Behold the first fruit of my autumn equinox basket! A magical Venus Vinegar composed of the most vitalizing wild foods, herbs and medicines offered by mother nature this season. And it is no ordinary herbal vinegar, but a nutrient-rich, beautifying, fortifying tonic that is fruity, tangy, spicy and earthy all in one.
And a splash of its beautiful zesty flavours will not only bring life to heavier fall foods and dishes like roast meats, stews, baked beans, braised cabbage and root vegetables, it will fortify, energize and pleasure you through the dark days of winter.
It is mostly the nasturtium flowers, rosehips and staghorn sumac seeds that give this Venusian vinegar its glorious colour and seasonal flavour. But what makes it “magical” is that from the sweet tartness of crab apple, the fruity tang of sumac, the spicy nasturtium blossoms and pungent wild mustard seeds, to the invigorating sprigs of new shoots of green, nourishing nettle, dandelion wild mustard, it embodies the energetic principles at work in the heavens and our landscape this season.
The word Equinox descends from Latin, aequus for “equal,” and nox, “night”- and describes the two days of the year when the day and night are equal in length. The Vernal Equinox marks the birth of spring, and the Autumn Equinox marks the onset of fall.
While solstices are all about extremes – high summer, deep winter, equinoxes are the moments of balance. Which is appropriate as autumn equinox marks the day the sun enters the sign of Libra, which is depicted cross-culturally as a goddess bearing scales.
But what I love best about this time of the year is that it’s ruled by Venus, goddess of beauty and all things green and growing. Reflecting the principle of balance, Venus appears twice a year in the astrological calendar, at the Vernal Equinox (Taurus) and again at the Autumn Equinox (Libra). Fulfilling the promise of the new life she planted at spring, she oversees the red apples, ruby ripe berries and fattening seed pods, the fruits of the summer which are ready for release.
But amongst falling yellow leaves, she also blesses the landscape with a new carpet of green. Plants driven back by the dry heat of high summer, send out new shoots and emerald leaves to harvest the last warm rays of the sun. And during the coming month, they will be busy pulling light energy deep into their roots for storage during winter hibernation.
That’s why I like to think of this Venus Vinegar as magically alive with the essential life-giving force alive in our landscape. By balancing the fruits, shoots, seeds that embody the energetic principles of the season, this Venusian Vinegar is powerful medicine indeed. Because as herbalists well know, soaking plants and foods in the acidic bath of vinegar (a menstruum) extract their nutrients and medicinal qualities into the liquid itself.
And right now, from backyard to forest, there are vitamin C packed rosehips, anti-inflammatory Staghorn Sumac seeds, lutein packed nasturtium blossoms, brain-enhancing ginkgo leaves, new shoots of nutrient and mineral-rich nettle, digestive supportive dandelion, gentle cleansers like chickweed, and warming anti-arthritic mustard seeds to choose from. And of course, I’ve named only a few.
Now, vinegar is good for us all on its own. Helping to lower cholesterol, improve skin tone, lower high blood pressure, prevent/counter osteoporosis, and improve metabolic functioning are only a few touted benefits. Which is probably why vinegar has been used historically for far more than preserving pickles.
Added to flavour food and drink, it has been used as a strengthening and energizing tonic throughout history. But marrying vinegar benefits with the health-promoting effects of green herbs, berries, shoots and seeds, makes Venus Vinegar good for practically anything that ails you.
But aside from their health supporting properties, I love the idea of crafting herbal vinegar as alchemical creations. Legend tells that Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, after a lavish meal with Mark Anthony, dissolved a pearl in vinegar and then drank the resulting concoction. Later vinegar played a role in the practices of the European alchemists whose used its dissolving properties to distil or extract magical properties from stones and minerals.
So too, I like to think of this Venus Vinegar as extracting more than just nutrients and medicinal ingredients – but as a magical elixir. Because as the old saying goes “as above, so below”. According to herbalist and wise woman Susun Weed, the autumn equinox is a moment of celestial and earthly stasis, an ideal time for turning something around in your life.
But because the light and energies of growth are waning, this is not a time for making an active outward change in the world, but a time for releasing the old and harvesting the fruit of the year, to dive deep to into ourselves, to get rooted for winter.
So in the time of “betwixt and between” – a high time for magic – I’ve crafted this potion to nourish me to the roots with life-giving essence during the dark part of the year. And I’ve filled it with all the beauty, vitality and fertility of the goddess of love.
And I invite you to do the same! Create a Venus Vinegar of your own! Take a basket outdoors and gather fruits, seeds, herbs and gather a combination of plants that reflect the energies at work in the season. And remember to include Venus’s signature plants, red fruits like apples and rosehips, and green plants like nettle and dandelion, and herbs like rosemary and thyme.
You can use this vinegar in many winter recipes, to pickle dandelion capers and nasturtium buds, brighten up a pan sauce, a vinaigrette, or to marinate meat, as a glaze for winter vegetables, cooked whole grains, baked beans, roasted winter squash, soups and stews.
May it nourish, energize and pleasure you through the dark days of winter!
Ingredients (just a rough guide for your own blend!)
- 3 or 4 crabapples, sliced (if you can’t find any use any small crisp tart apple)
- handful of oregon grape berries, barberries or hawthorn berries
- handful of rosehips
- 3/4 cup of nasturtium flowers minced
- handful of nasturtium seed pods
- handful of mixed greens ( i.e. young nettle shoots, chickweed, dandelion, plantain, bittercress and nasturtium leaves)
- four or five yellow Ginkgo leaves
- sprig of rosemary, thyme or sage (or all three)
- 1 or 2 tablespoons Staghorn Sumac Seeds
- 1 or 2 tablespoons of lightly ground Wild Mustard seeds (Honesty Plant/Lunaria Annua)
- 2 cloves peeled garlic
- 1 tablespoon of sea salt
- 1-quart apple cider vinegar
- Fill a quart jar with your plant material.
- Pour room-temperature apple cider vinegar into the jar until it is full. Cover jar with a plastic screw-on lid, or use a square of wax paper underneath your metal lid (vinegar disintegrates metal) held on with a rubber band.
- Store your mixture away from direct sunlight at room temperature.
- Your Venus Vinegar will be ready in six weeks! Just in time for winter.