Make Fire Cider ~ To keep you healthy and strong, all year long!
There is something wickedly beautiful and wicked healthy brewing up in the kitchen: Fire Cider! Herbalists and those who embrace natural medicine call upon this spicy, spunky, tangy tonic to stay healthy during the winter and cold season. With a kick-ass combination of foods and herbs used in this tonic, it is recognized to either prevent or shorten the duration of cold and flu symptoms. This article will show you step-by-step how to make your own fire cider at home.
Simply put, plant ingredients that are already known to be good-for-you healers on their own (explained more below) are infused in raw apple cider vinegar, also referred to as “ACV”, to create a powerful immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, decongestant, circulation and digestion system boosting beverage. Can I get a Hell Yes for healing plants?
If you’re a bit of a plant nerd like me, and want to hear how and why this tonic heals through each ingredient, keep reading along…
I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get to ward off bugs. I work with the public and in a large mixed-use office building, and people seem to be constantly passing junk around. However, I am happy to report that I haven’t had a significant cold or flu in over two years. Maybe three! I know this is because I have fire cider and few other natural remedies in my medicine cabinet. Plus, good hand washing practices.
If you have kiddos (ahem, germ factories), especially those that go to childcare or are in public schools, you are probably… okay, most definitely… in more desperate need than me! But unless they are super adventurous, kids probably won’t enjoy fire cider straight like we do. Instead, you could dilute it in some water or juice for them! Another great kid-friendly immunity-boosting, cold-fighting concoction you can make at home is Elderberry Syrup! We make that too! Check out the recipe here.
Core ingredient list, and why they’re important:
Rosemary Gladstar, the Queen-of-All-Herbs, uses just seven core ingredients – garlic, onion, horseradish, ginger, cayenne, honey, and ACV – in her Fire Cider recipe from her book “Medicinal Herb’s, a Beginner’s Guide”. These seven things are essential in this healing tonic, however, you can get creative and add all kinds of beneficial and tasty additions as well! We’ll talk about those in the next section. As I will always suggest, but especially for ferments and infusions, try to use all organic ingredients!
This versatile, tasty, albeit stinky, medicinal herb is widely known to help boost your immune system. One of the ways it does this is by stimulating the production of white blood cells in your body, who in turn attack and fight against invaders like harmful bacteria and viruses. The sulfur compounds in garlic also increases blood flow and overall circulation.
Allicin is one of the key immune-stimulating nutrients in garlic, but is slightly reduced when garlic is cooked, so raw garlic is the most potent and beneficial for immunity. My mom, who is a registered dietician and nutritionist, literally eats whole raw cloves of garlic when she feels a cold coming on. Did I mention she’s also a little bit nuts? I wonder where I got that from…
Similar to garlic, onion contains immune-boosting Allicin and also helps to increase circulation – sweat that infection out! A unique secret-weapon that lies within onion is quercetin! Quercetin is a plant pigment, often used for allergy symptom relief as it is believed to reduce histamine response and inflammation. A 2014 study at the University of Michigan described quercetin as a “promising treatment for the common cold”, exploring its antioxidant and therapeutic properties, such as the ability to reduce viral replication and lung inflammation.
When I feel my allergies acting up, either from outdoor pollen and weeds, or from the indoor kitties (yes, I am slightly allergic to my own children… but who isn’t, right?) I reach for my favorite quercetin supplement that my nutritionist mom got me hooked on.
This pungent root vegetable, part of the mustard/brassica family that also includes kale and broccoli, uses its heat (similar to hot peppers) to increase your blood flow, body temperature, and digestion to keep that crud moving through and out of your body through increased sweat and urination. It also has antibacterial properties to fight sinus infections, and can help stimulate your lungs to assist with coughing and keeping your chest loose and “productive”. When you’re grating or processing this ingredient, open a window! It can definitely sting your eyes and throat.
Please note: It is recommended to avoid the consumption of horseradish if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. It could be omitted from this recipe as needed.
