Susun Weed ~ Wise Woman Tradition ~ parts five and six of eight

Be Your Own Herbal Expert, part five

by Susun S. Weed (copyright 2002-2011)

Herbal Vinegars

Herbal medicine is the medicine of the people. It is simple, safe, effective, and free. Our ancestors used -- and our neighbors around the world still use -- plant medicines for healing and health maintenance. It's easy. You can do it too, and you don't need a degree or any special training. Ancient memories arise in you when you begin to use herbal medicine -- memories which keep you safe and fill you with delight. These lessons are designed to nourish and activate your inner herbalist so you can be your own herbal expert.
In our first session, we learned how to "listen" to the messages of plant's tastes. In session two, we learned about simples and how to make effective water-based herbal remedies. The third session helped us distinguish safe nourishing and tonifying herbs from the more dangerous stimulating and sedating herbs. Our fourth session focused on poisons in herbs and herbal tinctures, which we made and then collected into an Herbal Medicine Chest.

In this, our fifth session, we will find out how to help ourselves and our families with herbal vinegars, one of the green blessings of the Wise Woman Way.

Why Use Herbal Vinegars?
Herbal vinegars are an unstoppable combination: they marry the healing and nutritional properties of apple cider vinegar with the mineral- and antioxidant- richness of health-protective green herbs and wild roots. Herbal vinegars are tasty medicine, enriching and enlivening our food, while building health from the inside out.

Herbal vinegars are far better for the bones and the heart than soy beverages. They have a reputation for banishing grey hair and wrinkles. Sprayed in the armpits, herbal vinegars are highly effective deodorants. As a hair rinse (try rosemary or lavender vinegar) they add luster and eliminate split ends.

Anything vinegar can do, including clean the kitchen, herbal vinegars can do better.

Vinegars Seek Minerals
Minerals are important for the health and proper functioning of our bones, our heart and blood vessels, our nerves, our brain (especially memory), our immune system, and our hormonal glands. No wonder lack of minerals can lead to chronic problems and getting more can make a big different in health in a few weeks. One of the best way to get more minerals -- besides drinking nourishing herbal infusions and eating well-cooked leafy greens -- is to use herbal vinegars.

Vinegar and Your Bones
It is not true that ingesting vinegar will erode your bones. Adding vinegar to your food actually helps build bones because it frees up minerals from the vegetables you eat and increases the ability of the stomach to digest minerals. Adding a splash of vinegar to cooked greens is a classic trick of old ladies who want to be spry and flexible when they're ancient old ladies. (Maybe your granny already taught you this?) In fact, a spoonful of vinegar on your broccoli or kale or dandelion greens increases the calcium you get by one-third. All by itself, apple cider vinegar is said to help build bones; when enriched with minerals from herbs, I think of it as better than calcium pills.

Vinegar and Candida
Some people worry that eating vinegar will upset the balance of gut flora and contribute to an overgrowth of candida yeast in the intestines. Some people have been told to avoid vinegar altogether. My experience has led me to believe that herbal vinegars help health those with candida overgrowth, perhaps because they're so mineral rich. I've worked with women who have suffered for years and kept to a strict "anti-candida" diet with little improvement and seen them get better fast when they add nourishing herbal vinegars (and fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso, and yogurt) to their diets.

Making Herbal Vinegars
Fill any size jar with fresh-cut aromatic herbs: leaves, stalks, flowers, fruits, roots, and even nuts can be used. For best results and highest mineral content, be sure the jar is well filled and chop the herb finely.

Pour room-temperature vinegar into the jar until it is full. Cover jar: A plastic screw-on lid, several layers of plastic or wax paper held on with a rubber band, or a cork are the best covers. Avoid metal lids -- or protect them well with plastic -- as vinegar will corrode them.

Label the jar with the name of the herb and the date. Put it some place away from direct sunlight, though it doesn't have to be in the dark, and someplace that isn't too hot, but not too cold either. A kitchen cupboard is fine, but choose one that you open a lot so you remember to use your vinegar, which will be ready in six weeks.

You can decant your vinegar into a beautiful serving container, or use it right from the jar you made it in.

