‘Fire Cider’ Ruled Generic in Court Case

Updates on the Fire Cider Three’s court case to decide the fate of the term “fire cider,” university sustainability efforts, and more.

| February/March 2020

Fire cider is a tonic that’s been used by herbalists for decades, whether to give a kick to prepared dishes or to impart an immunity boost when taken plain. And it’s anything but plain, with a base of apple cider vinegar that’s usually infused with garlic, onion, ginger, horseradish, and hot pepper — and herbs added to the herbalist’s taste.

fire-cider-ruling
Photo by Flicker/thedabblist

As the recipe, first dubbed “fire cider” by Rosemary Gladstar in the early 1970s, spread, herbalists prepared their own proprietary versions and took them to market. For example, herbalist Nicole Telkes, director of the Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine, blended “Texas Fire Cider,” which she regularly sold at her local co-op in Austin, Texas.

Then, in 2012, a company named Shire City Herbals trademarked “fire cider,” and herbal businesses started to receive notices asking them to stop selling products by that name. Telkes reached out to resolve the issue, but Shire City maintained the trademark. Ultimately, Telkes, as well as Mary Blue of Farmacy Herbs and Katheryn Langelier of Herbal Revolution, who came to be known as the “Fire Cider Three,” began a campaign to render the fire cider name generic. They believed trademarking a traditional herbal product could set a dangerous precedent. “We saw this as a canary in the coal mine for what’s to come of herbal remedies and our culture as herbalists,” Telkes says. Shire City then sued the Fire Cider Three in April 2014.



The presiding judge ordered pro bono representation for the Fire Cider Three, who prepared for trial over the course of four years. They received organizing support from Gladstar, and the herbalism community rallied around them. Thousands of people signed the “Free Fire Cider” petition, and small donations fueled the movement. “We raised all the money on $5, $10, $20, up to $1,000, and a few herb companies helped out,” Telkes says. “But it was generally the average people who were dedicated to seeing this through that helped support it, whether they were calling companies or educating students or giving money. It was really a grassroots effort.”

The case went to court in early 2019, and the trial lasted nine days over five months. The Fire Cider Three testified about their experiences with fire cider, and why they took issue with companies controlling common phrases. After three months of post-trial deliberation, the judge declared “fire cider” a generic term on Sept. 30, 2019. With the court case off their shoulders, according to Telkes, the Fire Cider Three were left with solid friendships and a reinforced respect for shared traditions.






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