We use organic, raw apple cider vinegar in the majority of our Honey Tonic formulas. Our apple cider vinegar is made domestically in Northern California, from Oregon, Washington, and Northern California-grown apples. I love using apple cider vinegar as a solvent in herbal tincture making, for a lot of different reasons. It allows you to create an alcohol-free tincture, and has many virtuous health benefits in itself.
Why is Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) a good solvent?
Acetic acid is the chief ingredient in vinegar that makes it both a preservative and a solvent, which is produced through the fermentation and subsequent oxidation of ethanol. Winemaker August Sebastiani observed that “God is trying to make vinegar”, probably because all wine can become vinegar without careful storage. Vinegar is created from a fermentation process of undistilled alcohol, which will occur in the presence of oxygen. Once an undistilled alcohol becomes vinegar, it is in a stable state and does not change much and can last for years. Vinegar is acidic, so it slows the growth of harmful bacteria. Vinegar’s acidic nature works to dissolve minerals, which is not as effectively achieved using solvents such as water or alcohol.
Herbal vinegars are a bit more delicate than an alcohol-based tincture, but vinegar can extract many beneficial properties from plants. Vitamins, minerals, essential oils, alkaloid salts, sugars, tannins, glycosides, saponins, and bitter compounds can all be extracted, although they may not be as strongly concentrated as they would be in alcohol. Vinegar is wonderful for making tonic formulas, ideal for building up and supporting the body over time.
How is apple cider vinegar made?
The roots of the word vinegar come from the french Vin (wine) and Aigre (sour). Vinegars are made from the fermentation of an undistilled alcohol, such as wine in wine vinegars, or hard cider, in the case of apple cider vinegar.
The process of making vinegar begins with fermentation of the juice of various fruits, berries, honey, molasses, or even cereal grains in malt vinegars. In the case of apple cider vinegar, the starting material is juice from apples. Fermentation depends on yeast, which transforms sugars in the starting material into alcohol and carbonic gas. The gas then evaporates, leaving only the alcohol and the flavors (or esters).
In the final phase oxidation occurs – oxygen in the air combines with the alcohol. This is why vinegar forms only when a bottle of wine is uncorked and exposed to air. This fermentation process involves a combination of alcohol, oxygen, and microscopic organisms called acetobacters and aerobic yeasts. These microscopic organisms form a gelatinous mass known as mother of vinegar. The mother of vinegar is edible and nutritious, and nothing to be afraid of.
To make vinegar you need some type of ethyl alcohol that is less than 18% alcohol; vinegar bacteria; a temperature of 59 deg. F to 86 deg. F; and a non-reactive container (glass, wood, ceramic, plastic, or enamel-coated metal – never aluminum). The time it takes wine to turn into vinegar depends on temperature, air circulation, and alcohol content.
Why does vinegar make a good menstruum for herbal tinctures?
Vinegar extracts are gentler than alcohol extracts. Vinegar extracts are suitable for children. Vinegar also has health benefits that alcohol lacks – it retains all the nutritional goodness of the apples from which it was made, and it is rich with potassium and enzymes produced during fermentation.
Raw apple cider vinegar is excellent for tonic tinctures – those taken every day to maintain overall health and build up the system. Vinegar draws out many plant constituents, especially alkaloids, vitamins, and minerals. Since it is acidic, it is not a good extractor of plant acids. Vinegar also extracts flavors and phytochemicals.
Vinegar based tinctures have a shorter shelf life than alcohol tinctures, 1-2 years is generally recommended instead of 5 years. However some vinegar tinctures stored properly (in a cool dark place with proper acidity) may last up to 5 years.
Here is a list of my favorite plants to use in making apple-cider vinegar based tinctures:
Nettles: For it’s high vitamin and mineral content.
Sage: For its incredible flavor and aroma, antiseptic and antimicrobial properties
Echinacea tops: for extracting Echinacea’s gentle tonic, immune-boosting properties
Lemon balm: for it’s incredible flavor and aroma, and it’s gentle nervine properties
Skullcap: for it’s gentle relaxing, nervine properties
Chamomile: for it’s relaxing properties
You can also make delicious culinary vinegars with a wide range of herbs. These work great as a base for salad dressings, in stir fries, dips, soups, or sauces. Some of my favorite culinary vinegars to make are with chive flowers, tarragon, garlic, onions, and horseradish.