Rosemary Gladstar, the herbalist who started it all, gives us the lowdown on the tonic's origins and health benefits, as well as how to make and take it.

By Frances Kim
Updated October 18, 2019

Are you a fire cider convert yet? A longtime favorite in the herbal community, this DIY tonic is finally gaining mainstream popularity. Our test kitchen editors have been fans for years, and we were curious about why it's currently having a moment, so we went straight to the source, Rosemary Gladstar, the respected herbalist, teacher, and author who came up with fire cider (and coined its catchy name!) in the late 1970s.

Johnny Miller

The Basics

The original formula calls for macerating fresh horseradish, ginger, garlic, onions, and cayenne pepper in apple-cider vinegar for three to four weeks, then finishing with honey. Gladstar says, "At the time, I really wanted vinegar tinctures to take off, so I came up with this recipe and thought the combination of flavors was fabulous -- hot, sour, pungent, and sweet. Not only does it taste good, but it's also easy to make and uses common herbs that you can get from your backyard or local grocery store." After that first batch, she taught her students how to make fire cider, sold it at her herb store in Sonoma county, and published the recipe in her first book, "Herbal Healing for Women." It has since been adapted countless times (including by our own test kitchen!), sold by other herbal companies, cited in several books, and added to the winter health curriculum at many herbal schools.

Health Benefits

Gladstar breaks down what each ingredient brings to the table. First and foremost, apple-cider vinegar is a great digestive aid. Horseradish is the number-one herb for combating sinus congestion and headaches. It clears your sinuses better than anything; even when you're just grating it, by the time you're done, your sinuses are wide open. Ginger is a warming circulatory herb that's wonderful for digestion. It also helps fight infection and is good for nausea.

Garlic, on the other hand, is the poor man's penicillin. It has broad-spectrum antimicrobial and antibacterial properties and is an excellent aid for fighting infection. It also produces a heat that helps lower cholesterol. Onions have similar properties to garlic and are also good for colds and flus. Cayenne pepper is one of the best cardiovascular herbs. It helps your immune system mobilize and moves blood through the system. Last but not least, Honey is very soothing for inflamed tissues and organs, but its primary purpose is as a harmonizer or buffer. It helps blend all the flavors in fire cider and makes it palatable not just to your taste buds, but to your whole digestive system.

Christina Holmes

How to Make It Your Own

While Gladstar is partial to the original recipe, she encourages experimentation. She says, "It's a very fluid formula, so adjust it until it tastes right to you. You can add turmeric if you want another anti-inflammatory element, echinacea if you have a cold, more horseradish if you a sinus infection, or more honey if you don't like sourness." Our test kitchen's latest, greatest version includes fresh rosemary, jalapeños, black peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, lemon, and orange.

How to Take It

Gladstar recommends that first-timers dilute the tonic with a little warm water or apple cider. Once you're a convert, try drinking it straight—our test kitchen swears by a daily one-to-two-ounce shot. If you feel a cold or flu coming on, take smaller amounts more frequently—such as half a shot glass two or three times a day—to keep your immune system healthy. You can also swap out regular vinegar for fire cider in salad dressings.


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