Spring is popping up everywhere! Each morning I wake up to birdsong and then head outside to see who’s emerging. I live in a northern climate (zone 4), which means that spring starts slowly and a bit later than most. That’s okay, I treasure each new plant, watching it unfurl day by day!
My friend Rebecca Altman, from Wonder Botanica, recently wrote about her spring tradition of making a multi-plant, mineral-rich herbal vinegar. As a lover of simples, my herbal vinegars tend to be made with a single plant. Dandelion vinegar, nettle vinegar, and so on. But as soon as I read about this, I knew I wanted to make my own spring greens vinegar.
Vinegar excels at extracting minerals from plants. Minerals, like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous, are important for building strong bones, teeth, and hair, but they can be hard to extract. Alcohol doesn’t extract them and water can, but you need to simmer the herbs or infuse them at high heat for an extended period of time.
For this recipe, I’m using organic apple cider vinegar. Infused herbal vinegars can be taken daily by the teaspoonful as a mineral tonic, or used in salad dressings or cooking greens (which is what I like to do).
Before I get to the herbal vinegar recipe, follow me outside to see what there is to harvest. I’ll invite my husband along, too, so I can take photos of him harvesting the plants.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
First stop is the garden.
Yes, I planted stinging nettle in my garden. No, I’m not insane.
I live in a dry climate, and although nettles grow here and there, I knew the best way for me to use them frequently was to put them near me! Right now I have just this one patch, but we have immediate plans to put in another one… but that’s another story entirely.
These are at the perfect stage for harvesting. Wearing gloves to avoid the stings, we’ll use scissors to clip the stems just above the leaf node. Nettles will continue to grow and I’ll get multiple harvests throughout the spring and early summer.
Nettles are very high in minerals, especially those bone-building minerals I mentioned earlier. I often say that a side effect of using nettles regularly is luxurious hair and strong teeth and bones. Eating lightly cooked nettles (you need to cook them to get rid of the sting) is another way to enjoy the benefits of this nutrient-dense plant.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
My home is a dandelion haven and right now we are in full swing of the spring bloom. This is one of my favorite times of year! Those golden orbs fill the lawn with their cheery color and the bees are happily collecting their pollen. Dandelion leaves and roots are high in minerals like potassium and calcium. They also both contain inulin, an important prebiotic that can support healthy gut flora.
Digging dandelions out of the lawn isn’t the easiest task. Luckily I have several growing in my raised garden beds and I’d like to remove them to make room for my vegetable starts. To do this, we’ll use my hori hori knife to dig into the soil and loosen it enough to pop out the entire root. If I leave even a bit of root behind, the dandelion will continue to grow – which is fine for me. They are easy to harvest and have so many benefits!
For this herbal vinegar, I will use the whole flowering plant with the exception of the dandelion flower stem, which is filled with a bitter sap.
Plantain (Plantago major, P. lanceolata)
I am so lucky to have so much plantain growing all over my garden. From spring to fall I have fresh leaves readily available for any first aid needs like insect bites or cuts and I can easily dry plenty for teas. We have bee hives and they go nuts when the plantains are in flower; it feels like the whole garden is vibrating with their buzz. I never realized such a small flower could inspire so many bees!
Plantain is, you guessed it, high in minerals. While you can eat the very young leaves, they soon become tough and unpalatable (although blanching them helps). Infusing them in herbal vinegars is a quick and easy way to enjoy their goodness.
To harvest, we’ll just be picking leaves from here and there from healthy sized plants. While a lot of the plantain in my garden gets trampled underfoot, I keep several sections free from human traffic so I can avoid harvesting plants that have been walked on.
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
We have oodles of alfalfa growing all over our property. I’m guessing somewhere down the line previous stewards planted it as a crop. This tenacious plant has deep taproots that help it thrive in dry environments; it also makes it fairly impossible to remove! With regular watering, it grows fast. It can be cut down to the ground and it will continue to grow for three to four cuttings throughout the growing season. I’ve been told that chickens love it, but our chickens never got that memo.
Alfalfa can be dried and used in teas. It’s high in potassium, calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium.
To harvest alfalfa, we’ll use a sickle, or curved knife (pictured above) to slice down a handful.
Violets (Viola spp.)
Last year I planted lots of violets in my garden and lawn and they are slowly starting to spread. I dream of one day having violets everywhere! Those gorgeous little flowers are fun to make remedies with and the leaves are a lovely soothing mucilaginous plant that is perfect to address hot and dry tissues.
Most of the violets have already done their major flowering for the season, but for this herbal vinegar, I’ll add some of those leaves. We’ll collect a few leaves from several different plants so I don’t put too much stress on any individual. Violet flower vinegar turns a gorgeous color… but that is for another article.
Other Spring Green Ideas
Other spring plants that would make great herbal vinegars include lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album), purslane (Portulaca oleracea), chickweed (Stellaria media), and cleavers (Galium aparine). I know I must be forgetting some, too. Basically any edible plant that is high in minerals is a good choice here. All the plants listed in this article are safe to use; however, always be certain that you have correctly identified the plant.
Tips for Prepping Your Herbs
Before I head inside, I’ll shake the plants a bit to dislodge any creatures. I’ll give the dandelion flowers a gentle but persistent shake as there are little bugs that like to crawl deep into the flower head. I’ll wash the dandelion root and some of the plantain leaves as they have some dirt on them, but otherwise there’s no need to wash the other herbs.
Once everything is prepped, I’ll mince everything as finely as possible. This both increases the surface area of the plant, which makes it easier to extract, and allows for me to fit a lot in a jar. One of the most common mistakes I see with beginning herbal remedy makers is that they don’t chop their herbs, which makes for a more diluted remedy.
Spring Greens Herbal Vinegar
Herbal vinegars are an excellent way to extract minerals from our fresh spring greens. They can be taken as a mineral boost by the spoonful or used in salad dressings or cooked greens. The optional blackstrap molasses adds more nutrients and gives this a slightly sweet taste. If you want to make this recipe and don’t have access to fresh greens, then use a similar combination of dried mineral-rich herbs, but only fill the jar halfway.
What you’ll need…
- Several handfuls of fresh edible spring greens including dandelion leaves and roots, stinging nettle leaves, alfalfa leaves, plantain leaves, violet leaves, etc.
- 2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses (optional)
- Approximately 3 cups apple cider vinegar (at least 5% acidity)
- Gather your greens, gently remove any bugs to relocate them to a new home, and then wash the greens, if necessary, to dislodge any dirt or debris.
- Chop the herbs finely and place them in a quart or liter-sized glass jar. You want them to snugly fill the jar without being too loose or too crammed in there.
- Add the blackstrap molasses, if using.
- Then, pour apple cider vinegar over the herbs until the jar is filled. Cover with a glass or plastic lid. If you don’t have these, then use parchment paper as a barrier between the vinegar and a metal lid (vinegar will corrode metal and ruin your batch).
- Shake well. Keep this on your counter for 2 to 4 weeks, shaking daily. When you’re ready, strain off and reserve the vinegar. Compost the plants.
- This is best stored in the fridge for a longer shelf life, but it can also be kept on the counter. Shelf life is anywhere from 6 months to a year.
Yield: 2 1/2 cups
Now I’d love to hear from you!
How do you like to enjoy spring greens?
What herbs do you like to make into herbal vinegars?
Please share in the comments below.