Which Vinegar?
I use regular pasteurized apple cider vinegar from the supermarket as the menstrum for my herbal vinegars. I avoid white vinegar. Malt vinegar, rice vinegar, and wine vinegar can be used but they are more expensive and may overpower the flavor of the herbs.

Apple cider vinegar has been used as a health-giving agent for centuries. Hippocrates, father of medicine, is said to have used only two remedies: honey and apple cider vinegar. Some of the many benefits of apple cider vinegar include: better digestion, reduction of cholesterol, improvements in blood pressure, prevention/care of osteoporosis, normalization of thyroid/metabolic functioning, possible reduction of cancer risk, and lessening of wrinkles and grey hair.

Notes for Herbal Vinegar Makers
   * Collect jars of different sizes for your vinegars. I especially like babyfood jars, mustard jars, olive jars, peanut butter jars and individual juice jars. Look for plastic lids.

    * The wider the mouth of the jar, the easier it will be to remove the plant material when you're done.

    * Always fill jar to the top with plant material and vinegar; never fill a jar only part way.

    *Really fill the jar. This will take far more herb or root than you would think. How much? With leaves and stems, make a comfortable mattress for a fairy: not too tight; and not too loose. With roots, fill your jar to within a thumb's width of the top.

    * After decanting your vinegar into a beautiful jar, add a spring of whole herb. Pretty.

My Favorite Herbal Vinegar
Pick the needles of white pine on a sunny day. Make herbal vinegar with them. Inhale deeply the scent of the forest. I call this my "homemade balsamic vinegar."

Using Your Vinegars
Herbal vinegars taste so good, you'll want to use them frequently. Regular use boosts the nutrient level of your diet with very little effort and virtually no expense.
    * Pour a spoonful or more on beans and grains as a condiment.
    * Use them in salad dressings.
    * Add them to cooked greens.
    * Season stir-frys with them.
    * Look for soups that are vinegar friendly, like borscht.
    * Substitute herbal vinegar for plain vinegar in any recipe.
    * Put a big spoonful in a glass of water and drink it. Try it sweetened with blackstrap molasses for a real mineral jolt. Many older women swear this "coffee substitute" prevents and eases their arthritic pains.

Coming up
In our next sessions we will learn more about herbal medicine making, with a focus on oils, explore the difference between fixing disease and promoting health, learn how to apply the three traditions of healing, and how to take charge of our own health care with the six steps of healing.

Experiment One
Test vinegar's ability to absorb minerals. Put a fresh bone in a jar and completely cover it with vinegar. What happens? Does the bone becomes pliable and rubbery? How long does it take? Will eating vinegar dissolve your bones? Only if you take off your skin and sit in it for weeks!

Experiment Two
Make egg shell vinegar. Fill a jar one-quarter full of vinegar. Drop crushed egg shell into it. What happens? Does the vinegar foam? How long does it take? Egg shells are exceptionally rich in bone-building minerals. Can you taste the calcium in this vinegar? Add some egg shell to your other vinegars if you wish to increase their ability to keep your bones strong.

Experiment Three
Make four or more vinegars with the same plant, using different types of vinegar, including both pasteurized and unpasteurized apple cider vinegar. (For the others, use rice vinegar, malt vinegar, wine vinegar, or even white vinegar, but not umeboshi vinegar.)

Taste your vinegars daily for a week, then weekly for five more weeks. You may, if you wish, decant some of your vinegars for use after six weeks. But you may also wish to keep observing them as they age (for years, if you wish). I have some vinegars which are more than thirty years old and still in good shape. Note which stay edible the longest, and what happens to those that become inedible.

Experiment Four
Buy a quart or more of unpasteurized apple cider vinegar. Use two cups to make several small herbal vinegars: one with roots, one with leaves, and one with flowers. Boil the other two cups. Make one herbal vinegar with the boiling hot vinegar. Make another with the boiled vinegar after it has cooled. Continue as in experiment number three.

Further study
    * Redo experiment number two using different kinds of egg shells -- white ones and brown ones, store-bought and farm-bought, from caged birds and free-range birds. Can you see any differences? Taste or smell any differences?
    * Make vinegars at different times of the year and compare them.

