Vinegar: An Ancient Medicine and Popular Home Remedy

By Bonnie K. McMillen, R.N., B.S.N., College Health Nurse, University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, Bradford, PA,

Vinegar is an old time home remedy that really delivers relief when you need it. It is a weak acid and has been used as a medicine/antiseptic for thousands of years. In the year 400 B.C., Hippocrates, the father of medicine, used vinegar to treat his patients. This naturally occurring germ killer was one of the very first medicines.

Vinegar is made when fresh, naturally sweet cider is fermented into an alcoholic beverage (hard cider). Then it is fermented once again. The result is vinegar. Apple cider vinegar contains more than thirty important nutrients, a dozen minerals, over half a dozen vitamins and essential amino acids, and several enzymes. Plus, it has a large dose of pectin for a healthy heart. (Source: The Vinegar Book by Emily Thacker, page 6.)

As much as I enjoyed The Vinegar Book, personal stories are sometimes even more convincing than anything we may read.

I have a high regard for vinegar since it has come to my rescue more than once. I was stung on the hand by a bee while in the garden one day. The sting was very painful and frightening. I came running into the house, yelling to my husband that I'd been stung. I proceeded to tell him how painful it was.

I'm the nurse in the family so I should have known what to do, but sometimes when the injury is to yourself and you're in a lot of pain, you don't. My dear husband took over; he told me all about the vinegar book he was reading and how vinegar would take the pain away. I was quite leary. I knew that vinegar was acetic acid and I was afraid it would make it hurt more. My husband poured vinegar over my inflamed finger and within 15 seconds the pain was completely gone! The finger never swelled and the redness that had already started went away completely! I had no more pain and I was able to go on with my day and use my hand like nothing had ever happened!

The next time vinegar came to my rescue was for an ongoing problem I was having with plantar warts on the bottom of my foot. I contracted the pesky virus from the local Y's locker room floor. It was spreading and I was dreading going to the podiatrist because I knew it would involve pain and money. Instead, I luckily thought of saved me before....could it get rid of plantar warts? I decided it was worth a try. I soaked my foot about three times a week. I should have done it every night but I just couldn't remember to do it every night. Nothing happened for about 2-3 weeks but I was determined to make life on my foot very uncomfortable for these warts. So after every soak I would rub my foot vigorously with a clean towel. Finally after about 2-3 weeks I noticed the nasty little black warts were loosening their grip on my foot and some were being toweled away!

This was incredible but it made perfect sense! Salicylic acid is the common ingredient in over-the-counter remedies for treating warts, and vinegar is acetic acid...still an acid but a much more gentle treatment. I continued to soak my foot every night and within 5-6 weeks or so from the beginning of treatment the 15 or 20 black warts were completely gone and have not recurred. I also learned to wear shower shoes at the gym and to never walk around a locker room or pool area in my bare feet.

I marvel at the hundreds of uses for this golden liquid we take for granted and simply call vinegar. If you're not an apple eater, or even if you are and would like to enjoy the added health benefits of vinegar, just drink a teaspoon or so in water every day. Ingesting apple cider vinegar is said to be helpful for digestion and bowel function, lowering cholesterol, improving memory, preventing ulcers, and relieving pain and slowing progression of arthritis.

Always have vinegar on hand and take it on vacation in a small spray or squirt bottle. It's so much more than an inexpensive window cleaner!

Editor's Note:
Vinegar is also a great remedy for sunburn. remember getting the worst sunburn of my life on a Florida beach. I did use sunscreen, but at the time I was taking Bactrim, and I completely forgot about the warnings to avoid the sun while taking that medication. The result was a sunburn so painful and blistering that I could not even sit down comfortably. I took some acetaminophen and whined a lot. Then our neighbor suggested using white vinegar on the sunburn. I put a washcloth soaked in vinegar on my leg and it immediately quelled the fire of the sunburn. I will never forget the relief that the vinegar provided.

I'm also happy to hear of the health benefits of ingesting vinegar. I'm planning to eat more salads with balsamic vinegar!

P.S. Bonnie has completed her first year in college health here at Pitt-Bradford. She has a great interest in self-care measures and home remedies which can be very useful in college health. One of our nursing roles is to teach our students self-care skills that will be useful for a lifetime. Thanks, Bonnie, for writing this wonderful article for our Connections Quarterly readers! We will print it on colored paper and place copies of it on our literature rack in the Self-Care Center for our students to enjoy. I invite you all to do the same with this or any article in CQ which you find useful to your college health practice.

--Carol Mulvihill, CQ Editor

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