What are herbal vinegars / acetums ?
An herbal vinegar is a vinegar (in its raw, unpasteurized form) that has been infused with medicinal herbs. An herbal medicinal vinegar is also known as an acetum, a tincture (or extract) using vinegar as the menstruum or solvent. The word, acetum, is derived from the term acetic acid, of which vinegar is comprised of along with water. Acetic acid is what gives vinegar its strong sour smell and flavor.
(Fermentation nerd side note: Vinegar is made from a fermentation process wherein alcohol or a solution of fermentable sugars [such as fruit in water] + oxygen gets transformed into acetic acid by aerobic Acetobacter bacteria.)
What are its medicinal properties ?
Vinegar in its raw, unpasteurized form is a medicinal tonic in and of itself. Raw apple cider vinegar (ACV) is the most popular and accessible vinegar that is used medicinally and for culinary purposes these days, and the type of vinegar most herbalists like to use for herbal vinegars.
Due to its fermented nature, vinegar in its raw form contains probiotics and live enzymes that benefit digestive health. I've also found, through my own experience, that ACV provides a nice energy boost.
One of the most well-studied benefits of ACV is its blood sugar regulating properties. In one study, vinegar consumption was found to decrease blood sugar levels by an average of 31% after eating white bread. Numerous other studies in humans show that vinegar can improve insulin function and lower blood sugar levels after meals.
Wise Woman herbalist, Susun Weed, says that vinegar is unique in its ability to draw out minerals from plants and hold it in solution. The medicinal benefits of vinegar can thus be increased when you infuse mineral-rich herbs into it. Some common minerals that can be pulled out by vinegar are magnesium, calcium, selenium, potassium, phosphorus. Minerals are especially important as they are the basic component of all of our cells, affecting every system and process in the body.
In 2017, I first heard the term "acetum" being used by Wise Woman herbalist, Susun Weed, when I took a daylong workshop at her property in upstate New York. She loves incorporating mineral-rich herbal vinegars into her daily routine. I especially remember her raving about her fresh burdock root acetum. Weed recommends regularly taking mineral-rich acetums especially for the menopausal stage of life, when minerals play a major role in bone and cellular health.
Mineral-rich herbs to incorporate into vinegars
Data is for 100 grams (3.5 oz) dry weight and does not include all the minerals found in each herb. Approximately 4% of the total minerals is extracted into 15ml (one tablespoon) of vinegar if 400 grams (14 oz) fresh herbs is infused in 400ml (~1.7 cups) vinegar for six weeks. (From Susun Weed's Menopausal Years, 2002)
Stinging Nettle, leaf (Urtica dioica)
calcium (2900 mg); magnesium (860 mg); phosphorus (447 mg); potassium (1750 mg); zinc (4.7 mg)
Oatstraw, aerial parts (Avena sativa)
calcium (1430 mg); phosphorus (425 mg); potassium (352 mg)
Red Clover Blossoms (Trifolium pratense)
calcium (1310 mg); magnesium (349 mg); potassium (2000 mg)
Peppermint, leaf (Mentha x piperita)
calcium (1620 mg); manganese (6.1 mg); magnesium (661 mg); phosphorus (772 mg); potassium (2260 mg); selenium (1.1 mg)
Garden thyme, leaf (Thymus vulgaris)
calcium (1350 mg); chromium (2.0 mg); iron (147 mg); magnesium (436 mg); manganese (6.4 mg); selenium (1.6 mg); silicon (20.2 mg); zinc (1.5 mg)
Yellow Dock, root (Rumex crispus)
calcium (1000 mg); magnesium (320 mg); phosphorus (757 mg); potassium (1220 mg); selenium (2.5 mg); silicon (1.3 mg)
Burdock root (Arctium lappa)
calcium (733 mg); chromium (2.0 mg); iron (147 mg); magnesium (537 mg); phosphorus (437 mg); potassium (1680 mg); selenium (1.4 mg); silicon (22.5 mg); zinc (2.2 mg)
Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale)
calcium (614 mg); chromium (0.9 mg); iron (96 mg); magnesium (157 mg); potassium (1200 mg); silicon (4.7 mg); zinc (1.3 mg)
Chickweed, aerial parts (Stellaria media)
calcium (1210 mg); magnesium (523 mg); manganese (15.3 mg); phosphorus (448 mg); zinc (5.2 mg)
calcium (3040 mg); magnesium (867 mg); manganese (7.6 mg); phosphorus (249 mg); potassium (2110 mg); selenium (1.7 mg); silica (7.6 mg); zinc (0.6 mg)
Other mineral-rich herbs I love using: Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis); Amaranth greens (Amaranthus spp.); Alliums (garlic, onions, chives, etc.), Dandelion greens (Taraxacum officinale); Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus); Oregano (Origanum vulgare), Raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus)
How to incorporate herbal vinegars into your daily routine
I love herbal vinegars because it's another way to take herbs other than in an herbal infusion (concentrated tea) or alcohol or glycerin-based tincture. You can incorporate herbal vinegars into:
your food (salad dressings, marinades, soups or stews, over rice and beans, pickling, etc.)
herbal mocktails such as the base of a shrub (vinegar-soured fruit drink)
cleansing hair rinses
simply take it straight by the spoonful or mix it in some water to take as a shot (I highly recommend diluting your herbal vinegar with water as it can burn your throat and also weaken your tooth enamel overtime)
I first learned about herbal vinegars through my encounter with Fire Cider a few years back. If you don't know what Fire Cider is, it's a vinegar- and honey-based infusion (also known as an oxymel) of aromatic and immune-boosting herbs that you let steep for 4-6 weeks. You then strain out the herbs and use the medicinal vinegar for a variety of purposes. It's often used as a cold and flu remedy and is taken straight by the tablespoon or incorporated into food or other drinks as a preventative tonic. Here's an easy-to-follow recipe: https://blog.mountainroseherbs.com/fire-cider
Want to create your own herbal vinegar? Below are some recipes to get you started!
Katz, S. E. (2012). Art of Fermentation by Katz, Sandor Ellix (1st Printing ed.). Chelsea Green.
Trescott, M. (2019). The Nutrient-Dense Kitchen: 125 Autoimmune Paleo Recipes for Deep Healing and Vibrant Health (1st ed.). Trescott LLC.
Weed, S. S. (2002). New Menopausal Years: Alternative Approaches for Women 30–90 (3) (Wise Woman Herbal) (1st ed.). Ash Tree Publishing.