Advanced work
    * Unpasteurized vinegar can form a "mother." In a jar filled with herb and vinegar, the vinegar mother usually grows across the top of the herb, and looking rather like a damp, thin pancake. Kombucha is a vinegar mother. Does your local health food store sell mothers? kombucha? What is a vinegar mother? Is it harmful?
    * What is an ionic form of a mineral?
    * What is a mineral salt?
    * How do our bodies uptake and utilize minerals?

Plants That Make Exceptionally Good-Tasting Herbal Vinegars
    Apple mint (Mentha sp.) leaves, stalks
    Bee balm (Monarda didyma) flowers, leaves, stalks
    Bergamot (Monarda sp.) flowers, leaves, stalks
    Burdock (Arctium lappa) roots
    Catnip (Nepeta cataria) leaves, stalks
    Chicory (Cichorium intybus) leaves, roots
    Chives and especially chive blossoms
    Dandelion (Taraxacum off.) flower buds, leaves, roots
    Dill (Anethum graveolens) herb, seeds
    Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) herb, seeds
    Garlic (Allium sativum) bulbs, greens, flowers
    Garlic mustard (Alliaria officinalis) leaves and roots
    Goldenrod (Solidago sp.) flowers
    Ginger (Zingiber off.) and Wild ginger (Asarum canadensis) roots
    Lavender (Lavendula sp.) flowers, leaves
    Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) new growth leaves and roots
    Orange mint (Mentha sp.) leaves, stalks
    Orange peel, organic only
    Peppermint (Mentha piperata and etc.) leaves, stalks
    Perilla (Shiso) (Agastache) leaves, stalks
    Rosemary (Rosmarinus off.) leaves, stalks
    Spearmint (Mentha spicata) leaves, stalks
    Thyme (Thymus sp.) leaves, stalks
    White pine (Pinus strobus) needles
    Yarrow (Achilllea millifolium) flowers and leaves

Weedy Herbal Calcium Supplement
    Use one or more of the following plants to make an herbal vinegar that can reverse and counter osteoporosis, 2-4 tablespoons daily.
    Amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus) leaves
    Cabbage leaves
    Chickweed (Stellaria media) whole herb
    Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) leaves
    Cronewort/Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) young leaves
    Dandelion (Taraxacum off.) leaves and root
    Kale leaves
    Lambsquarter (Chenopodium album) leaves
    Mallow (Malva neglecta) leaves
    Mint leaves of all sorts, especially sage, motherwort, lemon balm, lavender, peppermint
    Nettle (Urtica dioica) leaves
    Parsley (Petroselinum sativum) leaves
    Plantain (Plantago majus) leaves
    Raspberry (Rubus species) leaves
    Red clover (Trifolium pratense) blossoms
    Violet (Viola odorata) leaves
    Yellow dock (Rumex crispus and other species) roots

Herbal Vinegars Where You Eat the Pickled Plants, too
    Yellow Dock


Be Your Own Herbal Expert, part six by Susun S. Weed (copyright 2002-2011)


Herbal medicine is the medicine of the people. It is simple, safe, effective, and free. Our ancestors used - and our neighbors around the world still use - plant medicines for healing and health maintenance. It's easy. You can do it too, and you don't need a degree or any special training. Ancient memories arise in you when you begin to use herbal medicine - memories which keep you safe and fill you with delight. These lessons are designed to nourish and activate your inner herbalist so you can be your own herbal expert.

In our first session we learned how to "listen" to the messages of plant's tastes. In session two we learned about simples and how to make effective water-based herbal remedies. The third session helped us distinguish safe nourishing and tonifying herbs from the more dangerous stimulating and sedating herbs. Our fourth session focused on poisons in herbs and entered the herbal pharmacy to herbal tinctures, which we collected into an Herbal Medicine Chest. Our fifth session found us still in the pharmacy, learning how to make and use herbal vinegars for strong bones and healthy hearts.

In this, our sixth session, we remain in the herbal pharmacy and turn our attention to herbs in fat bases. We'll explore fresh infused oils, ointments, salves, and lip balms, essential oils, and even herbal pestos.

