Thieves Vinegar, Four Thieves Vinegar, Vinegar of the Four Thieves or Forthave's Vinegar – no matter what you call it, thieves vinegar has a long history of use.
From Scientific American's 1910 reference to “medicated vinegar was invented by four thieves of Marseilles who successfully employed it as a prophylactic during a visitation of pestilence” to a popular essential oil company creating a product line based off of the blend, antimicrobial herbs have a well earned reputation for their usefulness.
Fall is a great time to prep a batch of homemade four thieves vinegar to have on hand for cold and flu season.
History of Four Thieves Vinegar
Vinegar has been used as a health tonic for centuries. It is mentioned in the Bible and the writings of Ancient Greece. All of the four thieves vinegar stories that I read are set during the Bubonic plague, but there are a number of variations.
Some say that condemned criminals were sent out to bury the dead, but some survived by drinking large amounts of vinegar infused with garlic. Other say that there were many thieves robbing the homes and corpses of those that had died, and most of them died, but one particular group of thieves survived. They were granted leniency in court when they shared the secret of the herbal vinegar blend they used to protect them from the plague. (See “What is the Plague, How Dangerous is it and How Could I Get it?” for more information on the plague in modern times.) The name “Forthave's Vinegar” describes the vinegar tonic of Richard Forthave.
How to Make Thieves Vinegar
My friend, Chris, from Joybilee Farm, referred to Thieves Vinegar as a “folksy recipe”, and said that when she listened to Rosemary Gladstar, a well-known herbalist, Rosemary used the herbs she had on hand. Mountain Rose Herbs offers this version of the traditional recipe. Note – it's fine to use homemade apple cider vinegar for these herbal vinegar recipes if you have some on hand.
Basic Four Thieves Vinegar Recipe
- 1 tbsp organic sage leaf
- 1 tsp each, organic lavender flowers and organic rosemary leaf
- ½ tsp organic thyme leaf
- ½ tsp organic peppercorns
- 16oz raw organic apple cider vinegar
Place the herbs in a pint jar and fill to the top with gently warmed (not boiling) apple cider vinegar. Close with a plastic lid or place a piece of natural parchment paper under the lid to keep the vinegar from touching the metal. Allow to extract for four weeks. Strain the vinegar into a clean glass jar. Store in a cool, dark area.
Enjoy learning about herbs? Check out the courses and resources at the Herbal Academy.
Rustic Thieves Vinegar Recipe
My friend, Betty Jean, uses this homespun version:
I just throw a couple heads worth of peeled garlic into a 2 quart jar along w/ hot peppers (cayenne), a handful each of oregano, cloves, thyme, and other herbs with antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral properties such as
Pour apple cider vinegar over it to the top. Put on a lid and let sit for at least 2 weeks… I usually steep for about 6-7 weeks. Gently shake the jar each day. Strain. Take 1-2 tablespoons with a tablespoon of raw honey several times a day when sick or take one tablespoon per day for immunity boosting.
I went out in the garden to see what was still fresh, snipped a bit from the herbs in the window sill, and dug around in the herb cabinet for a few other odds and ends. (Top photo in the post.)
I ended up with:
- Lemon Balm
- Aloe Vera
- Mixed Hot Peppers
- Chocolate Mint
- Licorice Root
- Ginger Root
Licorice Root and Ginger Root are both specifically mentioned in the book Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections, so I wanted to make sure to include them with all the nasty viral illnesses going around.
You can use the strained vinegar as a base for a vinaigrette. You can also use wine as a base instead of vinegar, with complimentary herbs, to make it more pleasant to consume, or make an thieves herb blend in a vodka base to use as a tincture.
Ways to Use Thieves Vinegar
- For illness or immune boosting. Take 1-2 tablespoons with a tablespoon of raw honey several times a day when sick or take one tablespoon per day for immunity boosting.
- As a surface disinfectant – put strained vinegar in a spray bottle, spray on surfaces and wipe clean. Chris mentions that the pH will rise after steeping, so the spray will be milder on surfaces.
- As a insect repellent – put 1/4 cup vinegar in a spray bottle and fill the rest with water. Spray on skin, clothes, etc.
- Diluted, as a topical treatment for dandruff, or as a foot soak for nail fungus.
Remember, in case of serious illness, always contact a trained healthcare professional. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any illness.
Have you ever tried thieves vinegar or do you plan to? Do you have a favorite home remedy for cold and flu season? I'd love to hear about it.
You may also enjoy more of our Common Sense Home Remedies series, including:
- The Best Cold and Flu Fighters – summary of all our cold and flu related posts
- How to Make Elderberry Syrups with Fresh or Dried Berries
- Immune Boosting Herbs in Finger Gelatin
- How to Infuse Herbs in Oil, Water, Vinegar, Alcohol or Honey
Originally published in 2014, updated in 2018.