I love fermenting and I love making medicines. One of my favorite things to make is a combination of both fermenting and plant power: raw vinegar (acetic) tinctures. The vinegar acids are fabulous at extracting plant properties, and can extract different properties than an alcohol tincture. Vinegar tinctures are great to use as a menstruum for plants that you want to use in a tonifying everyday way. For instance, if you wanted to included bitters, like dandelion, in your daily diet, vinegar is a great solvent to use because it will extract those vitamins, minerals, sugars, and bitter compounds like taraxcin from the plant. Always use raw cider vinegar or kombucha vinegar. Stay away from cooked up commercially processed vinegars.
Every autumn, I make one of two vinegar tinctures for internal and external use: Four Thieves Vinegar, Fire Cider, or some combination thereof. These recipes center around plants that have been known for their antibacterial, antiviral, antiseptic, and antifungal properties for centuries.
Over the fall/winter months (or when I travel year-round), I use my vinegar tinctures once every few days for maintenance (one full dropper of the formula diluted in a class of water), and twice a day when people around me are getting sick or I know that I am going to be getting close + personal with people at large gatherings.
The most famous reference for this herbal/vinegar medicine is the Four Thieves during the Bubonic Plague: According to legend, four thieves, one of whom was an herbalist, made a fortune of robbing households that had been ravished by the plague. They were eventually caught and brought to trial. One version of the story recounts that they were released from their sentence in return for the recipe to the tonic that they credited with protecting them from the plague while they were in peoples’ homes, and eventually, while burying the dead (which they had been sentenced to do as punishment for the thefts).
So the thieves survived, as did their herbal formula for medicinal vinegar. These “recipes” are really just jumping off points for experimentation. You can fashion small batches to use as insect repellent and disinfecting spray around your house, and other batches for use externally and internally to clean wounds, and ward off and treat various ailments. There are a multitude of uses for vinegar in our lives, experiment!
Finely chop the following herbs/plants, cover with raw, unpasteurized cider vinegar or kombucha vinegar* in a large glass fermenting jar, cover with a cotton cloth fasted with a rubber band. Allow to sit for 6-8 weeks in a dark cupboard. Stir daily or as often as you remember (stir with wood or metal, not plastic!). Strain, place a regular cap on the jar, and use. No need for refrigeration if you’ll use it within the next year and a half.
Notes: 1) I had a SCOBY form on the top of my tincture, which is completely normal when using raw vinegar with the Mother; 2) You can use a glass French press for ease of straining. While the herbs sit, use it without the top/strainer, instead cover with a cloth. When ready to strain, plunge the French press’ strainer and then pour the tincture into a glass jar for storage. 3) I use dried and fresh herbs depending on what’s in season. If you use fresh herbs you’ll need more since it will not be as concentrated as the dried stuff. 4) 1 liter (32 fl oz) of vinegar for 10 ounces of dried herb is a good ratio to start with. I’ve done as much as 20 ounces of dried herbs for a liter of tincture…
Four Thieves Acetic Tincture:
Rosemary Thyme Sage
Mint Clove Garlic (4-8 cloves)
Other possible herbs to add: cinnamon, lemon balm, yarrow, calendula, plantain, lavender, oregano.
Fire Cider Tincture:
(Traditionally made with cider vinegar and all fresh ingredients)
Optional additions: echinacea, turmeric, rose hips, schizandra, astragalus, peppercorns, star anise, thyme, rosemary, oregano, parsley, orange.
Allow to sit for at least 4 weeks in a dark place, add cayenne pepper and honey to taste.
*If you want to brew your own kombucha and are in the Paris region, I can give you a SCOBY.
As mentioned above, in cases of illness, adults can take half an ounce and kids can take a quarter ounce, diluted in water or herbal tea, several times a day. If you are living with someone who is sick, or you just want to get something REALLY sterile, diluting this with 1 part water in a spray bottle will make a potent disinfectant that can be used on surfaces or sprayed in the air.
The Four Theives recipe makes a very effective insect repellent: add 2 ounces of the vinegar tincture to an 8-ounce spray bottle and fill the rest with water. Spray on skin and clothes (be mindful it could stain) when in insect infested areas. Trick: store it in the fridge to tone down the vinegar smell.
It can also be used as a soak or topical spray for foot or nail fungus; diluted and used on the scalp against dandruff.
The formula smells and tastes strong, but it is very effective for so many things. Plus, it is greener, cheaper and healthier than antibiotics.
Bonus! Winter Blues Acetic Tincture:
Coarsely chop fresh holy basil (tulsi) leaves, schizandra berry and astragalus, cover with raw unpasteurized cider or kombucha vinegar, allow to sit for 6 weeks or longer. Strain and use.
I love this tincture but it is not as potent as the first two. With that said, it’s a wonderful thing to add to your winter toning/adaptogen regimen. It will help you survive the holidays and the winter blues. I swear by it.