I make and use many infused herbal oils. I use little or no essential oils. Why?
Infused herbal oils use a small amount of plant material; essential oils require tons of plant material. Infused herbal oils are safe to use internally or externally; essential oils are poisonous internally and problematic externally. Infused herbal oils are good for the skin; essential oils can cause rashes, burns, and other skin reactions. Infused oils are used full strength; essential oils are diluted before use. Infused herbal oils have subtle scents; essential oils have powerful scents.

The scent of an essential oil can kill gut flora just like antibiotics do, according to Paul Bergner, director of the clinical studies program at the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies. He told me that breathing the oils puts them into the blood stream very quickly and can be a major disturber of intestinal health and contributor to poor immune functioning.
Massage therapists are embracing Natural Scent Therapies such as growing live aromatic plants in their treatment rooms and using pillows of dried aromatic herbs instead of essential oils. Their skin and their immune systems are thanking them for the switch.

To make an infused herbal oil you will need the following supplies:

    • Fresh plant material
    • Scissors or a knife
    • A clean dry jar with a tight lid
    • Some olive oil
    • A label and pen; a small bowl

Harvest your plant material in the heat of the day, after the sun has dried the dew. It is best to wait at least 36 hours after the last rain before harvesting plants for infused oils. Wet plant materials will make moldy oils. To prevent this, some people dry their herbs and then put them in oil. I find this gives an inferior quality product in most cases.

Coarsely chop the roots, leaves, or flowers of your chosen plant. Fill your jar completely full of the chopped plant material. Add olive oil until the jar is completely full. (Patience and a chopstick are useful tools at this point.)
Tightly lid the jar. Label it. Put it in a small bowl (to collect seepage and over-runs). Your infused oil is ready to use in six weeks.

Fresh Plants That I Use to Make Infused Oils

    Arnica flowers (Arnica montana)
    Burdock seeds (Arctium lappa)
    Calendula flowers (Calendula off.)
    Comfrey leaves or roots (Symphytum uplandica)
    Dandelion flowers (Taraxacum off.)
    Plantain leaves (Plantago majus)
    Poke roots (Phytolacca americana)
    Spruce needles
    St. Joan's wort flowers (Hypericum perforatum)
    Yarrow blossoms (Achillea millefolium)
    Yellow dock roots (Rumex crispus)

I use my infused herbal oils to heal and ease the pain of wounds, bruises, scrapes, sprains, burns, rashes, sore muscles, insect bites, and aching joints. I make my infused oils into ointments, salves, and lip balms. I use my infused oils in rituals, to anoint. I use my infused oils after bathing, to moisturize. I use my infused oils as stunning salad dressings. I use my infused oils as sexual lubricants. I use my infused oils to nourish my scalp and hair.
I apply my infused herbal oils directly to the body. I rarely take infused herbal oils as internal medicines although it would be safe to do so. I use my infused oils to make salves, ointments, and lip balms.

When herbs are infused into animal fat, they form a natural salve, without need of thickening. But herbs infused into oils are drippy and leaky and messy. They need a little beeswax melted into them to make them solid. The more beeswax added, the firmer the oil will be. A little beeswax will make a soft salve. A medium amount will make a firm ointment. And a lot will make a stiff lip balm.

    • Pour one or more ounces of infused herbal oil into a saucepan or double boiler.
    • Grate several ounces of beeswax.
    • Put a small fire under your oil.
    • When it is slightly warm, add one tablespoon (more or less) of grated beeswax.
    • Stir, preferably with your finger, until the beeswax melts.
    • Test the firmness by dropping a drop on a china plate. It will solidify instantly.

        - Too soft? Add more beeswax, a little at a time.
        - Too hard? Add more infused oil (if possible) or plain oil.

    • Pour your finished salve or ointment into wide-mouthed jar.
    • Pour lip balms into little pots or twist tubes.

The simplest pesto is green leaves pounded with salt and garlic. I don't put cheese or nuts into my pestos when I make them, as these ingredients spoil rapidly.

I use a mini-size food prep machine for the "pounding". A blender will work too, but watch that you don't burn out the motor.