As with the horseradish, it is best to use fresh ginger root. This is a favorite in this house! We add it to meals, fermented food recipes, and teas on a regular basis. Rosemary Gladstar describes ginger as “wonderfully warming and decongesting”. Enzymes present in ginger reduce inflammation, is used to ease nausea and stomach aches, activates your immune system, and soothes sore throats.
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR
Oh man… I could write an entire post just on the benefits and uses of apple cider vinegar! We love this stuff. We often make our own with homegrown apples, but only have one bottle left currently, so I grabbed the next best thing: raw unpasteurized Braggs. Any good raw unpasteurized ACV will do. (To learn how to make your own ACV, check out our tutorial here. It is really easy!)
In a nutshell, ACV is full of probiotics that support gut health, which is directly correlated with whole-body wellness. Its active ingredient, acetic acid, is a known antioxidant. It can help reduce blood sugar spikes and blood pressure, has anti-carcinogenic properties, and boosts the immune systems in those who regularly consume it.
CAYENNE PEPPERS (or other available hot peppers)
Capsaicin is one of the active ingredients in cayenne peppers, and all other chili peppers for that matter – the one that makes them so hot. The heat it brings not only makes you slobber and snot and cry (super cute, yeah?), it also stirs up your circulation system, warms your body, and serves as a decongestant, expectorant, and pain reliever all at once.
Chili peppers are also high in vitamin C and A – good friends to have around when you’re sick. Use caution (and maybe even gloves) when handling hot peppers! The oils can soak into your skin, and if you touch your eyes or pick your nose afterwards, it can burn the holy hell out of them, even after washing your hands “super well”. Ask me how I know…
“A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”! Honey is added after the infusion and separation process described below. It does help bring balance to make this spicy cider more tolerable to heat-wimps like myself, but that’s not all! Honey coats and soothes sore throats.
Consuming local raw honey (highly suggested for this recipe) is known to reduce allergies by exposing you to local pollens. It is like a natural immunization – stimulating then reducing your reactive responses. For strict vegans who avoid honey, you can either brave it and go sans-sweetener, or use a natural plant-based replacement like maple or agave syrup.
Many herbalists stick with just the core ingredients listed above, but many others get creative and include all sorts of other good-for-you plants to make an even more potent brew. I have even heard of people adding sprigs of cedar and pine for a super earthy, woodsy vibe! Feel free to get creative with what you have available to you locally and seasonally.
We included the following optional additions in our recipe:
- Citrus, for an extra boost of vitamin C!
- Fresh Turmeric, for extra antioxidants and inflammation-fighting. You all know how much I love turmeric. If you can’t get fresh rhizomes, you can substitute with turmeric powder, though in my experience it doesn’t mix in super well and can make for a more chalky end-product.
- A couple sprigs of lemon grass and other fresh herbs. Many recipes incorporate rosemary, thyme, or oregano. We often add more fresh herbs than the photos shown in this batch.
- Fresh hot chilis, to keep your blood moving and sinuses open!
- Black pepper. This is especially important when using turmeric, as it vastly increases the activity and bio-availability of turmeric’s healing active ingredient – curcumin.
- Dried homegrown calendula blossoms, for an extra kick of anti-inflammatory and fever-reducing action. Read more about how to grow, harvest, dry, and use calendula here.
Note that most all recipes online are per quart jar, so this is what I am sharing below. We scaled up (times four) to fill two half-gallon jars as shown. We figure that given the effort to make it, and how quickly you can go through it, why not make a larger batch at once?
Per Quart Jar:
- 1 medium onion, diced (we prefer sweet yellow or white)
- 4 to 5 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 3 to 4 tbsp fresh grated horseradish
- 3 to 4 tbsp fresh grated ginger root
- Raw unpasteurized Apple Cider Vinegar – Enough to fill the jar & submerge the other ingredients. We needed just under a full 32 oz bottle per half-gallon jar
- Raw honey, local if possible – added later, see the instructions below
- Cayenne pepper, also added later
- 3 to 4 tablespoons fresh grated turmeric rhizome (substitute equivalent in teaspoons if using turmeric powder)
- 1 lemon and/or orange, per quart. In this batch, we used 2 lemons, 1 orange, and 1/2 a grapefruit per half gallon. You can juice and zest them, or just slice and throw in whole. We did the latter, but removed the grapefruit rind to save space in the jar. Grapefruit rinds can also be extra bitter, so keep that in mind.
- Fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano or lemongrass, to taste preference – a few sprigs per jar is good!
- Hot chilis – at least one per jar, scaling up for larger batches or for a heat-loving taste preference.
- Black pepper. A pinch of peppercorns or few dashes of ground pepper to each jar.
Step 1: Chop
Chop, grate, or otherwise prep the ingredients as described above. The smaller the pieces, the better it will all infuse! A food processor can help make this job really quick and easy.
Step 2: Pack
Add all the goodies into you choice size of mason jar, or flip-top glass container, which should be about two-thirds to three-quarters full of the prepared ingredients when done. We love the Ball half-gallon jars, which we use just about constantly for infusions, ferments, and other homestead kitchen adventures!
Step 3: Pour
Slowly pour the apple cider vinegar over everything, lightly knocking out air bubbles as needed, until the container is full.
Step 4: Cover
Cover the jars with either BPA-free plastic mason jar lids, high-quality food grade stainless steel lids that will not rust, or if using a standard jar lid, add a piece of waxed parchment paper on top before putting the lid on. This is so the acidic nature of the vinegar won’t corrode the metal lid.
Step 5: Steep & Shake
Store the infusion at room temperature, somewhere that you will see it and remember to shake it daily (or more, if you think of it!). I have read varying instructions on whether to store the steeping fire cider in a dark place or not, but Ms. Gladstar says even a warm sunny kitchen window will work, so I don’t think it matters which.
You want to shake it up well every day to not only increase the steeping action, causing the beneficial properties of each ingredient to infuse into the ACV even more, but also to help prevent any growth of mold by keeping the contents submerged and moving. What I mean is, you don’t want to let the same ingredients float on top for days on end. Keeping them moving and mixed decreases the chance for mold.
Step 6: Strain
After a minimum of 3-4 weeks (some herbalists steep theirs for months on end!), it is time to separate and strain the liquid. We use a fine mesh stainless steel strainer (or a typical strainer lined with cheesecloth would work too) poised over a large empty vessel below.
If you’re making a quart batch, you can likely dump all of its contents into the strainer at once. Since we make very large batches, we need to add little by little to the strainer since not all of the solid bits will fit at once. To help drain and extract all the healing liquids from them as possible, I hand-squeezed and pressed the solids in each batch as I went, as shown below.
Step 7: Honey
Honey is traditionally added to fire cider “to taste”. Using local honey also provides added allergy immunity and desensitization properties. If you are a strict vegan and do not want to use honey, you could substitute with a natural sweetener like agave syrup, or just be a badass and consume your fire cider sans sweetener!
For our taste buds, we add about ½ cup of honey per 2 half-gallon jars, meaning ¼ cup per half gallon batch, or just a couple tablespoons if you made a quart jar batch. When I say “per half-gallon batch” or “per quart jar”, I mean the total amount of liquid and solids you started with in your container, not the final strained liquid amount.
To help the honey mix, soak the jar in a hot water bath for a while to melt a bit, and then use a whisk to rapidly stir. Overheating honey can destroy some of its healing properties!
Step 8: Add Cayenne
Add and thoroughly mix cayenne pepper, again “to taste”. If your original concoction included hot chili peppers, your fire cider may already be spicy enough for your liking! Ms. Gladstar doesn’t add peppers to her initial fire cider infusion, and instead only adds cayenne powder at the end.
After we mixed in our honey and gave it a taste, it was still fairly mild, despite using a few raw peppers initially. A few pinches of our homegrown chili powder solved that! Not that I love HOT spicy, but warm spicy is good. We didn’t have any true cayenne on hand.
