The Healing Power Of Apple Cider Vinegar

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Apple cider vinegar ingredients. Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Loaded with enzymes and probiotics, raw apple cider vinegar (ACV) is an essential item on your cooking and medicine shelves. Raw ACV can be expensive to buy, but making your own is simple and very cheap. ACV can be flavoured with herbs and other plants from your garden and it makes use of a waste stream (apple scraps) that is often thrown away or composted.

ACV is mineral-rich and contains calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, copper, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, selenium and sodium. Vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B12, C and E are also present. ACV is high in polyphenols (nutrients found in plant pigments that act as antioxidants), beneficial bacteria (probiotics) and active enzymes. Vinegars can act as a solvent, drawing additional minerals, vitamins and essential oils out of plant matter – which is why it’s the perfect medium in medicinal formulas.

Making ACV is easy, but your finished product takes time to create. The creation of vinegar – acetic acid – happens in two steps. In the first step, the sugar from apples is converted to ethanol by fermenting yeasts that are naturally present on the apple skin or in non-pasteurised apple juice. In the second step, the ethanol is converted by bacteria (Acetobacter sp.) and oxygen to acetic acid.

In practice, you prepare the solution (see the simple recipes) and leave it on a pantry shelf or kitchen bench for around six to eight weeks; and just watch the alchemy happen. Once you have made your ACV, you have several options for using your vinegar as it is, or taking it to the next level:

  • Use ACV in cooking and preserving
  • Make flavoured ACV
  • Create a medicinal oxymel
  • Formulate your own shrub

ACV For Medicinal Use

A lot of research is going into the medicinal uses of ACV. Some studies are showing it decreases blood sugar levels and blood pressure and reduces asthma symptoms. It’s also helpful in treating acid reflux, or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. ACV promotes better gut health, by adding a boost of probiotics. Basically, any time you want to increase beneficial bacteria, to outcompete the ‘bad guys’, think of ACV.

Add stinging nettle, Urtica dioica, for additional vitamins A, B and C, iron and chlorophyll. The chickweed, Stellaria media, provides additional support in times of recovery. When added to ACV, burdock, genus Arctium, will help purify the blood and provide iron and magnesium for the body to use. To increase calcium, add nettle, chickweed, plantain (genus Plantago), violet (genus Viola) and dandelion greens (Taraxacum officinale).

Lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) assists in respiratory recovery; rose petals will lift your mood; adding beetroot to ACV can help to clean your liver (and offers a beautiful, jewellike colour to ACV). A high-iron mix of ingredients would include parsley, nettle, beetroot and orange.

Cooking And Preserving With ACV

Cucumbers, beetroot and zucchini are wonderful to eat, preserved in ACV with heavy spices such as turmeric, mustard, fennel, dill or caraway. When preserving with ACV, the acid must be five percent or greater. If you are using homemade ACV, you will need to test the pH with a test strip. Otherwise, use commercially produced ACV that is naturally fermented.

ACV makes a delicious salad dressing or marinade. Create a versatile dressing by mixing ACV with olive oil, chopped preserved lemons or lemon juice and zest, seeded mustard, honey, with salt and pepper to taste and finely sliced garlic chives. Pour the dressing over kale leaves and massage; add additional ingredients like cooked chickpeas, roasted root vegetables and spring onions, and you have an easy dinner, a hearty lunch or a beautifully presented share-plate.

When making bone broth or stock, always add ACV to your water, this will help to release the minerals stored in the bones.

ACV In The Bathroom And Cleaning Cupboard

ACV is an antiseptic and disinfectant. You can add ACV into your bathwater, to use as a skin conditioner or for a hair rinse. As a hair rinse, ACV will strip out residues from hair products, leaving your hair feeling clean and looking shiny. You can also use it on pets to treat skin conditions and fleas. Vinegar can help alleviate the pain from jellyfish stings, so carry a well-sealed jar of ACV with you to the beach if you think the probability is high for this type of injury.

Of course, vinegar is great for cleaning and environmentally friendly and non-toxic. Use ACV when wiping down countertops and cleaning cutting boards, and to remove mineral build-up in your showerhead. Add a splash of ACV to your rinse water when you do the washing up – your dishes and utensils will shine.

