The Back Story
I have been making Vital Tonic for my family for years now. I make the apple cider vinegar myself and this forms an amazing living solvent, which then extracts many of the more polar chemical constituents from the vegetables and herbs I soak in it. I have never tested exactly what is extracted, but I know the plants I use are packed with antioxidants, including glucosinolates, carotenoids, including curcumin, capsaicin, capsanthin and capsorubin (although more soluble in oil) and flavonoids, including quercetin, gingerols and betalains (which are alkaloids).
These plant constituents do many jobs for plants that are also beneficial to us – they are antioxidants, they are antimicrobial and anti-fungal and some are anti-mutagenic. These constituents are often very colourful too, so I can tell that they are in my Vital Tonic, because my Vital Tonic is also very colourful.
When we drink it, we are consuming all those plant constituents and we are consuming the live microbes contained in the apple cider vinegar, which itself, has been consumed by humans for health since 5000BC.
As a family, we cherish and respect our Vital Tonic. We do not guzzle it daily (vinegar-based drinks if consumed too frequently can damage your tooth enamel). We only have it, diluted in a little water, if we feel under the weather in any way. Sometimes though, if I am feeling very decadent, I will use it to make a vinaigrette!
Have a go at making it yourself. You can, of course, just buy your apple cider vinegar and skip straight to phase 2 of the recipe if you wish.
Phase 1: Apple Cider Vinegar
1 litre of water (ideally filtered)
4 tbsp of sugar (some prefer to use the equivalent of local raw honey)
A small amount of raw apple cider vinegar
2 litre Kilner jar, washed in hot water or that has been through the dishwasher
A large jug or mixing bowl
A clean cloth and elastic band
A mixing spoon
Simply put the water into the mixing bowl or jug and stir in the sugar (or honey if you have chosen to use that) until dissolved.
Chop up the apples into smallish chunks (I leave skins on and throw everything in – core and pips too) and put into the kilner jar – it should be 2/3 to ¾ full.
Pour over the sugar/honey water.
Add a small slosh of a previous batch of apple cider vinegar or some shop-bought raw apple cider vinegar. This is not crucial, but it helps the process along by introducing the acetobacter bacteria you desire. I sometimes use kombucha vinegar or water kefir vinegar to do this if I have some of that about instead.
Cover with a clean cloth, held by an elastic band and put it somewhere at normal room temperature for around 2 weeks. Do not shut the lid on the kilner jar (the process requires oxygen). Some people like to stir it once in a while during this period, but I normally forget. I do always label my ferments though – saying what it is and when it was made. I also write on the date I next need to do something with it, so that I don’t forget.
After two weeks or so, strain off the apple and you will likely have an alcoholic cider. Put this cider into a clean kilner, cover it once again with the cloth and elastic band and make a note on your label to check again in around 4-8 weeks.
I stop the ferment process when I am happy with its taste – I like it tangy and bright – which can take 12 weeks from apple removal in my house. If you are really lucky, a beautiful vinegar scoby will have formed and you can transfer this onto your next batch of vinegar.
I make two types of Vital Tonic – a yellow one and a red one. The red one is the same as the yellow, it just has the betelains from beetroot in it. And the ingredients I use will vary slightly each time, depending on what herbs are in the garden.
I use organic ingredients to make my Vital Tonic, so that I can use the onion, ginger, turmeric, horseradish and lemon/lime skin without concern. If you are using non-organic produce, it is worth peeling these roots and giving the lemon/lime a good wash before grating.
Phase 2: Vital Tonic
1 litre of the delicious apple cider vinegar you just made (or the apple cider vinegar you just bought)
A medium onion – red or white. I put some of the skin in too as it is full of quercetin
10 large garlic cloves (peeled) and chopped
6 tbsp of grated horseradish – this isn’t always available so if not, just leave it out.
6 tbsp of grated ginger
6 tbsp of fresh turmeric root
2 red chillis, quartered and deseeded
Zest and juice of ½ a lemon or lime (unwaxed).
120ml raw honey
Herbs of your choice – I often add Thyme and Rosemary as these are powerful anti-microbials, great for fighting colds.
For Red Vital Tonic – 1 beetroot – chopped into chunks
2 litre kilner jar
Chop/grate/squeeze/pour the above as appropriate and place in the clean kilner jar. Cover with the apple cider vinegar, shut the lid and leave at room temperature for a month. Don’t forget to label it and date it, adding the date on which you next need to do something with it.
Ideally, you would give it a good shake daily, but I always forget this. Just do it when you remember.
When the month is up, strain off the liquid using a fine-mesh sieve. I also use a small cider press to press all the veg. so that I extract as much of the juices as humanly possible from the veg. I usually then compost the veg because, by now, I have squeezed them to death. Then bottle your wonderful Vital Tonic in an airtight bottle, label it and I store it in the fridge door so the children can get some for themselves whenever they need it.