Step 9: Bottle
Using a funnel, bottle your finished fire cider! You could save and reuse the bottles from the original apple cider vinegar, or put it in some flip-top bottles like ours. Store finished bottles in a refrigerator or other dark chilled place, like a root cellar, if you’re so lucky to have one.
Step 10: Drink
Enjoy and stay healthy! It is recommended to take 1-2 tablespoons of fire cider per day throughout the fall and winter as a preventative measure. If you are feeling some crud coming on, up your dose to a full 1 oz “shot”! You can repeat a few times a day. You can also use fire cider as a zesty salad dressing! Remember to shake the bottle before pouring to ensure you’re getting all the good stuff that may have settled.
But what about the strained solids?
The leftover now-pickled garlic, ginger, onion, and other herb bits need not go to waste! Some folks suggest using them on top of salads or in stir fry. A friend of mine dehydrates and grinds it all into a powder, puts the powder into capsules, and takes them as immunity supplements. Her family didn’t like drinking the fire cider as much as she did, so this was her solution to have them reap some of the benefits also. With ours, I picked through to remove and discard the citrus peels, and kept the rest in a bowl in the fridge. We added a couple spoonfuls to meals like sautéed veggies and black beans, and it was great!
Not feeling up for brewing your own quite yet?
That’s okay. But I definitely recommend grabbing a bottle to give it a try this winter! You can usually find it at your local natural foods store. Skip that cough syrup! All of those over-the-counter medications mainly just MASK symptoms, making life a little more bearable through chemicals until the infection passes through on its own – they don’t actually heal you, like this elixir can!
Do you make your own fire cider? What other fun and unique ingredients do you add to your brews? Comment below. Please feel free to ask questions, or to share this post!
Thanks for reading. Cheers, to your health!
Fire Cider Recipe for Immune Health
- Large glass, ceramic, or other non-reactive container for infusing
- 1 medium yellow or white onion
- 4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- 3-4 tbsp fresh horseradish, grated
- 3-4 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
- raw apple cider vinegar (enough to pour over other ingredients and fill the jar)
- raw honey, added later – after weeks of infusion
- cayenne pepper powder, also added later (if other hot peppers aren't added during infusion)
- Optional: citrus, 3-4 tbsp fresh grated turmeric, black pepper, hot chili peppers (instead of cayenne later), and fresh herbs such as oregano, lemon grass, thyme, rosemary, sage, or calendula blooms
- Chop or use a food processor to prepare the above-listed onion, garlic, horseradish and ginger – per quart jar. Scale up as needed for larger batches.
- Slice the optional citrus into slices or quarters, e.g. one lemon and/or orange per quart jar.
- Pack your container of choice with the prepared ingredients until it is about ¾ of the way full.
- Pour the ACV over the prepared ingredients until the container is full.
- Place a lid on the container, and store at room temperature for 3 to 4 weeks minimum.
- Shake the jar on a daily basis to help the ingredients steep and infuse.
- After a minimum of 3 to 4 weeks, strain the contents of the jar using cheese cloth and/or fine mesh strainer, separating the solids from the liquid. Retain the liquid! Squeeze solids to extract as much liquid as possible.
- Add honey* into the reserved liquid to taste – we usually do just a couple tablespoons per infused and drained quart jar, Also add chili or cayenne powder to taste, and thoroughly stir to combine. *As a vegan variation, either skip the sweeter or use agave syrup – though it doesn't have the same healing properties as local raw honey.
- Bottle the liquid and store in your refrigerator or a cool dark place.
- It is now ready to drink! Enjoy often to stay healthy during the winter months. It is recommended to take 1-2 tablespoons of fire cider per day throughout the fall and winter as a preventative measure. If you are feeling some crud coming on, up your dose to a full 1 oz “shot”! You can repeat a few times a day. You can also use fire cider as a zesty salad dressing! Remember to shake the bottle before pouring to ensure you’re getting all the good stuff that may have settled.