Meg Reilley photo
Fire cider was created by renowned herbalist Rosemary Gladstar in the 1980s.
I like to think of myself as a prepared person. Perhaps my brief stint as a Girl Scout in early adolescence left a mark so indelible that I took on “Be Prepared” as my personal lifelong mantra.
For decades now, I have carried supplies in my purse that would make any scout proud. Come across a word I don’t recognize? My mini Webster’s Dictionary stands at the ready. Somehow acquire a random paper cut at the bookstore (it happens)? Bandages and antibiotic cream are on hand. Eyeglasses become a bit wobbly? My mini glasses screwdriver can be deployed in seconds. When I became a mother in 2010, my preparedness went into overdrive. Now there are always snacks on hand to satiate sudden hunger in little bellies, sunglasses in the event of intense sunlight (and the attendant whining it elicits), and back-up socks in the car and my handbag alike, because five-year-old boys are drawn to muddy puddles and creek beds like moths to a flame.
Which is why when I became quite ill two winters ago, I was completely caught off guard. I thought I was too prepared to come down with a sickness so intense it removed my ability to taste or smell for six days. I could barely take a deep breath, let alone enjoy the aroma and flavor of the from-scratch chicken soup my husband lovingly made for me. When I began thinking over the winter wellness protocol I’d been implementing to keep my young son and susceptible-to-bronchitis-spouse healthy, I realized I’d overlooked caring for myself. I hadn’t been dosing myself with a spoonful of the homemade elderberry syrup I was dutifully giving to them. I hadn’t really been inhaling the germ-fighting essential oils I was diffusing in a pot over the wood stove, in the area beside where my son plays. I hadn’t been getting adequate sleep, or running a humidifier at night, or taking steam baths with eucalyptus oil. In short, I wasn’t nearly as prepared for what might befall me as I was what might do asunder the other members of my household.
It was during that unforeseen bout with illness that my dear friend and RN/herbalist Maria gave me a bottle of her homemade fire cider. An infusion of apple cider vinegar and hot, warming herbs like garlic, horseradish, ginger, and optional additions including turmeric, ginseng, and hot peppers, fire cider was created by renowned herbalist Rosemary Gladstar in the 1980s. Suggested as a means of moving out phlegm and congestion, herbalists both amateur and professional have been brewing up batches of it each autumn, in advance of winter ailments, ever since. Vinegar as a folk remedy has a long and storied use in the Southern Appalachians. As detailed in the Foxfire Book Series, it was suggested as a treatment for coughs and sore throats, while Edain McCoy (descendant of the famed Hatfield-McCoy lineage) writes of its use in purportedly curing headaches in Mountain Magick: Folk Wisdom from the Heart of Appalachia.
This winter, I’m prepared. After Maria’s remedy proved so helpful (my senses returned the day after taking her blend), I knew I needed to incorporate fire cider into my own home apothecary. Inspired by Maria and Rosemary’s concoctions, as well as one that local herbalist and herbal Juliet Blankespoor of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine has on her website, I created the following recipe. It takes four weeks to infuse, which even further emphasizes the need for advance preparation. From my home to yours, may it prove helpful in your own attempts at readiness for whatever winter throws your way.
About the author: Candler, N.C., homesteader Ashley English is the author of seven books. See smallmeasure.com.
Fire Cider Recipe
You Will Need:
- ½ cup freshly grated horseradish root
- ½ cup freshly grated ginger root
- ¼ cup freshly grated turmeric root
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 fresh hot peppers
- ¼ cup chopped ginseng root, fresh or dried (optional)
- Apple cider vinegar
- Honey and lemon, (to serve)
1) Place all of the chopped herbs and the peppers in a lidded glass container. Pour enough vinegar on top to cover by two inches. Cover with the lid, and place in a cool, dark area such as a pantry or cabinet for four weeks.
2) Using a mesh sieve, strain off the solids. Return the infused vinegar to the glass container and store as before. Alternately, you can leave the herbs in, where they’ll continue infusing the vinegar, and then strain off the solids per tablespoon upon use.
3) Take vinegar in 1-2 tablespoon doses as needed. You can take it daily, on a preventative basis, or acutely, at the time of need. Serve sweetened with hot water. I typically put two tablespoons in a mug, top with boiling water, and sweeten with several teaspoons of honey and a squeeze of lemon juice.