The oil in a pesto both preserves the antioxidant vitamins in the fresh green herbs and also softens the cell walls so minerals become more available. With the added health-benefits of garlic, herbal pestos are great medicine as well as superb eating.
Basic Herbal Pesto - Stays good for up to two years in a cool refrigerator; up to five years in the freezer.

    • Start with half a cup of extra virgin olive oil.
    • Add 2-4 coarsely chopped cloves of garlic.
    • Add a good sprinkle of sea salt.
    • Add a large handful of prepared herb leaves and blend.
    • Continue adding leaves and oil as needed. Perhaps more garlic and salt? Blend.
    • When all is blended to a fare thee well, pack your pesto into a skinny jar.
    • Leave some space between the pesto and the top of the jar and fill this with olive oil.
    • Cap, label, and refrigerate.

    Green Herbs for Pesto
    Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
    Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
    Garlic mustard (Alliaria officinalis)
    Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
    Violet (Viola species)
    Yellow dock (Rumex crispus)

In our next sessions we will learn how to make herbal honeys and syrups, how to apply the three traditions of healing, and how to take charge of our own health care with the six steps of healing.

Make three or more infused herbal oils from different plant parts, such as leaves, roots, and flowering tops. (See list for suggestions of plants to use.)

Make several infused oils from the same plant at the same time using at least three different kinds of oils and animal fats, including ghee. Label carefully. After six weeks, decant and compare.

Make a salve, ointment, or lip balm. Beeswax is sold at farmer's markets, health food stores, and craft shops.

Treat at least three injuries with an herbal oil or ointment that you have made. Record your observations. Plantain, yarrow, calendula, or comfrey are good choices for this experiment.

Make an herbal pesto. (See list for suggestions.)


    1. Buy a small bottle of essential oil. Also buy the plant the oil is made from. Lavender and mint are good choices for this experiment. Smell the plant, then smell the essential oil. How do you feel afterwards? Taste the plant, then taste a drop of the essential oil? What do you perceive? Put a drop of the essential oil on your skin; rub the plant vigorously on your skin. Are there differences?

    Extra credit: Make an infused oil of the same plant and repeat this experiment using your infused oil in addition to the essential oil and the plant.

    2. Use organic animal fat to make an herbal preparation. Keep the fat barely warm - in the sun or by a pilot light - until it is infused. No need to add beeswax. The fat will solidify at room temperature.


    • Read about the production of essential oils.
    • How is a hydrosol different from an essential oil?
    • Can you make a hydrosol? (Jeanne Rose is a good resource on this.)


Susun Weed, and

permission to reprint this article MUST be obtained, contact Susun S Weed at:
PO Box 64
Woodstock, NY 12498
Fax: 1-845-246-8081

Calendar | Workshops | Intensives | Apprenticeships | Correspondence courses | Online courses | Teleseminars | Mentorship

Vibrant, passionate, and involved, Susun Weed has garnered an international reputation for her groundbreaking lectures, teachings, and writings on health and nutrition. She challenges conventional medical approaches with humor, insight, and her vast encyclopedic knowledge of herbal medicine. Unabashedly pro-woman, her animated and enthusiastic lectures are engaging and often profoundly provocative.

Susun Weed encourages women to work towards good health from the inside out. Her close-to-the-earth approach continues to break new ground in old ways, helping to make natural non-invasive solutions available to women from every walk of life.

Herbalist, wise woman, and teacher for over two decades, she is the founder of the Wise Woman Center in upstate New York and the author of four highly acclaimed books on alternative/complementary healthcare for women. Honored as a Peace Elder in 1996, Ms. Weed is respected worldwide as the voice of the Wise Woman tradition, the oldest tradition of healthcare on the planet.

The Wise Woman tradition maintains that health is flexibility and that deviations from normal (that is, problems) offer us an opportunity to reintegrate those parts of ourselves that we have cast out. This reintegration is accomplished through nourishment and the person emerges healed/wholed/holy. The Wise Woman tradition is compassionate and heart-centered. It honors the Earth and the special mysteries of women. It is simple, local, ecological, and invisible, choosing to use common plants, such as dooryard weeds, rather than exotic herbs from far away.

