Herb-Infused Vinegars for Cooking and Cleaning

Herbal vinegars are endlessly useful and can be used in salad dressings, marinades, body care products, homemade countertop sprays, and more.

Reader Contribution by Hannah Kincaid
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by AdobeStock/chamillew

Spring is right around the corner, and with it comes the desire to clean out the old to make space for the new. My pantry contains an abundance of last year’s dried herbs hanging in bundles and shedding little herb flakes all over the floor. My dried herb bundles supply me with an endless amount of seasonings and tea, plus they make me feel witchy and resourceful. However, by this point in the year I’m ready to use them up, vacuum the floor of my panty, and clear space for a new year’s worth of herbal harvests.

Kami McBride’s book The Herbal Kitchen is absolutely brimming with smart and inexpensive ways to use and preserve extra herbs. I’m particularly smitten with her ideas for making herb-infused vinegars, which can be used as a base in everything from salad dressings to homemade cleaning products.

You can use any kind of vinegar. I prefer to use inexpensive, distilled white vinegar for cleaning products, and then I use raw, organic apple cider vinegar for anything that I’ll eat or put on my body.

 How to Make Herb-Infused Vinegars

Chop your plant material finely or use a mortar and pestle to grind it up. The amount of plant material — leaves, flowers, berries, spices, etc. — that you use will vary depending on whether you’re using fresh or dried material. If using dried plant material, fill a clean glass jar ¼ of the way. If using fresh plant material, then fill your jar ¾ of the way. This is because fresh herbs and fruits have higher water content than dried material.

Fill your glass jar with the vinegar of your choice and then stir to make sure all the plant material is submerged. If you’re using a metal lid, then place a few layers of wax paper between the lid and the jar to prevent corrosion. Set your jar in a cool, dark place and let infuse for about one month before straining through a cheesecloth-lined colander and bottling.

Homemade Salad Dressing with Infused Vinegar

Use your infused vinegars to make simple and healthy homemade salad dressings, which can double as delicious marinades. This recipe will keep for about 1 week in the fridge, and I recommend doubling it if you eat a lot of salad. Yield: ½ cup.

¼ cup infused apple cider vinegar (follow directions above for how to make an infused vinegar. Good herbal options include sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, or a combination of all.)
1 garlic clove, minced

2 tbsp stone-ground mustard

1 tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a mason jar and shake until thoroughly combined. Drizzle over a fresh salad or use a marinade for homegrown veggies or pasture-raised meat.

 Garden-Fresh Countertop Spray

I’m all about simple recipes when it comes to cleaning. I want a clean home, but I’d rather be working in my garden or studying medicinal herbs than fussing over dust. I’ve noticed that 95 percent of the cleaning that happens around my home is done with a combination of baking soda, distilled white vinegar, and essential oils. I use sage-infused vinegar for my countertop spray because it’s antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral; plus, I like the smell of sage and have an abundance of dried sage to use up!

1 part infused, distilled white vinegar (follow directions at beginning of post)
1 part distilled water

10 to 20 drops essential oil of your choice (citrus scents are nice in the kitchen, and I also enjoy tea tree, eucalyptus, and cedar)

Combine these ingredients in a spray bottle and give it a gentle shake before using on dirty surfaces. If you need a bit of an abrasive grit for a tough patch, then sprinkle a few tablespoons of baking soda on first, and then spray with the infused vinegar solution. I use this technique to clean my countertops, sinks, showers, bathtub, and even toilet bowls. It’s natural, inexpensive, and works great!

 Herb and Vinegar Hair Rinse

If you’re reading this — particularly if you’re a woman with medium to long hair — and you’ve never rinsed your hair with vinegar before, then you may need to drop what you’re doing and try this out ASAP. I was actually shocked at how shiny and clean my hair felt the first time after using a vinegar rinse, and it’s now something that  I do as part of my regular body care routine.

Rosemary is traditionally recommended for herbal hair tonics because it helps with dandruff, stimulates circulation to the scalp, and results in shiny, healthy-looking hair. Sage is said to help darken grey hair and chamomile will help lighten fair hair.

3/4 jar chopped fresh rosemary or ¼ jar dried rosemary
Raw apple cider vinegar, to fill

Follow the directions under “How to Make Herb-Infused Vinegars” at the beginning of this post. Pour the finished infusion into a plastic spray bottle and keep it in your shower with your other body care products. After washing your hair, spray this infusion generously all over your scalp and the ends of your hair, and then let sit for a few minutes before rinsing. (I don’t also use conditioner on days that I use a vinegar rinse.)

Your hair may smell slightly vinegary after this rinse, but the smell fades as your hair dries and the scent has never been strong enough to deter me from using it. (Read more about herbal vinegar hair rinses in The Herbal Academy’s excellent online post, here.)

If you have particularly dry hair, then after your shower you may want to consider rubbing a few drops of almond oil between your palms and then running your hands through your hair while giving special attention to your ends. Be careful though, it’s easy to apply too much oil and then your hair will look greasy; just a few drops will be plenty.

Going forward, I plan on infusing citrus peels in distilled white vinegar, which I’ll use for my homemade cleaning products. I’d also like to experiment with vinegar infusions made in balsamic or red wine vinegar for extra-special salad dressings.  Have you made herb-infused vinegars before? If so, I’d love to hear about your herbal experiments — and how you used them — at Hkincaid@motherearthnews.com.

Hannah was inspired to write this blog post during her time enrolled in The Herbal Academy’s online school where she worked her way through the Entrepreneur Herbalist Package. She is senior editor of Mother Earth News and managing editor of Mother Earth Gardener