Vinegar deodorises and cleans, so pour some ACV into the loo, then sprinkle in a bit of bicarbonate powder (baking soda). This will create fizzing, then you can scrub your toilet as usual. ACV will also remove soap scum from the bathtub and shower. Keep some ACV in the laundry room; a splash in your washing machine acts as a fabric softener.

Vinegar is the absolute best glass cleaner available. Mix ACV in equal portions (50/50) with water in a bucket, clean the glass with the solution, then wipe the window with old newspapers. ACV will not leave any streaks or spots – and you can allow the newspaper to dry then use it to light your wood heater.

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Flavoured apple cider vinegar made with flowers, herbs and fruit from the garden and orchard. Photo by Nikki Wagner
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Medicinal dandelion root and strawberry bitters made in apple cider vinegar. Photo by Nikki Wagner

Apple Cider Vinegar Recipe Method One

Ingredients

Organic apple scraps

Filtered (non-chlorinated) water

1 tablespoon organic sugar per cup of water

Method

Place ingredients in a glass jar but leave a one inch/2.5 cm space at the top. The scraps need to be under the water so weigh them down if needed (I use a small cup turned upside-down). Cover the jar with a piece of cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band.

Stir the mixture every couple days and after two-to-three weeks, remove the apple scraps. Leave the liquid to finish fermenting for another four weeks or so. You will need to taste the vinegar to see when to stop the process. Leave it fermenting until it is quite tangy.

You may see a ‘mother’ (or SCOBY*) grow in the vinegar – this is great! Keep it, stored in some of the ACV. You can add the SCOBY to future batches of apple scraps when making ACV.

Apple Cider Vinegar Recipe Method Two

Ingredients

Non-pasteurised apple juice

ACV ‘mother’ (SCOBY*)

Method

Place apple juice and the ‘mother’ in a glass jar and cover with cheesecloth secured with a rubber band. Leave the juice to convert to ACV. This could take a couple months; just keep checking on the taste.

NOTE: If you don’t have a SCOBY, you can just leave the covered juice to ferment, because the yeasts and bacteria present in the juice will help convert the natural sugar, e.g. fructose, to acetic acid.

*A ‘mother’ or SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), which looks like a rubbery disc, may form in your vinegar, much the same as a kombucha SCOBY. Left in the liquid, it will grow to the width of the vessel you are using. The ‘mother’ will form spontaneously in the jar – you don’t need to do anything else to help it form. You may even find one in purchased, nonpasturised ACV, so take a look. Keep the SCOBY to use in your next batch of ACV – place it in the watersugar liquid or apple juice, along with some of the ACV saved from your previous batch. This will inoculate the new batch with the appropriate microbes and the liquid will convert to ACV more quickly than your previous batch did. You can keep using the SCOBY in this way, batch after batch of ACV.

Flavour Your ACV

Add an extra level of flavour to your ACV using seasonal herbs, vegetables or fruits. Try and choose a flavour that is currently growing in your garden or available locally. Chop the plant matter roughly and place it in a glass jar, then cover with ACV. Leave a 2.5 cm space at the top of the jar. Place the cap firmly on the jar and leave in a cupboard for a couple of weeks. Taste the vinegar to see if it is flavoured to your liking. Strain the plant matter, and store the flavoured ACV in the cupboard to use in salad dressings or marinades.

Add one to two tablespoons of your flavoured ACV to water kefir each evening and sip prior to dinner. Your mood is intimately connected with your ‘gut’; for example, when we are anxious about something, we described it as butterflies in our stomachs – this is our mental state affecting our gut. The relationship can be bi-directional – when our digestion is off, our mood can also be irritable and we may experience ‘brain fog’ and lethargy.

