Fire cider is a pungent and fiery tonic packed with aromatic antimicrobial herbs and spices. Traditionally taken to ward off respiratory infections such as colds and flu. It is a modern form of an ancient herbal medicine called an oxymel. What’s more, this humble homemade remedy has also had its fair share of controversy!
What is fire cider?
Fire Cider is the name the American herbalist Rosemary Gladstar gave her medicinal brew based on apple cider vinegar and honey, heavy on spicy and pungent plants such as chilli and horseradish. Fire cider is a modern version of an oxymel.
What is an oxymel?
The word oxymel derives from the Greek word oxymeli, meaning “acid and honey”. Oxymels are an ancient medicine combining medicinal herbs and spices with vinegar and honey.
Vinegar and honey have their own therapeutic qualities, helpful in drawing out more of the medicinal compounds in the herbs and spices. Also enhancing digestion and the shelf life of the remedy.
The Fire Cider controversy
Fire cider has also had its fair share of controversy. Rosemary Gladstar was happy her remedy was passed around different groups of natural health advocates, being modified to accommodate different tastes and ingredient availability.
But, in 2012, a company called Shire City Herbals trademarked the name “fire cider”, claiming they had thought of it around 2010. This is despite the fact Rosemary had been using the name since the 1980s for her fiery brew.
A group of herbalists dismayed by the hijacking of the popular remedy mobilised and formed the “Free Fire Cider” movement. Push came to shove, and the whole affair ended up in court. Finally, on Sept. 30, 2019, the judge declared “fire cider” a generic term not able to be trademarked!
What are the health benefits of fire cider?
The health benefits of fire cider reflect the health benefits of the individual ingredients you use to prepare it. My recipe is super flexible and based on ingredients you have on hand and/or are in season.
In traditional healing systems, the ingredients of fire cider are classed as pungent warming remedies. They increase heat, boosting vitality and circulation. Their pungency also aids in clearing the respiratory passages.
Common, pungent ingredients of fire cider most often include:
Garlic: studies have shown garlic to be able to decrease inflammation in the body, protect cells in the body through its antioxidant capacity, and help lower harmful fats in the blood such as triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. Preparations of the cloves have been shown to prevent and treat health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes.
Ginger: is warming and spicy. Like garlic, there is evidence it decreases inflammation in the body and is an antioxidant. In addition, it can enhance digestion, quell nausea and have an analgesic effect.
Horseradish: a pungent and decongesting root that is traditionally used for respiratory complaints. It is shown to be effective in treating sinusitis and bronchitis and works as a potent antimicrobial.
Chilli: is a fiery digestive and circulatory stimulant with many other health benefits. It has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, as well as having a protective effect on the cardiovascular system.
Unpasteurised apple cider vinegar: an age-old home remedy proven to be antioxidant and antimicrobial.
Raw Honey: since ancient times, we have used honey to dress wounds and promote good health. Today, science has backed this up, showing various components of honey to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant effects on the body.
How to Make Fire Cider
Here is an adaptable recipe to use what you have or have easy access to. Unless you grow your own horseradish, it can be super expensive. It is best to use what you have on hand and/or is in season.
This recipe is all about proportions. Read the recipe through first – it will all make sense!
You will need:
- A clean one-litre or one-quart jar with a lid.
- A selection of pungent roots, bulbs and rhizomes: onion, ginger, horseradish, garlic and turmeric
- A selection of fresh seasonal herbs: oregano, rosemary, thyme, tulsi, calendula flowers
- Spice: fresh or dried chilli, black pepper, long pepper
- Raw unpasteurised apple cider vinegar
- Raw honey
- Fresh hot chilli or cayenne powder
For each one-litre or one-quart jar:
- Fill one-quarter of the jar with loosely packed chopped or grated pungent roots, bulbs and rhizomes (I know it is aesthetically pleasing to have big chunks of roots etc. in the jar – but they need to be in small pieces to increase the surface area – this means the vinegar can do its job and draw out the medicinal compounds)
- Fill the other two-quarters of the jar with chopped fresh herbs – choose from oregano, rosemary, thyme, tulsi, calendula flower
Now that the jar is three-quarters full, add:
- Three slices of fresh lemon
- 1 – 2 fresh hot chilli (or ¼ – ½ tsp of powdered cayenne).
- ¼ cup raw local honey
- Finally, top the jar with raw/unpasteurised organic apple cider vinegar
Cap the jar
Place out of direct sunlight – somewhere you can remember to shake the jar once a day.
After 4 - 6 weeks:
Place a colander over a heavy pot or jug. First, line the colander with cheesecloth (I use three to four layers). Then, pour the fire cider into the lined colander. Then, allow it to drain until the bulk of the liquid has collected in the pot and you are left with wet organic matter.
Take the corners of the cheesecloth and gather up the wet organic matter, squeezing the remaining liquid through the cheesecloth into the pot. Do this until there is no remaining liquid.
Add a little honey to taste and then pour into sterilised jars or bottles for storage.
If you use metal caps rather than plastic ones, place a piece of baking parchment between the lid and the glass to ensure the vinegar does not erode the cap.
This vinegar will last for a good year or two when stored in a cool, dark place. Just remember to shake before using.
Just a note about the super spicy additions such as cayenne chilli and horseradish.
Start with a lower amount if you are less tolerant to hot spice – you can always adjust the heat later and in future batches. It is easy to add and impossible to take out! You will find that the heat will intensify during the resting phase.
How much Fire Cider should you drink?
Traditionally fire cider is taken to ward off infections in the winter months. Take one to two tablespoons a day in food or water.
The pungent, antimicrobial nature of the fire cider is great for upper respiratory tract infections. Gargle it undiluted (if you can bear it!) or diluted when you have a sore throat and/or infected sinuses. Swish it around that little patch of your throat where near where the mucous from your nose drains.
Ways to use your fire cider
- As a shot followed by a glass of water
- Add a dash to a tall glass of sparkling water with a slice of fresh lemon
- In vinaigrettes and other salad dressings.
- In vegetable juices and ‘virgin Marys’!
The best way to enjoy fire cider is in cold preparations. You don’t want to heat it and destroy heat-sensitive medicinal compounds.
What to do with leftover pressed herbs and spices from making fire cider
Don’t discard the wonderful plant matter that is leftover after straining your Fire cider into bottles. I bottle it up in the fridge ready and find lots of different uses for it:
- marinating olives – gently warmed in a pan with a little olive oil
- using in other marinades – for baked and roasted meats
- a chunky addition to vinaigrettes
Is fire cider for everyone?
No – the pungent, spicy combination of herbs is not suitable for everyone. It is not recommended for people who:
- have ulceration in their stomach or oesophagus
- have an allergy or sensitivity to any of the individual ingredients
- are on medications that interact with one or more the individual ingredients
- are pregnant or breastfeeding
Have you made fire cider?
Have you made fire cider? Do you take it regularly? How about your own favourite ingredients or hacks you would like to share? Leave a comment :)