Herb vinegars delight both your palate and your eyes. You can mix and match your herbs into beautiful gourmet blends as well as preserve your summer harvest for the winter season. One of the best times to harvest your herbs is early a.m. just after the dew has lifted from the leaves but prior to the essential oils descending to the roots. Harvest your herb (s) remembering you can also use the stems and pat dry if moisture is present. The reason for removing the moisture is once in the vinegar it will add a whitish color however it will not change the flavor. You can also allow the herbs to air dry by putting in sunny window on paper towels. Some herbs such as purple basil actually will impart a reddish color to your vinegar which can be very attractive and distinctive.
Use approximately 1 cup of dry, fresh herbs firmly packed per 3 cups of vinegar ( 5% acidity ). Pack the herbs in a clean quart jar with a wooden spoon. You do not want vinegar to come in contact with metal due to a chemical reaction therefore we use a wooden spoon and also avoid contact with metal lids. If you have a jar with a metal lid then simply put over the top some form of plastic wrap so the vinegar avoids direct contact with the metal. Pack the herbs and cover with vinegar to approximately 1 inch from the top if using a quart size jar. Push down the herbs, slightly crushing, as this helps release the flavors of the herbs into the vinegar. Put on the lid, shaking to remove any air bubbles and best to record on tape the day and herbs used in the infusion so you will have for future reference.
Some cooks like to heat the vinegar slightly prior to pouring over the herbs which makes sense because the heat will aid in the release of the volatile oils of the herbs. However if the vinegar is heated too high then the quality of the vinegar declines. Generally speaking due to the length of time the vinegar is infused with the oils heating is unecessary and not worth the risk.
Take the vinegar/herb jar and store in cool, dark place for 4- 6 weeks. Please remember that the time being stored is actually a function of how many herbs, how much vinegar is used in the preparation. If more than one cup of herbs is used and less than 3 cups of vinegar then the time for the infusion to occur will be reduced. You will learn as you progress what flavors you enjoy and adjust your shelf time accordingly. There are no hard set rules but this time is given only as a beginning point to experiment and have fun. Do taste tests after 1 -2 weeks to find what you like best.
Upon settling on the flavor you enjoy then strain the herbs out of the vinegar through a colander or sieve. You should use filters, such as coffee filters, for your final strain (s) just so you end up with a crystal clear product devoid of herb material. When finished straining and when your herb vinegar is clear then pour into hot, dry bottles and place a sprig of fresh dry herb (s) into the bottle for visual appeal and also to identify the herbs used in the preparation. If you are using several herbs then it's a lot of fun, especially when giving away your herb vinegar as a gift, to have the recipient be able to see a sprig of the exact herbs used in your infusion. You may want to put a ribbon or tie around the bottle if giving away for added value or add a sprig of herb to the tie on your bottle. Cap tightly and enjoy consuming or giving.