Howard Garrett, also known as The Dirt Doctor, has compiled a number of uses for vinegar, including recipes for both internal use and use in your organic garden, which I will share with you here.
“Vinegar is a wonderful organic tool that was discovered by accident 10,000 years ago when wine was accidentally allowed to ferment too long and turned sour,” he writes.
“It can be made from many products, including beer, apples, berries, beets, corn, fruits, grains, honey, malt, maple syrup, melons, molasses, potatoes, rice, sorghum, and other foods containing sugar.
Natural sugars from these food products are fermented into alcohol, which is then fermented into vinegar.”
… The product label will identify the starting ingredients, such as “apple cider vinegar” or “wine vinegar.” Malt vinegar is made from the fermentation of barley malt or other cereal grains. Sugar vinegar is made from sugar, syrup, or molasses.
White, spirit, or distilled vinegar is made by fermenting distilled alcohol. Distilled white vinegar is made from 190 proof alcohol that is fermented by adding sugar and living bacteria.
… Vinegar that is made from the petroleum derivative, 99 percent acetic acid, is not acceptable in an organic program.”
The name “vinegar” comes from the French words for “sour wine.” But it’s important to realize that not all vinegars are created equally. Some can benefit your health when taken internally, while others should only be used for tasks such as cleaning, or horticultural purposes, while others are best avoided altogether.
White Vinegar—A Great Non-Toxic Cleaner and Herbicide Ingredient
Distilled white vinegar is the type of vinegar you’ll want to use for cleaning and laundry. Toward the end of this article I’ll also share Garrett’s recipe for a non-toxic weed killer formula, which calls for white vinegar. Vinegar and water makes an excellent window cleaner, for example, and vinegar combined with hydrogen peroxide works exceptionally well as both a disinfectant and sanitizer. According to Garrett:
“Sprinkling white vinegar atop a dusting of baking soda is terrific for cleaning sinks, tubs, tile floors and other surfaces. For cleaning, it can be diluted with water as much as 50-50. For the herbicide, it should be used full strength. In all cases, the products to buy in this category are true vinegars made by distilling grain alcohol. For the purists, there is organic white vinegar made from corn.”
Avoid 20% Vinegar
Garrett warns against using 20 percent vinegar, which is made from 99 percent glacial ascetic acid, stating it’s far stronger than you’d ever really need, in addition to being overly expensive. Perhaps more importantly, this type of vinegar is actually a petroleum derivative, which is dangerous to breathe and can be damaging to your eyes and skin.
“One final warning is that some of the 10 percent vinegars being sold to naïve organic gardeners are the fake 20 percent product that has been cut with water. Proper vinegars should have on the label that they are made from distilled grain alcohol or other similar language indicating natural products from distilling,” Garrett warns.
Apple Cider Vinegar—Good for Your Health
The cider vinegars, made from fermenting fruits such as apples, have little value as cleaners or herbicides. Instead, these are the types of vinegar associated with a number of different health benefits when taken internally. There are two basic categories of cider vinegars:
- Regular apple cider vinegar
- Organic apple cider vinegar with the “mother” included
When purchasing an apple cider vinegar, you’ll want to avoid the perfectly clear, “sparkling clean” varieties you commonly see on grocery store shelves. Instead, you want organic, unfiltered, unprocessed apple cider vinegar, which is murky and brown. When you try to look through it, you will notice a cobweb-like substance floating in it. This is known as “mother,” and it indicates your vinegar is of good quality. While it may look suspicious at first, in this case, it’s the murky looking stuff you want. As with everything else, the more processed a food is, the less nutritious it is, and this holds true for apple cider vinegar.
Surprisingly enough, while apple cider vinegar has historically been prized for its health benefits, little research has been done to evaluate its therapeutic actions. However, lack of scientific studies is a common problem for many natural and alternative therapies.
Perhaps the most researched and the most promising of apple cider vinegar’s benefits are in the area of type 2 diabetes. Several studies have found that vinegar may help lower blood glucose levels. In 2004, a study cited in the American Diabetes Foundation’s publication Diabetes Care  found that taking vinegar before meals significantly increased insulin sensitivity and dramatically reduced the insulin and glucose spikes that occur after meals. The study involved 29 people, divided into three groups:
- One third had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
- One third had prediabetic signs.
- One third were healthy.
The results were quite significant:
- All three groups had better blood glucose readings with the vinegar than with the placebo.
