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Bring me a Shrubbery... What is a Herbal Shrub?

Updated: Apr 2, 2023


Assortment of bottles and herbs surrounding a herbal shrub drink displayed in a cup

Looking for a fun and healthy way to preserve your leftover fruits and herbs? Want to improve gut health or other ailments? Or just want to get creative in the kitchen creating yummy culinary delights to cook with? Here's an ancient technique that's been used for centuries.


What is a shrub?


When we mention a shrub, normally the first image that comes to mind is a small bush in the garden. This is correct but there is also another kind. The shrub we’re talking about is an acidulated (normally vinegar-based) herbal beverage.


Before we had refrigeration people needed an effective way to preserve their food, that is where vinegar comes in. Acidic substances, such as vinegar, help to reduce food borne illnesses and preserve the food. When sugar is added to the vinegar it creates a basic food preservation process. That's why so many of our ancestors drank fermented beverages to stay healthy, such as mead, beer, and shrubs because it was better than drinking plain water back then. Traditionally, these vinegars were created from fermented fruit, but you can also make shrubs with fruit and herbs.


historical images of Vikings around fire drinking shrubs and a warrior drinking a beverage on a throne with his sword

History of the shrub


The word “shrub” comes from an Arabic word 'sharbah' which means “a drink”. It’s made with fruits, herbs, or flower petals. Consuming vinegar-based drinks dates back to the Babylonians. They added vinegar to water to ensure it was safe to drink and Vikings used it to aid dehydration too. The Romans also mixed vinegar and water to create a drink called posca. Sailors traditionally carried shrubs on board their ships that were packed full of vitamin C to help prevent scurvy. Shrubs regained popularity during the Temperance movement in the early 1800’s. Many 19th century housekeeping manuals contained shrub recipes for cooking or for medicinal purposes. Today, shrubs are mainly being used to make cocktails, salad dressings, and other culinary sauces and drinks. Most recently though, shrubs have been on the rise for use in medicinal purposes again as fermented drinks for improving gut health.

Elderberry shrub on spoon with elderberries in background. Captions with 'Let's make a Herbal Shrub' and 'Delicious & Good for you!' in text

Want to make a herbal shrub?


It's easy and super fun! You can experiment with different combinations of fruits and vinegar, the only limit is your imagination. As well as shrub drinks you can also use the mixture as a homemade jam, sauce, marinade, salad dressing, or medicinal tonic. The most common method for making a shrub is fruit mixed with vinegar and sugar. There is no limit to the type of fruit and herbs you can use, although some of the most common fruits to use are berries, but we have used mango, pineapple, citruses, and guava before. Making a shrub is the perfect opportunity to use up fruit that is going to spoil or to buy bruised or misshapen fruit from the store. It's fun, creative, and sustainable!


You can use any vinegar that has at least 5% acidity. The most common vinegar used include balsamic, distilled white and apple cider, we recommend raw organic apple cider vinegar with the mother. You can use either brown sugar, white granulated sugar or raw sugar. Some people like to switch the sugar for honey which is also an option, one that we recommend, as honey has wonderful medicinal properties in it self if you’re not vegan.


Display of various herbs in bowls

There are certain steps you need to take to make any shrub regardless of the fruit and herbs you choose to use. They are as follows:


Step one: Sterilize your jar


Step two: Add the prepared fruit or herbs to jar


Step three: Add the sugar or honey to the vinegar. Mix the vinegar and sugar/honey to dissolve



Step four: Add vinegar sugar/honey mixture to the jar ensuring that you have completely covered the fruit and herbs.


Step five: Leave to stand for a minimum of 2 weeks to 4 weeks. The longer the better as it allows more medicinal compounds of the fruit and herb to infuse. You can refrigerate or not while it infuses.


Step six: Strain the fruit and herbs from the vinegar with a cheesecloth


Step seven: Return strained shrub to the sterilized jar. Close with a lid and store in refrigerator


Step eight: Store for up to 6 months. Enjoy!


Shrub being poured with caption of 'Happy Creating'

Shrub recipes


Here are some delicious shrub recipes to try, but the creativity is endless.


Tip: If you want a medicinal tonic, you can use several different culinary food based herbs or stronger medicinal herbs in smaller quantities. If going to make a medicinal tonic, do your due diligence and make sure it's a safe herb to ingest. Herbal Academy, has a wonderful herbarium and blog with fantastic reliable herbal monographs to learn more about different herbs and how they can be used.


Tulsi basil, strawberry & mint


Ingredients:


• 1 cup strawberries

• 1 cup of vinegar

• 1 cup of sugar/honey

• ½ cup fresh tulsi basil (roughly chopped)

• ½ cup mint (roughly chopped)


Dragon fruit, hibiscus & lemon


Ingredients:


• 1 cup chopped dragon fruit

• 1 Tbs of organic dried hibiscus flower

• 1 cup vinegar

• 1 cup sugar/honey

• ¼ of a lemon


Elderberry, blackberry, vanilla & ginger


Ingredients:


• 1 cup dried elderberries

• 1 cup blackberries

• 1 cup vinegar

• 1 cup sugar/honey

• 1 tsp vanilla extract

• 1 inch fresh ginger


Make the process fun and it's a great activity to do with kids too. We hope you enjoy these delicious recipes, we do! Leave us a comment below and let us know what delicious recipes you came up with? Happy Creating!


Herbal vinegar shrubs


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