Shelter Island herbalist shows you how to make your own fire cider

Here are all the ingredients you need for making fire cider. (Credit: Sarah Shepherd)

Here are all the ingredients you need for making fire cider. (Credit: Sarah Shepherd)

When I think of fall traditions, I am immediately drawn to the garden. The aroma of the herbs are strong. Seeds of my favorite plants are blowing to their next destination in my space and beyond. I appreciate the flowers of the fall. They have waited a long time for their chance to shine. Roots are waiting to be dug and they want me to use them. It is empowering to know how to take a few of those roots, leaves and flowers into my kitchen and transform them into simple remedies for myself and my family.

I learned many of the recipes and wise woman teachings that I share from my mentor and herbalist friend Rosemary Gladstar. A pillar in the herbal community, Rosemary has been teaching for decades with the spirit of sharing herbal knowledge to thousands of students all over the world. I am blessed to have been one of those students, having spent many long weekends, herbal apprenticeships and retreats traveling to exotic destinations with her, learning from the wild and weaving her deep herbal trainings into my work. I plant an abundant amount of rosemary all over my garden to remind me of her.

Fire cider was one of the first herbal tonics she taught me to make. Spicy and pungent, this herbal formula consists primarily of apple cider vinegar, honey and herbs. It has traditionally been taken throughout the winter months to support a healthy immune system. Lots of people started making this recipe, adapting it and changing ingredients to make it “their own.” Fire cider is now made in kitchens all over the world. Here is a simple recipe to get you started. Feel inspired to adapt it to your tastes and availability of herbs or ingredients.

1. Chop or grate, and combine in a quart jar:

• ½ cup fresh ginger

• ¼ cup fresh horseradish or a ½ cup prepared horseradish

• 1 onion

• 1 bulb garlic

• cayenne pepper to taste, fresh or dried

• 1 lemon

• 1 orange

• 2 tablespoons each — rosemary and thyme

• 1 or 2 cinnamon sticks

• 1 quart raw apple cider vinegar to cover

2. Cover the mouth of the jar with waxed paper or cloth before putting on the lid. This prevents the lining of the lid from corroding due to the acidity of the vinegar.  Label with the date and ingredients, and store in a cool, dark place.

3. Shake the jar daily, or as often as you remember. The motion helps extract the medicinal properties more thoroughly. The longer your vinegar infuses, the stronger it will be.

4. Strain after 4 weeks. Pour through a fine strainer or cheesecloth into a clean jar. Squeeze out the last drops of this goodness before discarding.

5. Add ¼ cup raw honey, or more to taste.

I take 1 or 2 tablespoons a day to help keep a healthy immune system, 2 to 4 tablespoons a few times daily as a remedy for colds and flus. It’s very strong-flavored, so dilute in water or honey as needed. Add it to salad dressing or sprinkled over steamed veggies or rice, it is designed to light your fires!

A heated debate over the term fire cider has come up. A Massachusetts-based company started manufacturing wholesale fire cider for national distribution and is claiming the name as their own — despite it being a well known recipe and a traditional generic term, published in books and provided by hundreds of small companies. It would be like trademarking the term “pizza.” It goes against the spirit of herbalism and violates the principles of a community based on cooperation and shared knowledge.

I will support tradition, not trademark. Fire cider is a part of the herbal revolution. It is medicine we can make from our own kitchens. I celebrate the fall by sharing this herbal tradition with you.