Fire Cider & The Four Thieves

History of the Four Thieves

During the end of the middle ages, 30-60% of Europe’s population died, an estimated 75 to 200 million people with infections peaking between the years 1346–53. This deadly epidemic was caused by Yersinia pestis, a Gram-negative, rod-shaped bacterium found in the saliva of fleas that can infect both humans and animals. It causes a deadly disease called Bubonic plague and takes three main forms: pneumonic; effecting the lungs, septicemic; effecting the blood and bubonic; effecting the lymphatic system. Fleabites can also cause tapeworms, cat scratch fever and typhus!

Out of these years of pestilence, arose a story of herbal lore which has enjoyed many different versions but basically describes an herbal anti-bacterial recipe that was used by corpse robbers to protect themselves from infection while plundering through the newly deceased plague victims’ teeth, clothes and belongings.

The famous French aromatherapy doctor, Jean Valnet, has two recipes in his book. He claims corpse robbers who were caught and sentenced to death in the area around Toulouse in 1628-1631 revealed the original recipe.

In his story, four robbers were convicted of going into the houses of plague victims, killing the sick and then looting their dwellings. During the trial, the judges were astonished by the indifference of the thieves to the contagion and the judges agreed to change their sentence from being burned at the stake to hanging in exchange for their herbal recipe. In another permutation of the story, the thieves bought their freedom with the remedy they had been using.

Here is Jean Valnet’s version of the recipe:

1 handful each wormwood, juniper, meadowsweet, marjoram, sage

2oz each elecampane, angelica, rosemary, horehound

50 whole cloves

3 grams camphor

3 pints vinegar

 One American physician, Dr. John Christopher’s variation of the formula is as follows:

8 parts apple cider vinegar

5 parts each glycerin, honey

2 parts each garlic juice and comfrey root

1 part wormwood, lobelia, marshmallow, oak bark, black walnut bark, mullein, skullcap, uva ursi, hydrangea, gravel root

 Another recipe called for dried rosemary, dried sage flowers, dried lavender flowers, fresh rue, camphor dissolved in spirit, sliced garlic, bruised cloves, and distilled wine vinegar

Modern day versions of four thieves vinegar include various herbs that typically include sage, lavender, thyme, and rosemary, along with garlic. Additional herbs sometimes include rue, mint, and wormwood. It has become traditional to use four herbs in the recipe—one for each thief, though earlier recipes often have a dozen herbs or more.

Mountain Rose herbals provides a recipe using a mixture of essential oils for smelling. It makes me think of something that may have been placed in the beaks of the plague physicians mask to protect them from infection.

Feel free to customize it by adjusting the quantities or adding other antibacterial essential oils such as Tea Tree, Oregano, Thyme, Sage, Ravensara, Lavender, Juniper Berry, Hyssop, Bay Laurel, or Scotch Pine.


•                40 drops organic Clove Bud essential oil

•                35 drops organic Lemon essential oil

•                20 drops organic Cinnamon Bark essential oil

•                15 drops organic Eucalyptus essential oil

•                10 drops organic Rosemary essential oil

Mix all essential oils together in a dark glass bottle.

This last essential oil recipe reminds me of Airmune, which was a wonderful effervescent, unique immune system booster.  Airmune contained 17 herbs, essential oils and nutrients but has since been taken off the market.

I have a product that was inspired by this story I call Fire Cider. Fire Cider is available through the Ladybee Store on It is an infusion of organic ginger, garlic, horseradish, onion and cayenne in apple cider vinegar that is remarkably antiviral and a lovely warming immune boost for the winter season!