How to Make Homemade Fir Tip Vinegar

Springtime in Southern Oregon is magical, for so many reasons. It's one of my favorite times to go walking through the woods, quietly witnessing the life sprouting up all around me. I love seeing all the new growth, the tiny sprouts emerging from a long winter's rest. There is a feeling of excitement and anticipation as the plant life suddenly begins to awaken, and blossom.

As the forest begins to wake from its long winter slumber and the weather warms up, it's a great time to go out foraging!

Among the many plants, trees and fungi I love to harvest in the springtime, are the fragrant needles of the beautiful Douglas Fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii. In fact, you can harvest the fresh growth or needles on most Conifer trees, namely Pine, Spruce and Firs. People have been harvesting Conifer needles for food and medicine for thousands of years. Today we know that they are exceptionally high in vitamin C and A, various B vitamins, antioxidants and bioflavonoids, and studies show they have anti-depressant, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, immune system-boosting, cardiovascular-protecting, triglyceride-reducing properties! Amazing right?! The needles of these beautiful conifers sure do pack a powerful punch! 

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We all know Vitamin C is good for us and supports a healthy immune system, but did you know that it is not able to be assimilated without bioflavonoids?

What are bioflavonoids? Most people are familiar with antioxidants, but many not be familiar with bioflavonoids. Essentially, they are antioxidants, with their primarily function being to decrease free radicals from damaging the tissues of our body. The oxidation process that free radicals create in the body leads to heat, inflammation,  and ultimately, pain.

Bioflavonoids, also referred to as flavonoids, areanti-oxidants which help to decrease the heat in the tissues created by oxidative stress. A few of the more common bioflavonoids are quercitin, citrin and hesperidin, diosmin, naringin and rutin, and these phytonutrients are vital for proper absorption of Vitamin C.  Flavonoids are found in high quantities in certain fruits, herbs and vegetables, such as green tea (Camellia sinensis), citrus fruits (lemons, oranges and grapefruits), most berries, parsley, broccoli, cabbage, grape seeds and (fortunately!) in wine and dark chocolate. They are also found in rose hips, hawthorne berries, and dandelion greens. Lucky for us, the fresh tips of the Douglas Firs are oh so abundant this time of year! 

Along with being antioxidant, bioflavonoids are also anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, help regulate the immune system, help regenerate connective tissue, regulate cardiac function and are strengthening to the capillary beds! 

With the new insights concerning the role of free radicles in aging, autoimmune diseases, and many other health issues, the antioxidant potential of flavonoid-containing herbs suggests exciting therapeutic possibilities. Perhaps even more important, this is simply the affirmation of traditional herbal practice, which makes extensive use of many flavonoid-rich herbs. 
- David Hoffman

Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant and free radical scavenger that offers a wide range of support for the body. It supports the body's defense system by enhancing white blood cell function and activity, antibody responses and also breaks down histamines, making it a great ally for spring allergies! It is essential for the formation of collagen in the body, lowers total cholesterol and tryglycerides, andalso aids in the absorption of iron and the formation of red blood cells. 

Vitamin A , also found in Conifer needles, is an antioxidant as well as being anti-bacterial and anti-viral. It supports the body's defense system, increases visual activity and promotes anti-inflammation. All of these vitamins and antioxidants are vital to supporting our overall health and immunity during the transition of seasons.

If we are out of balance, the seasonal transitions can become times of physical, mental and emotional stress on our bodies.

Supporting the body with vitamin and nutrient dense foods is a must. There are so many ways to incorporate these wild, antioxidant rich foods, such as Conifer needles into your daily routine. A simple infusion of conifer tips is lovely, but one of my favorite ways is to make a herbal infused vinegar. It is really simple, requires just a few kitchen utensils, and tastes delicious!

The acetic acid in vinegar extracts all of the minerals out of the fresh plant material, leaving you with a tasty, mineral rich vinegar! The vinegar can be used in a salad dressing, sprinkled onto food or taken by the spoonful. This is your chance to be creative! Acetic tinctures, or infused vinegars, used to be just as common as alcohol tinctures. These days, alcohol tinctures are more popular as they have a longer shelf life and can extract a greater range of plant constituents, but herbal vinegars still have their place in the herb cabinet and in the kitchen! 

Conifer-Infused Springtime Vinegar

The Supplies:

The most important thing to remember when making herb-infused vinegars is not to use any reactive metal bowls, utensils, or containers when prepping and storing your vinegar. Aluminum and copper are the most common reactive metals. Vinegar corrodes reactive metals, so only use non-reactive containers and utensils such as stainless steel, enamel, glass, wood or plastic. If you store your vinegar in a Mason jar with a metal lid while it’s macerating, be sure to place a piece of wax paper over the mouth of the jar before capping it. Many people choose to use plastic lids on their Mason jars, but they don’t usually get as good of a seal and tend to leak when being shaken during maceration.

