Apple cider vinegar may be among the most ubiquitous health items in the world. Inexpensive, easy to store, and versatile, it’s liquid gold. Travel the four corners of the world, and, wherever apples grow, you’ll find all manner of cider vinegar recipes and remedies in use. Some apple cider vinegar recipes have been around for centuries.
Science has largely ignored simple home remedies, such as apple cider vinegar, despite years of use and countless testimonials about their effectiveness. The tide is slowly turning, though, and a growing body of reputable, rigorous studies support the health effects of apple cider vinegar. The most promising seem to be in the areas of diabetes care, treatment of infections, and weight loss.
Research into the Remedy
Several studies have found that apple cider vinegar helps the body balance blood sugar levels. One study of people with Type 2 diabetes who didn’t take insulin showed that if they consumed 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar at night before going to sleep, they had lower blood glucose levels the following morning. Another study found that people diagnosed with insulin resistance who drank apple cider vinegar mixed with water before eating a high-carbohydrate meal had lower blood sugar levels afterward, compared with those who didn’t drink the diluted vinegar.
Since 2004, Carol Johnston, a professor in the nutrition program at Arizona State University, has been studying the effects of acetic acid, a main component of vinegar, on blood glucose levels in diabetics. Her work indicates that vinegar can help lower blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes, in those who are prediabetic (insulin-resistant), and even in healthy subjects. The American Diabetes Association reported in its peer-reviewed journal, Diabetes Care, that “vinegar can significantly improve postprandial [that is, after a meal] insulin sensitivity in insulin-resistant subjects,” and that “further investigations to examine the efficacy of vinegar as an antidiabetic therapy are warranted.”
Several recent studies have also validated cider vinegar’s ability to fight infections. One focused on the antimicrobial activity of apple cider vinegar against E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Candida albicans. As the study’s authors stated in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports, “The global escalation in antibiotic resistance cases means alternative antimicrobials are essential.” They gave apple cider vinegar in various dilutions to test subjects, and reported that it demonstrated “multiple antimicrobial potential with clinical therapeutic implications.”
Other studies have demonstrated apple cider vinegar’s ability to aid in weight loss, because acetic acid, a main component of cider vinegar, can lead to a feeling of fullness. One study of 175 obese people showed that daily consumption of as little as 1 to 2 tablespoons led to reduced belly fat and weight loss (between 2 and 3 pounds, on average) over a three-month period. Another study focused on cider vinegar’s ability to reduce body fat mass in overweight individuals, with researchers reporting in Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry that subjects in three test groups ingested 500 milliliters daily of a beverage containing either 15 milliliters of vinegar, 30 milliliters of vinegar, or a placebo. “Body weight, BMI, visceral fat area, waist circumference, and serum triglyceride levels were significantly lower in both vinegar intake groups than in the placebo group.” Of course, apple cider vinegar isn’t a magic trick that will melt pounds away. But when combined with a healthy diet and exercise, it can aid in weight reduction.
In the early 1980s, I and a group of students at the California School of Herbal Studies created a formula for winter health using apple cider vinegar. Since then, “fire cider” has developed a life of its own, spreading around the world as I traveled and taught. Over the years, the original formula has changed each time a fresh batch was made. People adjusted the herbs and added more honey. Some added fresh grated turmeric for anti-inflammatory action, echinacea for an immunity boost, or fresh lemon slices for vitamin C. Many versions of the famous fire cider are in use today. Here, you’ll find the original recipe and two other versions from friends in the herbal community.
Seek the highest quality cider vinegar available when making your own fire cider. Mass-market commercial cider vinegars are filtered and pasteurized before being sold, but these processes remove or inactivate vinegar’s health-giving constituents, including the probiotics, enzymes, and many nutrients. Instead, look for cider vinegar that’s raw (unpasteurized) and unfiltered. Even better, find an organic vinegar to minimize your exposure to chemical contaminants. Raw, unfiltered, organic apple cider vinegar costs a little more than the usual grocery store variety, but it’s well-worth the additional expense. You can buy it at many farmers markets, natural food stores, and even conventional grocery stores.
Rosemary’s Original Fire Cider Recipe
This is one of my favorite and most famous recipes. I started making it around 1980 at my herb school, the California School of Herbal Studies. It quickly became a popular tonic, frequently taken to stimulate immune function and aid in circulation. The ingredients are inexpensive and found in most kitchens, and the recipe is simple and fun to make.
Homemade fire cider tastes darn good when made with just the right blend of sweet, spicy, sour, and pungent. You can drink a small shot glass daily as a tonic, or take teaspoonfuls throughout the day when you feel a cold coming on.