The Wise Woman Center, founded in 1984, is a safe place for women around the world to gather together to celebrate the wise woman within and to study herbal medicine and spirit healing with Susun and notable teachers such as Brooke Medicine Eagle, Z Buda pest, Vicki Noble, and Merlin Stone.

Ms. Weed has been called a backwards pioneer. She agrees: "I've gone backwards into prehistory, into herstory, to rediscover and rename something as ancient as humanity, but something which is perfectly relevant, indeed critical to our survival, today." That "some thing" is the Wise Woman tradition; a unique viewpoint from the distant past that she be lieves will help us find answers for our collective future.

The Wise Woman viewpoint that we are all connected and that a health crisis is symbolic as well as physical -- characterized by some as shamanic, by others as superstitious -- still exists in our society today, both in lay healing and in professions such as midwifery and psycho-therapy, but it usually goes unnamed. "One of the characteristics of this tradition is its integration into everyday life. By healing through nourishment, whether it is a hug or a special dinner, the wise woman acts invisibly whenever possible."

This is in marked contrast to other traditions of healing, according to Weed, who differ entiates three major healing traditions: the Scientific, the Heroic, and the Wise Woman. In the Scientific tradition the doctor is highly visible and the patient is reduced to a body part or a disease designation. In the Heroic or Holistic tradition, the healer is the one who knows the right way to do things and the patient must follow the rules in order to get well. In the Wise Woman tradition, illness is understood as an integral part of life and self-growth, with healer, patient and nature as co-participants in the healing process.

Much of today's alternative medicine comes from Heroic traditions, which traditionally emphasize fasting, purification, colonic cleansing, rigid dietary rules, and the use of rare botanicals in complicated formulae. Even much of metaphysical healing is applied this way: It views illness as a failure rather than a natural and potentially constructive process.

Susun Weed sees herself as a teacher, not a healer. "A healer is someone who does for you, while a teacher shows you how to do for yourself. When I work with a correspon dence course student or an apprentice, for instance, I'm working with the intention of helping her to know herself better, to learn how to listen to and nourish all parts of her self, which will allow her to become more healthy/whole/holy."

Susun reminds us that wellness and illness are not polarities. They are part of the contin uum of life. "We are constantly renewing ourselves, cell by cell, second by second, every minute of our lives. Problems, by their very nature, can facilitate deep spiritual and symnolic renewal, leading us naturally into expanded, more complete ways of thinking about and experiencing ourselves."

Ms. Weed maintains an active teaching/lecture schedule, with bookings throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany (where she also trains apprentices). She has taught at many prestigious schools including the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, Yale Nursing School, South Florida Midwifery School, Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies, and the Waikato College of Herbal Studies. She currently sits on advisory boards for the California Institute of Integral Studies and the National Institute of Health's Rosenthal Center for Alternative/Complementary Medicines at Columbia University.

Ms.Weed is most well-known for her four best-selling books - recommended by expert herbalists and well-known physicians and used and cherished by millions of women around the world.

Susun Weed’s books include:

Healing Wise
Superb herbal in the feminine-intuitive mode. Complete instructions for using common plants for food, beauty, medicine, and longevity. Introduction by Jean Houston. 312 pages, index, illustrations.
Retails for $12.95
Order at:
NEW Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way
The best book on menopause is now better. Completely revised with 100 new pages. All the remedies women know and trust plus hundreds of new ones. New sections on thyroid health, fibromyalgia, hairy problems, male menopause, and herbs for women taking hormones. Recommended by Susan Love MD and Christiane Northrup MD. Introduction by Juliette de Bairacli Levy. 304 pages, index, illustrations.
Retails for $12.95
Order at:
For excerpts visit:

Breast Cancer? Breast Health!
Foods, exercises, and attitudes to keep your breasts healthy. Supportive complimentary medicines to ease side-effects of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or tamoxifen. Foreword by Christiane Northrup, M.D. 380 pages, index, illustrations.
Retails for $14.95
Order at:


I feel like a new woman again! That is for sure. I went and purchased all the things you suggested and am taking them diligently. Merrie, keep doing what you are doing 'cause you do it so well and you are so valuable and needed in this world!

Carolyn T

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