When vinegars are used to make medicine we are usually talking about apple cider vinegar, rather than the stuff you get in chip shops. Medicated vinegars have played an important part in medical literature throughout the ages, and the pharmacopoeias of many countries have included Four Thieves Vinegar as an official medicine. But before going on to that, here's a bit about the vinegar itself:
Making Apple cider vinegar is basically a two step process. Firstly, fermentation happens when micro-organism present in crushed apples turn sugar in the juice into alcohol. The second step occurs with the addition of another microscopic entity, Mycoderma aceti, which turns the alcoholic liquid into a dilute acetic acid. Mycoderma a. is present in air all around us, and will in time find its way into any alcoholic liquid left exposed to the air.
Before long a cloudy sediment will form made of chains of proteins, to which the Mycoderma a. will attach. This becomes a thick jelly-like substance, known as the mother. This can be filtered out and passed on from batch to batch to help speed up the process in future vinegars, and to ensure continuity of quality. Many unpasteurised vinegars that you can buy at farmer's markets and at the odd health food shop (eg. Wild Oats) still contain the mother - but usually vinegars are pasteurised and the mother is filtered out.
The word Vinegar is derived from the french vin aigre meaning "sour wine". In its pure, unmedicated form vinegar has the following properties:
- cooling - really great on a hot day, or if you're prone to hot flushes
- helps to lower the pulse rate and cool the skin in a fever
- diminishes thirst and promotes the flow of saliva
- helps alleviate restlessness
- promotes excretions of the kidneys and respiratory mucous membranes (expectorant)
- as an antiseptic, can be diluted and sponged over the skin to check body odour and relieve inflammation, sunburn and itching
- used externally on bruises and sprains (as in Jack and Jill falling down the hill)
- Mixed with honey is a popular remedy for rheumatic and arthritic complaints, especially amongst older and wiser folk
So you can see that vinegar just on its own is a really good thing.
Four Thieves Vinegar
Legend has it that somewhere in Southern France, during the plague years, four thieves were busily robbing the homes of victims. When they were captured their captors demanded to know why they hadn't yet succumbed to the plague. They proclaimed they had a magic vinegar, and traded the recipe for their lives. Their vinegar was alleged to have been an infusion of Rosemary, Sage, Lavender, and Peppermint in apple cider vinegar. This makes sense, because together these herbs contain antimicrobial, antibiotic, and antiviral compounds. Although, of course, its pretty unlikely that this would work as a universal cure for the plague, but in the absence of clinical trials it would be hard to say for certain.
Four Thieves Vinegar is quite straightforward to make, and there are now several different recipes around the world. Our own, at Urban Fringe, contains the following ingredients:
- Apple cider vinegar
We heartily recommend this as an immune tonic, as a really good alternative to tinctures of herbs like echinacea and elderberries - traditionally used for combating colds etc. Four Thieves Vinegar hits the spot when you've got a sore throat developing at the start of a cold or infection. As a preventative, it feels really good to have a teaspoonful or two of this in the morning with a little hot water, maybe with a bit of honey if the taste is too sharp, to get you started for the day.
This is the only medicated vinegar we keep in stock at the moment (only £8.95 for 100ml! Bargain!!) as it is so good and useful for so many different things. Lately it seems to have been a key factor in whatever some people have been doing to get over these long lingering colds and chest infections that hang around and seem hard to shake off. Maybe it delivers a bit of a nudge to the immune system, just enough to get over the hump and clear the last bit of crap out of the system. Well, that's what I reckon anyway.....