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Thieves Vinegar – Immune Booster and Germ Killer

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.

thieves vinegar in a large mason with text "thieves vinegar - traditional plague fighter and immune booster"

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.

thieves vinegar in mason jar

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



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.

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:

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:

basket of thieves vinegar herbs

Originally published in 2014, updated in 2018.

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  1. Hi Laurie,

    Does your personal garden blend for thieves vinegar kill off the Good Bacteria as well as the bad? (Because of it’s strength.)

    Thanks for taking the time to help others.

    1. It might, if taken internally in large quantities. More is not necessarily better. I highly recommend regular consumption of live culture foods to boost the number of good microbes in your system.

      At the risk of sounding too “mumbo jumbo”, there’s at least the possibility that plants harvested with positive intention may act only against problem microbes. I’ve been reading “The Lost Language of Plants” and “The Secret Life of Plants”, and there is evidence that plants can communicate with humans and each other, and that they are able to modify their chemistry based on these interactions. Sounds strange, but there’s a lot of data to back up the claims. At the very least, I figure it does no harm to work in the garden with positive intention.

  2. Laurie! Thanks so much for your vast amt of good wholesome info on good livin’! I’m really enjoying what you share.

  3. I agree with Sandy that I wish you were my neighbor also. Laurie love your site and I just accomplished making homemade apple cider vinegar from apple peels and cores that set fermenting on my kitchen counter in a dark corner for 4 weeks. Do Keep them coming!

  4. Can you use essential oils instead of the actual herbs themselves? I have a number of great essential oils that could work.

    1. Yes and no. Yes, the essential oils have many of the same constituents, so for a surface cleaner I’d say yes. To take internally, I’d say no. I found out that I’m one of the people who is very sensitive to EOs, whereas I can use the whole herbs without the side effects I get from using EOs. Sometimes less is more.

      1. Laurie,
        I’m going to try your Rustic Thieves Vinegar, I have pretty much all of the ingredients except Licorice Root and Ginger Root. My question to you is can one use the leaves of the herbal lavender plant or does it have to be the blossoms only and with the Ginger can one use powder ginger if the root isn’t available?
        Thanks so much!

        1. Ginger root is very easy to find these days, if you are interested. Most common groceries sell it now. The root is so refreshing and perfect in conditions as well as foods. The extras (if there are any extras) also dry very quickly in a dehydrator. Candied ginger is marvelous, too. Consider keeping ginger root on hand. It really is so much more potent and wonderful. I switched to the root when I discovered that I don’t have to make a special trip to an oriental grocery store. Since the switch, I find it is indispensable now. Great health drinks like ginger bugs, and even Chinese foods are so much better with the actual root instead of the processed powder.

          1. You can also keep ginger root in the freezer to keep fresh. I just cut it into 1″ chunks first, then wrap in some plastic wrap, then put it into a freezer bag. You can let it sit out before you grate it, or for tea, I put a chunk in with the water in the tea kettle and bring it to temp. It does get soft once frozen though.

  5. Hi, Laurie!!!

    I love your posts & love sharing them with my daughter in TX (I’m in MO), but have recently had several of the posts I shared on Pinterest deleted by Pinterest… the only ones being “deleted” show “doTerra” essential oil bottles, the rest are fine 🙂

    I just wanted you to know… please keep sharing, and with this, I am making my own “Thieves” 🙂


    1. Are you saying that posts from my site with the doTERRA label visible were pulled? That’s interesting, as I haven’t had any pulled (as far as I can tell). Pinterest pulled images that were from my site but not linked back to my site.

  6. to fight off a cold my husband got just yesterday, i peeled and sliced up raw ginger root and peeled some rind off an orange and steeped it in hot water then put a teaspoon of raw local honey in it for his throat. And somehow got him to eat a clove of raw garlic. (I got him to once before lol he hated it cuz it burned his tongue) but hes feeling much better today thankfully with no fever.

  7. Do you need to use Apple cider vinegar for the Thieves vinegar or will regular vinegar work also? Thanks for sharing your recipes.

    1. By “regular vinegar”, do you mean white vinegar? My preference would be apple cider, or rice or wine – so you know what the source is. White vinegar may be made from genetically modified corn or petroleum products, which wouldn’t be my first choice for a medicinal product. You can make a smaller batch and buy less vinegar to save money.

  8. Very interesting! I will definitely try this after I get my garden going. I was surprised I did not find basil on any of the lists of ingredients. Can basil be used? And Stevia?
    I just found your site. Great info!

    1. Alas, I’m not a basil lover. I grow a little in my garden, and it can certainly be added, but when I made this batch up we’d already had some light frosts and my basil was pretty much a goner. Stevia could be added too, but I’m not yet aware of its medicinal qualities, if it has any.