- People with prediabetic symptoms benefittedthe most from the vinegar, cutting their blood glucose concentrations by nearly half.
- People with diabetes improved their blood glucose levels by 25 percent with vinegar.
- People with prediabetic symptoms had lower blood glucose than the healthy participants after both drank vinegar.
A follow-up study geared at testing vinegar’s long-term effects yielded an unexpected but pleasant side effect: moderate weight loss. In this study, participants taking two tablespoons of vinegar prior to two meals per day lost an average of two pounds over the four-week period, and some lost up to four pounds. In 2007, another study cited by WebMD  involving 11 people with type 2 diabetes found taking two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before bed lowered glucose levels in the morning by 4 to 6 percent. Although the research to date looks favorable, more studies are needed to confirm the extent of vinegar’s insulin stabilization benefits.
Other Apple Cider Vinegar “Cures”
Although this article and many others advocate the benefits of using vinegar therapeutically, I really think that this is an inferior approach. From my perspective it would be far better to use large quantities of fermented foods to get these types of acids because you will then also help to recolonize your gut with beneficial bacteria. However, vinegar is easier and certainly safe to use, so you can put your toe in the water by trying it first. Garrett, however, has been a long-time proponent of vinegar, recommending it for a number of uses.
“Apple cider vinegar might cure more ailments than any other folk remedy,” he writes. Vinegar apparently provides at least some cures for allergies (including pet, food and environmental), sinus infections, acne, high cholesterol, flu, chronic fatigue, Candida, acid reflux, sore throats, contact dermatitis, arthritis, gout and the list goes on… It also brings a healthy, rosy glow to the complexion and can cure rough scaly skin. Apple cider vinegar is also wonderful for animals, including dogs, cats and horses. It helps with arthritic conditions, controls fleas, repels flies, and gives a beautiful shine to their coats.”
As an example, Garrett has shared the following recipe with me, which can help soothe a sore throat:
“Use 3 tbsp. of apple cider vinegar, 3 tbsp. lemon juice, 2 tbsp. of honey and 16 oz. water, and warm to sipping temperature and sip. Adding juice from chopped ginger can be used for more power.”
What Can Account for Apple Cider Vinegar’s Health Benefits?
Many who tout apple cider vinegar’s wide-ranging benefits claim its healing power comes from the abundance of nutrients that remain after the apples are fermented. However, standard nutritional analyses of apple cider vinegar have found it to be a surprisingly poor source of most nutrients. For example, the one milligram of calcium found in a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar does not come close to the 1,000 milligrams a typical adult needs each day.
It has also been claimed that soluble fiber in the vinegar, in the form of pectin, binds to cholesterol and helps carry it out of your body, thereby improving your lipid profile. However, apple cider vinegar contains no measurable pectin or any other fiber, for that matter.
Its magic can also not be traced to vitamin content. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), apple cider vinegar has no measurable vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, beta-carotene, or folate — and it’s equally lacking in amino acids, lycopene, or any other nutritional elements.
Still, despite the fact that it’s devoid of many of the traditionally valued nutrients, evidence of apple cider vinegar’s health benefits has been witnessed for hundreds — maybe thousands — of years. So, what can explain this mysteriously beneficial elixir?
It may be partially related to the fact that vinegar is a diluted acid, specifically acetic acid, which help to normalize your body’s pH. This likely improves nutrition, by optimizing your gut flora and helping eradicate pathogenic or disease-causing bacteria, and by serving as growth accelerators for beneficial bacteria that typically thrive in more acid environments. This is also one of the reasons why eating fermented foods is so important.
Apple Cider Vinegar for Dogs
Pet care is another area where vinegar can be a useful, non-toxic, all-natural tool. According to Garrett:
Vinegar is a remedy with multiple uses for dogs including alleviating allergies and arthritis, and helping to provide the correct pH balance. You can give apple cider vinegar to any animal by simply adding it to the water.
If your dog has itchy skin, the beginnings of a hot spot, incessantly washes its feet, has smelly ears, or is picky about his food, an application of apple cider vinegar can help. For poor appetite, use it in the food at 1 tablespoon, two times a day for a 50 lb. dog. For itchy skin or the beginning hot spots, put apple cider vinegar into a spray bottle, part the hair and spray on. Any skin eruption will dry up in as soon as 24 hours and shaving the dog won’t be necessary – which is good because I never recommend that. If the skin is already broken, dilute apple cider vinegar with an equal amount of water and spray on.