Aside from that one important caution, your supply list consists of things you likely already have in your kitchen:

  • vinegar 
  • fresh harvested conifer tips
  • a cutting board and knife for chopping
  • measuring cups
  • a sterilized container with a lid
  • a wooden chopstick or bamboo skewer
  • wax paper (if needed with a metal lid) 
  • masking tape 
  • and a sharpie. 
  • For straining and bottling, you will need a fresh sterilized container with a lid, a stainless steel or nylon mesh strainer, a glass bowl, a piece of muslin or cheesecloth, and a fresh label.

The Conifer Needles:

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When harvesting conifer needles in the spring, you want to look for the fresh light green tips; this is the new growth and will contain the highest concentration of bioflavonoids and Vitamins. I just use my hands and pinch off the new growth, but scissors could be used here as well. I always harvest just a few tips off each branch, as to not cause too much stress to the tree.

They are abundant this time of year, so I like to spread the love around and harvest off of many different trees. You can mix conifer needles if you want more of a forest blend, or keep the firs, pines and spruces all separate to get a taste of each individual tree. Gather as many as you will use fresh, keeping in mind you will be using the “stuff it” method, filling a jar to the top with plant material before pouring over the vinegar. 

The Vinegar:

In general, it’s best to use a high-quality apple cider vinegar for your herb-infused vinegars. Apple cider vinegar has its own health benefits: it’s used to improve digestion, lower blood sugar and blood pressure, and promote heart health. It’s also an effective antimicrobial. For herb-infused vinegars that are primarily intended for culinary use, white wine or red wine vinegars may be used. White wine vinegar is particularly good for infusing colorful herbs since it takes on the color of the extracted pigments. Avoid distilled white vinegar as it is sometimes derived from petroleum.

If you choose to use apple cider vinegar, you’ll find yourself faced with two more choices: filtered vs. unfiltered and raw vs. pasteurized. Raw, unfiltered ACV, such as Braggs, can contain bits of the vinegar mother. Ordinarily this isn’t a problem, but sometimes those bits will start growing again and will ferment your vinegar, and it can be a little off-putting to see a tiny little mother floating around in your bottle of vinegar. Pasteurized, filtered vinegar won’t have this problem–but it also won’t have the same kind of living enzymes that raw vinegar will. There is no right or wrong answer as to which type of apple cider vinegar to use, so go with what makes you comfortable.

Herb-infused vinegars have a shelf life of six months to several years. Since I use raw, unfiltered vinegar, I try to use my vinegars within a year so I don’t run the risk of the mother regrowing. Herb-infused vinegars can be stored at room temperature, but refrigeration helps preserve their flavor and color (and slows down the mother in raw, unfiltered vinegars).

The Process:

1. Sterilize your containers and utensils, using boiling water as you would for canning. You can also swish a small amount of vinegar in the container before you start. 

2. Pack your jar full of fresh fir tips and then add enough vinegar to cover the herb, this is called the “stuff it” method of folk herbalists. The amount of herb used to make an infused vinegar can vary. If you just want a slightly flavored vinegar, you can use less; if you want a strong and/or medicinal vinegar, you can use more. You can adjust your ratio to taste or to suit your container. 

3. Once you have filled the jar with vinegar, use a chopstick or bamboo skewer to make sure all of the plant material is submerged and any remaining air bubbles have been released.

4. Cap the jar (including wax paper if using a metal lid) and label it immediately. Masking tape and a sharpie works perfectly well for this, but you can be creative here. Write the name of the preparation, the ingredients, the date made, and the date it will be ready. You can also add any other information you like, including moon phases or source of the plant material used.

5. Store the jar out of the light, but in a place where you will remember to check on it and give it a shake on a regular basis. 

**If your jar is packed very full, be sure to check on it the day after you make it–if any of the herb is no longer submerged, top the jar off with more vinegar, recap and shake. 

6. The vinegar will be ready to strain and use in 3 -4 weeks. I usually do a full moon cycle, its a nice way to keep track of where the moon is, and you can experiment with making medicine on different moon phases. For straining, use a clean piece of cheese cloth inside of a stainless steel mesh strainer. When you strain your vinegar, be sure to squeeze or press out as much liquid as possible from the spent herb (or “marc”)–that’s where the good stuff is hiding! Compost the marc after pressing.

Thats it! You just made conifer needle infused herbal vinegar! Time to get creative with recipes in the kitchen and get all those vitamins and bioflavonoids to support you through this beautiful transition into spring! Injoy!