When violets begin to pop up in the spring landscape, it’s our cue that a vernal promenade of mineral-rich, cleansing herbs is in full swing. Violet keeps excellent company—look for herbs like chickweed, cleavers, dandelion, plantain, and stinging nettles when violet’s heart-shaped leaves and purple blooms appear on the scene.
These nourishing spring beauties all fall into the category of tonic alterative herbs. Many herbalists call them “blood cleansers” and indeed they can help to optimize the quality of the blood by affecting cellular metabolism. They also work their magic by supporting the elimination of wastes by improving liver, kidney, digestive, and lymphatic function.
Alterative herbs can be helpful for:
- Spring fasting and cleansing
- Low immunity
- Skin conditions like acne and eczema
- Cancer prevention
- Autoimmune conditions
- Rheumatic conditions*
Violet is one of my choice herbal alteratives as its tender young leaves are optimally delicious for infused vinegars, spring salads, and pestos. In addition to being a classic cleansing herb, violet is rich in soluble fiber and is a traditional lymphatic and respiratory remedy; helping to bolster us through the last weeks of cold-season coughs and colds. You can read more about violet’s medicinal uses here.
*Please consult with an experienced herbalist before using herbs for any of these conditions or for cleansing.
Mineral-Rich Springtime Vinegars
My daughter and I like to celebrate springtime by gathering up our baskets, greeting the sunshine, and picking fresh wild and garden herbs for “fairy vinegar.” The lawn and gardens are filled with medicinal herbs during this time. I call it fairy vinegar because all the plants are so little and darling this time of year, and because a pinch of this and a pinch of that, topped off with wee blossoms, has a magical feeling.
Vinegars made from high-mineral herbs are a great way to sneak some extra medicine and nutrition into the diet! When you add vinegar to foods that are high in minerals—such as dark leafy greens—the acidity helps the body assimilate those minerals (in addition to all the minerals packed into the herbs themselves)!
Herbal vinegars have a steadfast place in the medicine cabinet, but they’re also widely popular both as a condiment and an ingredient in homemade salad dressings. In fact, many plants that are traditionally prepared as herbal vinegars easily straddle the divide between medicine and spice.
Apple cider vinegar is the most popular for medicinal preparations, but I prefer balsamic vinegar, as our family enjoys its flavor. Most any type of natural vinegar will be serviceable, but note that distilled white vinegar can be highly processed and is sometimes made from genetically modified corn.
- Canning jar of appropriate size for your recipe with a plastic lid, or a metal lid lined with a piece of natural wax paper
- Fresh herbs (see below for suggestions)
- Vinegar of choice
- Labeling materials
- Straining cloth; either muslin cloth, tighter-weave cheesecloth, cotton gauze fabric, or a clean old T-shirt
- Flip-top bottle or used glass vinegar bottle to store your finished vinegar
Springtime Fairy Vinegar Recipe
This recipe is a celebration of spring! Therefore, I encourage you to gather whatever seasonal herbs feel most exciting to you. I’ve listed a number of possibilities below; you can combine them in any proportions you desire—just be sure to pick enough to loosely pack a Mason jar of your choice. One suggestion is to gather a handful of each or any of the following herbs, freshly picked and not dried. Or try making your own version from whatever darlings are springing up in your garden and fields.
- Violet, leaf and flowers (Viola spp.)
- Dandelion, leaf and flowers (Taraxacum officinale)
- Stinging nettles, leaf (Urtica dioica)
- Cleavers, leaf and stem (Galium aparine)
- Chickweed, herb (Stellaria media)
- Plantain, leaf (Plantago spp.)
- Purple dead nettle, leaf and flowers (Lamium purpureum)
- Mint, leaf (Mentha sp.)
- Garlic mustard, leaf (Alliaria petiolata)
- Creasy greens, leaf (Barbarea verna)
Please be 150% sure of your identification before gathering any plants. Need a field guide? Check out our foraging and plant identification book list.
If you aren’t familiar with any of these wild herbs, you can buy dandelion greens and burdock root from the grocery store or farmers market, and include emerging herbs from your garden, like lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and bee balm (Monarda didyma).
- Wash your fresh herbs, chop them coarsely, and combine them in a sterilized glass jar (choose any size based on how much vinegar you’d like to make). Note that the proportions are not exact; the tighter you pack the herbs, the stronger the vinegar will be flavored.
- Top off with your vinegar of choice—completely cover the herbs with vinegar. It may be helpful to tamp them down with a sterilized kitchen instrument.
- Cap with a plastic lid or a regular mason jar lid lined with natural wax paper (to avoid corrosion of the lid by the vinegar).
- Label the jar with the name of the herb(s), date, and type of vinegar. Cover the label with clear packing tape.
- Place in a dark cabinet for four to six weeks.
- Strain through a cloth—either muslin cloth, tighter-weave cheesecloth, cotton gauze fabric, or a clean old T-shirt. Be sure to press out all the vinegar when you strain by either wringing out the herbs in the cloth or pressing out the plant material with a potato ricer or similar press.
- Pour the strained vinegar into a sterilized jar with a plastic lid, and label with the ingredients and date.
- Store in the refrigerator and use within six months to one year.
Dosage is 1-3 Tablespoons (15– 45 ml) daily.
I recommend taking herbal vinegars with food, as they will be better assimilated, and the acid will be less likely to aggravate digestion or cause issues with tooth enamel. Integrating them into salad dressings and condiments is a perfect way to easefully eat your mineral-rich spring herbs!