Herbal vinegars are a delightful way to preserve the beautiful edible plants of spring. Many of our favorite first greens of the season are well-extracted by vinegar, and make lovely additions to salad dressings and marinades.
Vinegar is characterized by the presence of acetic acid, which acts as a preservative, amongst other things. Most commercial vinegars contain about 5% acetic acid, which is plenty to keep your vinegar safe. When making an herbal vinegar, the first consideration is what kind of vinegar you want to use! Do you like the relatively neutral taste of apple cider vinegar, or do you want something strong like balsamic?
Apple cider vinegar, especially organic and containing the mother, is an accessible and inexpensive vinegar to use. You can also easily make your own; local folks can join us for our class on how to make vinegar on May 9th, 2018, or stop by the shop to purchase a vinegar mother.
Once you've selected your vinegar, the next step is to decide what plants you want to add. In the spring, mineral-rich or bitter greens such as dandelion, chickweed, and nettle (blanch them quickly to remove the sting!) can make a great spring green tonic. Vinegar is quite good at extracting minerals from herbs! Violets are also lovely, and both the flowers and leaves can be used. The flowers will offer up a beautiful purple hue that is truly a treat.
While vinegar can be used for herbal medicine, spring herbal vinegars are best treated more like a food, which removes some of the stress from being precise when making a vinegar.
To make an herbal vinegar infusion, fill a jar to the top with your edible plant friends. Then, cover the herbs with your selected vinegar. Try to ensure that all of the plant material is beneath the surface of the liquid; anything that pokes above is subject to molding. If using a jar with a metal lid, first cover the top of the jar with wax paper and then screw on the lid. Vinegar will corrode metal, and the wax paper will help to slow that process. Make sure to label your jar so you can remember what herbal friends are in it.
Then, wait! For a tasty vinegar, let your mixture sit in a cool, dark place for up to two weeks. If you want something more potent, you can leave for up to a month before straining through a mesh strainer or cheesecloth. After strained, the vinegar can last up to a year, but they rarely seem to stick around that long.
Have you made herbal vinegars? What are your favorite spring greens to include?