Fire cider. The very name sounds like something you might want to try: half a dozen or more flavor-rich herbs and fruits, steeped for a few weeks in apple cider vinegar, then strained and bottled, perhaps with a bit of honey added to balance the acidity.
This traditional winter tonic is renowned as a folk remedy to help ward off winter colds, flus, and other infirmities, or, as some prefer, to mix into salad dressings or festive grogs.
Although one company has trademarked the name Fire Cider (setting off a storm of controversy), indigenous healers have been brewing herbal vinegars for milennia. In fact humans began making vinegar as long as 10,000 years ago, using it in food and drinks, for food preservation, and for many medicinal and antipseptic purposes.
Back to the modern incarnation called Fire Cider. The traditional winter tonic made with healthful herbs stewed in apple-cider vinegar is remarkably easy to make. But because of the ongoing trademark controversy, let’s just call our homemade potion Apple-Cider Tonic.
How to Make Cider Tonic
The idea behind this tonic: prepare a strong vinegar tincture that extracts healthful phytocompounds from a variety of medicinal plant materials.
Of the (probably) hundreds of favorite recipes, most begin with unfiltered apple-cider vinegar and some combination of grated horseradish, ginger, and turmeric root, minced garlic, chopped onion, and hot peppers. Other recipes, including mine, include dried or fresh leafy herbs, a few whole spices, and dried fruits or sliced citrus fruits.
Most of these ingredients contain phytochemicals known for their strong antiviral, antiseptic, and/or decongestant properties.
I start with a quart of organic unfiltered apple-cider vinegar (5 percent acetic acid) that still contains the “mother”, and pour it into a clean, wide-mouth quart canning jar. This year’s recipe:
- One-third cup each of grated horseradish and ginger roots
- Two tablespoons dried, powdered turmeric (fresh roots weren’t available)
- Half a dozen cloves of minced garlic
- A small chopped onion
- Two dried, seeded hot peppers
- One large lemon, sliced rind and all
- A small handful of dried oregano, rosemary, sage, and parsley (mixed)
- A cinnamon stick, a few allspice berries, and a few whole cloves
As a precaution, I use only organically grown roots, herbs, and fruits to keep agricultural chemicals, waxes, or dyes from migrating into the vinegar. Also, if you cap your jar with a lid containing metal parts, screw the lid on over a piece of cooking parchment or a small plastic bag to keep the lid from corroding.
After a few weeks of soaking, strain off the plant materials, and store the spicy vinegar in clean glass jar.
Yes, to the uninitiated, the mixture sounds as if the final product will taste awful, but you’ll be surprised at how the ingredients mellow as their flavors blend in the vinegar. By the way, the degree of “fire” in the blend depends on how many hot peppers you add.
How to Use Cider Tonic
- Some herbalists recommend taking a tablespoonful of cider tonic every day throughout the winter months, swallowing it right off the spoon, or adding it to a cup of juice or hot tea, perhaps with a bit of honey. If you take it neat, remember that the acidic vinegar can erode tooth enamel, so swallow it quickly and rinse your mouth afterwards.
- Others use it as a gargle at the first sign of a scratchy throat.
- Mixed half and half with honey, it makes a good cough remedy. (Don’t feed honey to children less than a year old.)
- Use it as you would plain vinegar in dressings for salads or cooked vegetables, in marinades and vinegar-based sauces.
- Some use it to fortify strong drink.
Final note: As with any herbal remedy, please consult with your healthcare professional before using purchased or homemade cider-vinegar tonic on a regular basis. Vinegar, and perhaps some of the herbal constituents, may interact with prescription medications or have negative effects on some health conditions.