  9. I made apple cider vinegar (or attempted to) a year ago, it’s been sitting in my cabinet since then. I’ve been unsure about using it…what’s the worst that could happen? I used organic apple peels and cores and sugar… could it go bad?

      1. If you add some Bragg’s organic raw apple cider vinegar to the apple peelings, etc. when making your own vinegar, would this not help in keeping the ph where it should be?

  10. Hi Laurie,

    I’m deputy editor of BBC History Magazine – I was wondering if you could contact me on the email I’ve provided with regards to us potentially using your recipe for Four Thieves Vinegar in the historic recipe section of a future magazine?


  11. Is it possible to make Thieves Vinegar for cleaning purposes using essential oils added to the vinegar?

  12. Do you use all these herbs in this Lemon Balm
    Aloe Vera
    Mixed Hot Peppers
    Chocolate Mint
    Licorice Root
    Ginger Root
    And not these listed for the recipe
    organic sage leaf
    1 tsp organic lavender flowers
    1 tsp organic rosemary leaf
    ½ tsp organic thyme leaf
    ½ tsp organic peppercorns
    16oz raw organic apple cider vinegar
    If you did use all the ones listed above home much of each do you use

    1. I ended up with the Lemon Balm
      Aloe Vera
      Mixed Hot Peppers
      Chocolate Mint
      Licorice Root
      Ginger Root

      You can use what you have on hand. Use one recipe or mix and match.

  13. I love this so much! I once cured my own acid reflux with Apple Cider Vinegar… I suffered for over a year with a horrible chronic cough because of acid reflux that I just couldn’t control and I have been cured now for about 4 years!! I can’t wait to create some Thieves Vinegar of my own 🙂

    1. Julie v. here; I’d like to know what you did. I’ve been taking pantoprazole for this same thing ! its awful. would like to start with ACV as much as I can handle. am at the point now that i’m not sure if the cough is what i’m suffering or if its the cold I am getting over. hate taking medics. but am working on getting ACV down at least once a day , it is awesome that I love it. please answer either laurie or sheri doyon. and yes I love this. also came off the pinterest site. I’ve been looking for ways to boost my liver health; my doctor says she is not happy with the no.’s i’ m too much of a healthy person to not try improving my diet on my own.

  14. Great post. I read your posts fairly often and you always do a
    good job articulating the whatever topic you’re blogging about.
    Btw, I shared this on LinkedIn and my followers loved it.
    Keep up the great work!

  15. My favourite remedy for colds is.
    1 root marshmallow smashed
    1 Zest of lemon
    3 camomile tea bags or fresh camomile
    1litre boiling water.
    Poor water over marshmallow and lemon zest and let steep till cool.
    Strain into a jug and use 1/4 cup mixture to 3/4 cup hot water add squeeze of lemon and teaspoon of honey.
    Don’t take after 4PM as it will keep you awake.
    It tastes great.

  16. I have heard that asparagus has antibacterial properties, does anybody know for sure? I know that beets help cleanse the blood and are good for the kidneys and that broccoli has antioxidants, but not sure about asparagus.

    1. The only study I could find on any sort of antibacterial asparagus use was done with roots of wild asparagus, specifically “Evaluation of antibacterial activity of Asparagus racemosus willd. root.“. The abstract reads as follows:

      Different concentrations (50, 100, 150 microg/mL) of the methanol extract of the roots of Asparagus racemosus Willd. showed considerable in vitro antibacterial efficacy against Escherichia coli, Shigella dysenteriae, Shigella sonnei, Shigella flexneri, Vibrio cholerae, Salmonella typhi, Salmonella typhimurium, Pseudomonas putida, Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus aureus. The effects produced by the methanol extract were compared with chloramphenicol.

      So, in answer to your question – maybe?

  17. many of the flu tonics out there call for horseradish and onion and garlic and peppers. Are you using mostly herbs because that’s what you have on hand, or do these two recipes conquer different germ bugs?

  18. HI Laurie, I have been reading your newsletters for a few years now and I always find something that I did not know. I have heard of Thieves vinegar but have not made any yet. My daughter and I sell Young Living Essential Oils and they have an oil called Thieves Oil that I use as a cleaner. It smells wonderful and is not to expensive to use. But I have been considering to make my own oil and now I will try the vinegar as well. I also make several other herbal products that I have found very useful over the years.

    Keep sending out the very interesting and useful information I love to read every week. 🙂

    1. Hi Shelagh.

      Glad you enjoy the newsletters and posts. I find the thieves blends to be pleasant for cleaning, too, although my default for every day use is lemon because it utilizes a part of the fruit that would otherwise go to waste, and I’m a fan of the citrus smell.

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