Some Ideas For Flavouring Your Vinegar:

  • Orange – makes you feel more energetic, happier; supports your immune system
  • Ginger – supports your digestive health
  • Turmeric – an anti-inflammatory
  • Rose petals – mood enhancing, helps you to feel more positive
  • Lavender – calming influence (physically and mentally)
  • Lemon balm – calms upset stomachs and lifts your mood
  • Pineapple sage – supports your upper respiratory health
  • Calendula petals – an antiseptic and can help regulate menstruation

When making flavoured ACV in autumn, you can add blackberries and warming spices such as cinnamon, star anise, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom and orange peel. In winter, you could make Fire Cider to ward off colds. Add combinations of chilli, horseradish, onion, garlic, lemon, peppercorns, turmeric, ginger and rosemary to your ACV.

NOTE: Avoid drinking ACV undiluted as it will erode tooth enamel over time. It’s best to follow ACV with a glass of water.

Oxymel Recipe

An oxymel is a sweet and sour medicinal herbal honey. You can pair it with intense flavours – the most popular are garlic or chilli. Oxymels are also great combined with sweet or sour berries, strong spices such as fennel and caraway, or when using plant matter with an unpalatable taste. Oxymels are very good for children as they enjoy the flavour more than the taste of straight, infused ACV.

To make an oxymel add 50% ACV (plain or previously infused) to 50% local, raw honey. Add a variety of dried herbs, spices and other plant material. Store the product in a cupboard in a sterilised glass jar.

A good flavour place to begin is with elderberryinfused (Sambucus nigra) oxymel. If you don’t have access to elder trees, you can use other red or ‘black’ berries such as blackberries, raspberries, black raspberries, blueberries, cranberries or pomegranates.

Start your infusion when the berries are in season. Put berries in a saucepan and cook them slowly until the juice is released, then strain and cool the juice. You can add spices that you and your family enjoy to the berry juice; cinnamon is a nice option. Add equal parts of the juice to ACV and honey. In winter, swallow one tablespoon of oxymel daily. Dark berries are high in vitamins A and C and will support your immune system to fight colds, the flu and sinus infections.

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Pickled beetroot. Photo by Edith Frincu

Shrub Recipe

Originating from the Middle East – both the Babylonians and the Romans had a version – a shrub is a fruit-flavoured vinegar syrup traditionally used in drinks. Shrubs have a long shelf-life because ACV acts as a preservative, so you’ll be able to enjoy the taste of your favourite fruit throughout the year. Choose fruit with exotic flavours, such as quince or feijoa. Experiment with flavour ideas using pomegranate, blueberry and lavender, nectarine, watermelon and mint, raspberry and vanilla, and rhubarb and rose.

Method:

Place two cups of fruit in a sterilised glass jar. Bring two cups of ACV just to the boil, then remove from heat and pour the hot ACV over the fruit. Leave a 2.5 cm space at the top of the jar and cap tightly. Leave the jar in a cool pantry for up to one month. Strain fruit through cheesecloth and place the flavoured ACV in a saucepan. Add one-and-ahalf cups of sugar to the ACV and bring to the boil, to dissolve the sugar. Place the liquid in a sterilised glass jar and, when cool, store it in the fridge.

To use the shrub, add one to two tablespoons into still, fizzy or kefir water or use as a mixer in cocktails. Shrubs also add flavour to salad dressings, glazes or marinades.

Recipe – Spiced Beetroot Pickle

Ingredients:

2 kg beetroot, green stalks and leaves removed

1 teaspoon cloves

Fresh ginger, the size of your thumb, sliced

1 star anise

1 teaspoon peppercorns

3 cups ACV

1 tablespoon salt

125 g sugar (optional)

Method:

Sterilise jars.

Place beetroot in a saucepan of salty water to cover, and boil for about 45 minutes or until the skins slip off easily. Drain beetroot well, remove skins and slice to desired thickness. Or you can leave these vegetables whole if they are small.

Place the spices in a piece of cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. Mix ACV, salt and sugar together and put into a medium-sized saucepan, along with the spice pouch. Simmer to allow the salt and sugar to dissolve.

Place beetroot in jars and cover with hot ACV mixture. Seal jars tightly, to exclude air. After the jars have cooled, store the pickled beetroot in the fridge.

The recipe can be easily doubled.

Nikki Wagner is a biochemist and nutritionist and helps patients with a personalised approach to nutrition.

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