- 1/2 cup grated fresh horseradish root
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1/4 cup chopped garlic
- 1/4 cup grated fresh ginger
- Cayenne pepper, dried or fresh chopped, to taste
- Raw apple cider vinegar, to cover
- Honey, to taste
- In a half-gallon mason jar, add the horseradish, onion, garlic, ginger, and pepper. Pour in enough vinegar to cover the other ingredients by 3 to 4 inches. Seal the jar with a tight-fitting glass or plastic lid, and set aside in a warm place. Shake the jar every day to aid in maceration.
- After 3 to 4 weeks, strain out the herbs and reserve the liquid. Warm the honey so it will mix in well, and add to the vinegar, to taste. The honey should help balance out the fiery ingredients.
- Bottle, label, and enjoy! Fire cider will keep for several months unrefrigerated if stored in a cool pantry, but it’s best kept in the fridge.
Elderberry Fire Elixir Recipe
I first tasted fire cider while taking Rosemary Gladstar’s herbal apprentice course in 2004, and I’ve been preparing my own version ever since. I make it every fall, after harvesting horseradish, to use throughout the winter months as a general tonic. When I’m experiencing cold or flu symptoms, I sip it slowly from a shot glass a few times a day. If you need an immune boost, you can use fire cider before the 8-week infusion time is up.
I add elderberries to Rosemary’s basic fire cider recipe for an additional immunity boost; they lend a darker color to the elixir. Be sure to use local, organic ingredients whenever possible.
- 1/2 cup grated fresh horseradish root
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 head garlic, cloves separated, peeled, and chopped
- 1/2 cup grated fresh ginger
- 1 to 2 fresh or dried cayenne peppers (or any hot chile), chopped, or about 1 teaspoon ground cayenne
- Scant 1/2 cup dried elderberries, or about 1 cup fresh elderberries
- 1 fresh lemon, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise
- 1 to 1 1/2 quarts apple cider vinegar, to cover
- 1/2 to 1 cup raw honey (optional)
Directions: In a half-gallon jar, combine horseradish, onion, garlic, ginger, peppers, elderberries, and lemon, and add enough apple cider vinegar to cover. Seal with a nonmetallic lid. Set aside to steep, and shake the jar daily.
After 8 weeks, strain the vinegar into a clean jar. Add honey to taste, if desired; I add about 1/2 cup honey per quart of fire cider, while others prefer as much as 1 cup. Cover tightly and label the jar.
— Susan Belsinger, Brookeville, Maryland
Garden Fire Cider Recipe
As the seasons change from summer to fall, I head out to the garden to harvest all I can before the first hard frost. These last days of bounty are filled with tradition, as I stock my pantry with herbal medicines, such as elderberry syrup, rose hip honey, and, of course, fire cider.
The following recipe is based on what I can forage from my garden or find easily at the farmers market. My fire cider is a 100 percent local mixture of spicy goodness. Consider this recipe an inspiration for creating your own locally sourced fire cider. Make sure the apple cider vinegar you use has at least 5 percent acidity.
- 1/2 cup grated fresh horseradish root
- 1 cup minced onion
- 1/2 cup minced garlic (about 15 cloves)
- 1/2 cup fresh elderberries
- 1/4-inch piece fresh cayenne pepper, or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper flakes, or to taste
- 3 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
- 3 tablespoons minced fresh oregano
- 9 fresh nasturtium flowers
- 1/4 cup raw honey, or to taste
- Raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar to cover (about 2 cups)
Directions: In a 1-quart jar, combine the horseradish, onion, garlic, elderberries, pepper, and herbs. Add the honey. Fill the jar with enough vinegar to cover all the ingredients. Stir well to remove any air bubbles.
Cover, preferably with a glass or plastic lid. If using a metal lid, place parchment or waxed paper between the lid and the jar, because vinegar will corrode metal.
Set aside the jar for 2 to 3 weeks. For the first few days, shake the jar well once per day.
Strain the vinegar into a clean jar. Refrigerate and use within a year.
— Rosalee de la Forêt, Methow Valley, Washington
Apple Cider Vinegar Safety
As with all good things, apple cider vinegar isn’t for everyone or every situation.
Diluting apple cider vinegar in warm water or juice is generally recommended before use, because undiluted cider vinegar can erode dental enamel and will sometimes turn teeth yellow.
Some people find that cider vinegar contributes to their indigestion. Heartburn and indigestion are the most common side effects. You can try diluting it as above, or adding a small amount of honey or maple syrup. Discontinue the use of vinegar if symptoms persist.
Apple cider vinegar can irritate stomach ulcers and isn’t recommended for sufferers.
While apple cider vinegar can be helpful for people experiencing yeast overgrowth, including vaginal infections caused by yeast, you should pay attention to symptoms and discontinue its use if they seem to worsen.
Rosemary Gladstar is a world-renowned herbalist, author, and educator. She recently joined other herbalists in successfully fighting a legal case that threatened the trademark-free sharing of fire cider. This story is excerpted from her book Fire Cider (available below), used with permission from Storey Publishing.