bottle to use as a sunburn soother; just spray on as needed to help soothe itching.
Herbal hair vinegars are my absolute favorite beauty secret. Vinegar rinses work wonders for your hair and scalp. Hair, like skin, looks and feels best when it is slightly acidic. Hair has a cuticle that opens when shampooing, which makes the hair feel rough, and promotes tangling. Using a vinegar rinse after shampooing will gently smooth and closes the hair cuticles, helping to restore the scalp's natural acidity. It will also remove any residue left behind from shampooing, conditioning, or styling products. As an added benefit, vinegar is a wonderful tonic for your scalp - and a healthy scalp produces healthy hair.
Make your vinegar infusion using the choice of herb mentioned below. Then add 2 Tbls vinegar to 1 cup of water and pour over your hair as a final rinse after shampooing. (Keep this premixed formula in a container near the shower or tub.) Massage thoroughly through scalp and hair. Rinse it out with fresh water or, for extra extra conditioning benefits, just leave it in and towel dry hair.
*The combination of nettle, horsetail, sage, chamomile, and rosemary makes a great all-purpose hair treatment.
*Nettle, lavender, and rosemary condition dry hair.
*Mint, horsetail and sage benefit oily hair.
*Chamomile and citrus peels help blondes achieve lightening effects.
Honeyed Vinegar Hair Tonic
1 tsp. olive oil
4 tsp. vinegar
4 tsp. honey
5 drops rosemary essential oil
Mix all ingredients and place in recycled squeeze bottle. Work through with fingers and leave on for 20 minutes. Shampoo as usual afterwards. Makes enough for 1 treatment for long hair, more for short hair.
Pets, too, will enjoy the benefits of herb-infused vinegars. A few ideas:
Ear Mites: Many dogs have problems with ear mites and even yeast infections in their ears. An herbally infused vinegar makes an excellent ear wash and treatment. Infuse vinegar with St. John's Wort, garlic, chamomile, comfrey, and calendula for a soothing and safe antiseptic ear wash. To use, mix 1 part vinegar with 1 part distilled water and place in a clean jar or plastic squeeze bottle. Use this solution to gently flush out dirty ears, or place some on a cotton ball or pad and use to wipe the ear clean.
Fur care: The same herbal vinegars that make our scalp and hair healthy and beautiful can do the same for our pets. A diluted vinegar rinse applied after bathing helps restore the acid pH to your dog or cat's skin, while controlling dandruff and adding shine to the coat. A vinegar rinse works especially well for those dogs or cats with coat or skin problems. Simply add 3 Tbls vinegar to 1 qt (4 cups) water, and use as a final rinse. (Do not wash it out). Towel dry as normal. For long-haired pets, keep a dilute vinegar rinse of 1 Tbls vinegar and 1 cup distilled water in a spray-bottle for use as a detangling solution during grooming sessions. As an added bonus, vinegar will remove odors.
Scrubbing and Scouring
As an all-purpose kitchen and bathroom cleaner, vinegar has no equal. Non-toxic, gentle, inexpensive, and safe, it's a great degreaser, cleanser, and disinfectant. Vinegar fights a broad range of bacteria, yeasts, and molds, and works especially well in removing inorganic soils and mineral deposits such as hard water films. For my kitchen and bathroom, I tend to prefer a fresh, citrus-scented vinegar infused with lemon balm, lemon zest, or lemon verbena. Experiment with your own herbs to find your favorite combination.
Pour 1 1/2 cup infused or plain vinegar, 1/2 cup lemon juice, 15 drops essential oil, and 1 cup distilled water in a squirt bottle, shake, and use for everyday cleaning. Citrus oils and juice cut grease and grime, and both vinegar and citrus essential oils have antibacterial properties. Try the solution on greasy stoves, kitchen countertops, sinks, microwaves, tubs, and showers. You can take comfort in the fact that it's perfectly non-toxic and safe for use around pets, small children, and those with allergies or chemical sensitivities.
Vinegars also make a useful addition to the washing machine. It softens clothes naturally, cuts through grease and oil, and reduces soap residue (which can irritate sensitive skin), helps prevent static cling, and acts as a mild, natural bleach. A general guideline: Add 1 cup of vinegar per load of laundry. Try lavender, a classic laundry herb, or another scent of your choosing.
Vinegar's natural antibacterial and antiseptic qualities make it a useful treatment for many common health ills. To help soothe and heal a sore throat, gargle with a mixture of 1 tsp. vinegar in 1 cup water. A mixture of 1 part herbally infused vinegar to 1 part honey makes a natural cough syrup that also soothes throat pain and helps cut through mucus. A vinegar infused with rosehips, citrus fruits, sage, and hibiscus flowers provides vitamin C and helps mitigate sore throat and cold symptoms.
Funky Foot Bath
A sage-infused vinegar makes a fabulous deodorizing, antifungal foot soak that helps fight athlete's foot and toenail fungus, while keeping feet fresh and clean. Add some mint and tea tree for extra refreshment.
Mix 2 cups sage-infused vinegar (or vinegar of your choice) with 2 cups lukewarm water. Add 5 drops each tea tree and peppermint essential oils and mix to disperse. Soak feet for 10 minutes, pat dry, then apply an herbal foot powder or gentle dusting of cornstarch. Repeat this deodorizing, refreshing treatment daily to revive tired feet or clear up foot problems.
*We really like this magazine, and have 6 years of back issues on hand, dog-eared from use! If you're interested in herbs, this is a wonderful magazine to subscribe to!