Cleopatra dissolved a pearl earring in a cup of vinegar and drank it to win a wager that she could consume the most expensive meal in history.

A jug of white vinegar sits in my cupboard, along with some cider and specialty vinegars. It's a safe bet that you've got some vinegar, too.

As I added a cup of white vinegar to a load of laundry to treat mildew, it occurred to me that this humble liquid — that sits in the dark and can be bought for pennies an ounce — probably deserves better. It's a versatile, powerful liquid with quite a distinguished history.

Discovered by accident some 10,000 years ago in the wine making process; its name comes from the French meaning "sour wine."

Cleopatra dissolved a pearl earring in a cup of vinegar and drank it to win a wager that she could consume the most expensive meal in history.

Hannibal made way for his elephants by pouring vinegar on hot boulders causing them to fall apart.

Hippocrates prescribed it to his patients, as have healers of all stripes down through the ages.

It's known to kill bacteria and mold which makes it useful in cleaning, treating disease, and don't forget pickling. Vinegar has been used to preserve a host of foods.

So versatile is this liquid, that it seems almost magical. Whole books have been written about it. The Vinegar Institute lists dozens of uses for vinegar, and vinegar even has its own museum: The International Vinegar Museum in Roslyn, South Dakota.

I jotted down some of uses I have for vinegar: wash windows, mop hardwood floors, remove mildew from shower curtains, dye Easter eggs, make pickles.

Speaking of pickles, I learned in childhood that vinegar-soused cottonballs dabbed on sunburn really takes the sting out. You smell like a pickle, but at least you can lie down and sleep in peace.

Greengirls Connie Nelson, Robyn Dochterman and Jaime Chismar are dishin' the dirt from the backyard garden and beyond on their blog: startribune.com/greengirls.