Taken internally, apple cider vinegar is credited with maintaining the acid/alkaline balance of the digestive tract. I take a large spoonful straight or in my “witches brew” in the morning that I drink at least once a day.
Another tip is if you have a dog that has clear, watery discharge from the eyes, a runny nose, or coughs with a liquid sound, use apple cider vinegar in his or her food. One teaspoon twice a day for a 50 lb. dog will do the job.
After grooming sessions, use a few drops in dogs’ ears after cleaning them to avoid ear infections. Fleas, flies, ticks and bacteria, external parasites, ring worm, fungus, staphylococcus, streptococcus, pneumococcus, mange, etc. are unlikely to inhabit a dog whose system is acidic inside and out.
Should you ever experience any of these with your dog, bathe with a nice gentle herbal shampoo – one that you would use on your own hair – rinse thoroughly with vinegar, and then sponge on apple cider vinegar diluted with equal amounts of warm water. Allow your dog to drip dry. It is not necessary to use harsh chemicals for minor flea infestations. All fleas drown in soapy water and the apple cider vinegar rinse makes the skin too acidic for a re-infestation. If you are worried about picking up fleas when you take your dog away from home, keep some apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle, and spray your dog before you leave home and when you get back. For raw spots caused by excessive licking, use a few drops in water, and sponge the affected areas with apple cider vinegar.
Horticultural Uses for Vinegar
Vinegar can also be used to control weeds in your garden. According to Garrett:
To keep the weeds out of a decorative or utility gravel area, the best approach is to design them out from the beginning or use organic products later to kill the weeds. Salt, toxic herbicides and bleach should never be used because they contaminate the soil long term. They also leach into the water stream. To head off the problem, install the gravel in a thick layer – 6 to 8 inches after scraping away all grasses and weeds.
Any weeds that grow through the gravel can be sprayed and killed with a mix of 10 percent pickling vinegar mixed with 2 ounces orange oil and 1 teaspoon liquid soap or you can use commercial organic herbicides. Vinegar sprays can also be used to kill weeds in the cracks in sidewalks and driveways. The best choice for herbicide use is 10 percent white vinegar made from grain alcohol. It should be used full strength. Avoid products that are made from 99 percent glacial acetic acid. This material is a petroleum derivative. Natural vinegars such those made from fermenting apples have little herbicidal value.
1 gallon of 10 percent (100 grain) vinegar
Add 1 ounce orange oil or d-limonene
Add 1 tablespoon molasses (optional – some say it doesn’t help)
1 teaspoon liquid soap or other surfactant (I use Bio Wash)
Do not add water
Shake well before each spraying and spot spray weeds. Keep the spray off desirable plants. This spray will injure any plant it touches. This natural spray works best on warm to hot days. Vinegar sprayed on the bases of trees and other woody plants will not hurt the plant at all. This technique was first learned about by spraying the suckers and weeds growing around the bases of grapevines.
If your water is alkaline, add 1 tablespoon of 50-grain (5 percent) natural apple cider vinegar to each gallon of water to improve the quality of the water for potted plants and bedding. This doesn’t have to be done with every watering, though it wouldn’t hurt. This technique is especially helpful when trying to grow acid-loving plants such as gardenias, azaleas, and dogwoods. A tablespoon of vinegar per gallon added to the sprayer when foliar feeding lawns, shrubs, flowers, and trees is also highly beneficial, especially where soil or water is alkaline. The other horticultural use for vinegar is in the watering can.
Other Uses for Vinegar
Last but not least, vinegar can be used to remove certain pesticides and bacteria from your fresh produce. Of course, you don’t need apple cider vinegar for this—any basic white vinegar will do. Gayle Povis Alleman, MS, RD recommends a solution of 10 percent vinegar to 90 percent water as a bath to briefly soak produce . Just place your veggeis or fruit in the solution, swish it around, and rinse thoroughly. Just don’t use this process on fragile fruits (like berries), since they could be damaged in the process or soak up too much vinegar through their porous skins.
Apple cider vinegar has also long been used as a natural hair care product. Its acidity is close to that of human hair; it’s a good conditioner and cleaning agent, as well as an effective germ killer. You can visit apple-cider-vinegar-benefits.com for information on how to make a vinegar hair rinse.
While we need a great deal more research to investigate vinegar’s full healing potential, it can certainly be useful in a variety of ways, for a variety of conditions. It’s definitely a great multi-purpose tool to have in your pantry.