Winter ailments can quickly sneak up on even the healthiest of victims, and between the seasonal flu and COVID-19, everyone’s immune system could stand an extra boost this winter. Rather than treating sniffly symptoms as they arise, actively reinforce your immune system and stop wintertime woes before they start with homemade fire cider.

Fire cider is an unforgivingly bold oxymel, which is a five-dollar word for a liquid herbal medicine with an apple cider vinegar base. Drinking a shot (or two) of fire cider a day boosts the immune system, reduces fever and inflammation, helps stabilize blood sugar levels, and more. This particular fiery tincture was first published in Rosemary Gladstone’s Herbal Healing for Women in the late 1970s, but similar concoctions have been steeped for centuries to cure ailments from home.

If you’ve never made your own tinctures and tonics for home remedies, the winter of a global pandemic is a good time to start. It might sound too good to be true, but there’s no snake oil to be found here, folks. The real magic of fire cider is in its ingredients. Every plant, spice, and herb steeped in raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar has some combination of antimicrobial, antibacterial, or anti-inflammatory properties:

Mise en Place

Oranges and lemons: Great sources of vitamin C, thiamine, folate, and potassium

Cloves: Act as an expectorant, clearing mucus from the airways that can cause coughing, stuffy noses, and other flu-like symptoms; also used to settle upset stomachs

Turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, and black pepper: Contain anti-inflammatory properties, helping to relieve pain and reduce fever

Hot peppers (serrano chilies, habaneros, jalapenos): Help reduce pain, headaches, and inflammation; clear the sinuses; boost the metabolism; and offer an extra dose of vitamins A, B, C, and E

Garlic: Nicknamed poor man’s penicillin, garlic has been used to treat respiratory and digestive issues since approximately 2000 BC; strong antimicrobial and antibacterial properties

Onion: High in vitamin C, B, potassium, and antioxidants; helps control blood sugar; fights against dangerous bacteria; boosts digestive health

Horseradish root: Powerful antibacterial botanical; helps prevent and treat acute sinus infections, tonsilitis, urinary tract infections, and pathogenic fungus

Ginger root: High in gingerol, a substance with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties; has an overall warming effect (say goodbye, flu chills); eases nausea and vomiting; helps relieve pain and reduce fever

Raw local honey: Helps ease allergy symptoms; non-narcotic cough suppressant and throat soother; full of vitamins, minerals, and antifungal and antiviral properties

Apple cider vinegar: Stabilizes blood sugar levels; lowers cholesterol; helps kill harmful bacteria like E. coli; and might aid in weight loss

To make your own homemade fire cider, all you need are the ingredients listed above, a sealable glass bottle or jar, some time to chop veggies, and a few extra weeks for steeping. The result is a tart, spicy, and delicious tincture with a similar taste profile to kombucha or pickled vegetables. No horseradish root? No problem. Keep reading after the recipe for ingredient recommendations or substitutions.

Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 (32oz) bottle raw apple cider vinegar
  • Approx. 3-4 inches whole horseradish root
  • Approx. 4-5 inches whole ginger root
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large orange
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 bulb garlic
  • 3-4 serrano chilies or habanero peppers
  • 2 tablespoons turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • Raw local honey to taste

Directions

  1. Remove the stem and outer skin of one whole onion and roughly chop. Chop unpeeled orange and lemon, garlic bulbs, and peppers, and add to a large, clean glass jar. Grate horseradish and ginger root, and add to the jar along with spices. Pour raw apple cider vinegar over ingredients. Use a long wooden spoon to stir ingredients together.

  2. Place a piece of parchment paper over the lid of the jar or bottle and screw the lid tightly in place. Let your fire cider mixture steep in a cool, undisturbed place for four weeks, shaking once daily.

  3. After four weeks, pour the contents of the jar into a cheesecloth or muslin-lined colander over a medium to large saucepan. Let cider drain into the saucepan for 20-30 minutes. Gather corners of the cloth and squeeze until no more liquid is released. Set colander and whole ingredients aside.

  4. Add raw, local honey to the cider to taste. Pour into a wine bottle, sealable glass bottle, or canning jar. Make sure to label the bottling date; fire cider should last, unrefrigerated (but not exposed to heat or direct sunlight), for up to one year.

Supplies

  • Large glass jar or wide-mouth bottle with a sealable lid
  • Parchment paper
  • Knife
  • Cutting board
  • Cheesecloth or muslin
  • Colander
  • Saucepan
  • Wooden spoon

Recipe Notes

If you’re interested in the health benefits of fire cider but can’t get past the bold flavor, try taking your daily dose with tea, a chaser of ice water or juice, or a hot toddy.

This recipe uses serranos because it’s what was available at my grocery store. You can use habanero, ghost, Fresno, chili, or jalapeno peppers. The hotter the pepper, the hotter the fire cider, so proceed with caution.

No horseradish or ginger root? No problem. Substitute 3 tbsp of ground ginger or pure horseradish sauce if a whole root isn’t available in your area.

For the ultimate immunity boost, I recommend using Bragg Raw Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar with the ‘mother.’ The mother refers to a combination of yeast and bacteria formed in the vinegar’s fermentation process and is responsible for Bragg’s ACVs cloudy appearance. Dozens of strains of good bacteria are housed in the ‘mother’, all working to maintain normal digestive function and boost the immune system. Filtered apple cider vinegar will be colored, but transparent — motherless ACV contains many of the same benefits, but why not fill your fire cider with as many vitamins, enzymes, and probiotics as possible?

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