Shire City Herbals, an upstart wellness company, caused an uproar in the herbalism community when it filed and won a trademark for Fire Cider in 2012. A popular but generic term to describe a spicy apple cider concoction regarded for its purported wellness benefits, fire cider had been made and sold by various companies and individuals over the past three decades.
More than 60 companies supported the Free Fire Cider campaign in an attempt to get Shire City Herbals to drop the trademark. In 2019, three women—Kathi Langelier of Herbal Revolution, Nicole Telkes of Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine, and Mary Blue of Farmacy Herbs—won a nine-day court case to once again make fire cider a generic herbalism term. Below is a look at the origins of fire cider, how to make it, and its perceived health benefits.
The Free Fire Cider campaign, responding to Shire City Herbals’ claims on the Dr. Oz show that its Fire Cider formula was created from an ancient herbal recipe, found no recorded evidence of the formula before the 1970s. The original fire cider recipe was in fact created by Rosemary Gladstar, a well-known herbalist and instructor who was teaching at the California School of Herbal Studies at the time. Similar apple cider concoctions, including Cyclone Cider and 4 Thieves Vinegar, existed at the time, but none had the same ingredients as Gladstar’s creation.
The core ingredients of the recipe are horseradish, garlic, onions, ginger, and cayenne pepper, all of which are macerated in apple cider vinegar for at least three weeks. Honey is added at the end of this process for sweetness.
“At the time, I really wanted vinegar tinctures to take off, so I came up with this recipe and thought the combination of flavors was fabulous—hot, sour, pungent, and sweet,” noted Gladstar, speaking to MarthaStewart.com in 2019. “Not only does it taste good, but it’s also easy to make and uses common herbs that you can get from your backyard or local grocery store.”
Gladstar incorporated fire cider in her home study course at the school in 1981 and has since copyrighted it in books dating back to 1991. The recipe is also commonly shared by herbalists and featured at other herb classes.
How to Make It
This easy-to-make tonic requires little more than patience. The aforementioned core ingredients should soak in apple cider vinegar for about three to four weeks, following which honey can be added for flavor. However, Gladstar recommends adding other ingredients for flavor and health benefits. These include lemon, turmeric, rosehip, jalapenos, and/or orange—the recipe is quite flexible.
These ingredients should all be placed in a jar and covered by about 2-3 inches of apple cider vinegar with a piece of wax paper under the lid to keep the mixture from touching metal. The jar should be shaken once per day and stored in a cool and dark place. After four weeks, pour the mixture into a clean jar while using a cheesecloth to strain the residue.
How and When to Drink It
Fire cider is typically made during winter months as a natural remedy that’s said to alleviate cold symptoms. Gladstar suggests those trying fire cider for the first time should dilute it warm water or apple cider. A daily one- or two-ounce shot is recommended for individuals used to the taste. Fire cider can also be used as a salad dressing or a flavorful addition to rice or steamed vegetables. Some people also use it in soups or as a marinade for meats.
Health Benefits of its Ingredients
Herbalists and others in the holistic wellness industry promote the use of fire cider to support a healthy immune system. There are several variations of the recipe on popular food and health blogs across the internet. However, note that they all contain disclaimers on the effectiveness and purported health benefits of this alternative medicine tonic.
There is no scientific evidence that fire cider benefits immune health, or that it can alleviate cold and flu symptoms. All the reports of its health benefits are merely anecdotal—essentially hearsay that is not verified by scientific research. However, there has been some research that suggests some of the individual ingredients in fire cider have health-boosting effects.
Its primary ingredient, apple cider vinegar, contains antibacterial properties and has been shown to provide immune benefits in shrimp, although no studies have been performed to confirm these benefits in humans. Apple cider vinegar is an increasingly popular ingredient in the wellness industry, with several brands of gummies available that are said to offer benefits like improved complexion, reduced bloating, and digestive support.
Garlic and honey are other fire cider ingredients known for their antimicrobial properties. A study involving 120 people found that those who took 2.56 grams of aged garlic extract daily for 90 days had reduced severity of self-reported cold symptoms compared to those who were in a control group. Honey has also long been used to soothe sore throats, but there’s no evidence to suggest it can prevent colds.