A few years ago, I developed a mid-winter cough that sounded so alarming, a friend went to her trusted Chinese herbalist in search of a cure. She brought back packets of a khaki-colored liquid and instructions for me to heat it up and gulp it down three times a day. It tasted horrible, but when a deep warmth spread across my chest after chugging the first mug, I was hooked. My cough quickly disappeared.
I get that same sensation each morning in the fall and winter months when I start the day with a spoonful of Fire Cider. Based on an ancient type of herbal medicinal preparation called an oxymel, Fire Cider is a tonic produced by steeping citrus, ginger, garlic, onions, horseradish, turmeric, and habanero peppers in apple cider vinegar for a minimum of six weeks.
The flavor falls somewhere between pickle juice and kombucha—and when you take a straight shot of it, the peculiar fire of horseradish shoots up your nose.
The flavor falls somewhere between pickle juice and kombucha—but when you take a straight shot of it, the peculiar fire of horseradish shoots up your nose while, at the same time, the capsicum heat from the habaneros spreads down your throat. I know it sounds terrible (and terrifying), but the burn is quick—you’re not going to walk around with your mouth on fire all day.
I first tried Fire Cider, trademarked by the brand Shire City Herbals, after moving to Vermont last year. I was faced with the twin prospects of a long, cold winter and my son starting daycare—was there any way I could avoid every cold, sniffle, and virus that crawls the earth? For just $15 per bottle (that’s about six weeks’ worth of daily shots, or $0.32 a shot, if you’re keeping track) I avoided most of the itinerant bugs my son caught last winter. I don’t think “miraculous” is too strong a word for this feat.
Turns out, I started taking the fiery stuff for many of the same reasons Shire City Herbals founders Amy Huebner and Dana St. Pierre starting making it. “It was a recipe I developed over the years for myself, based on stuff my grandmother used to feed me,” says St. Pierre. “I started making early versions of Fire Cider because I’m prone to getting allergies and getting sick a lot in the winter. So my grandmother used to force-feed me spoonfuls of grated horseradish and honey-onion-garlic-syrup as remedies.”
Professional herbalists back the elixir’s immune-boosting capabilities. Dorene Petersen, president of the American College of Healthcare Sciences in Portland, Oregon, who also has a diploma in Natural Therapeutics and special training in Chinese medicine, notes that Fire Cider is made from nutritional powerhouses—horseradish in particular. “It’s an incredibly powerful botanical,” she says. “It has antibacterial potential; it’s great for things like the bacteria that cause things like acute sinusitis.”
Petersen ticks off the other ingredients’ impressive qualities: garlic is an antioxidant and can help regulate blood pressure, turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties, and ginger has warming abilities. The sum of these parts is hard to beat. “It’s a mild tranquilizer and it’s an anti-inflammatory, so it’s really very powerful,” Petersen says.
And that’s before taking into account the all-star apple cider vinegar the other Fire Cider components steep in. Petersen points out that a number of studies have shown that ACV can help to stabilize blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol. She even suggests keeping a bottle on hand to help with the overly full feeling you get after a big meal (buh bye, bloating!).
“It’s a mild tranquilizer and it’s an anti-inflammatory, so it’s really very powerful.”
In Santa Monica, California, clean eating temple The Hive touts Fire Cider as a way to boost metabolism and to feel lighter and more energetic. They offer straight shots as well as a shot mixed with Anima Mundi’s Fat Belly Tonic. Fire Cider is also an ingredient in The Hive’s signature Skinny Greens juice, which contains spirulina, kale, ginger, and cucumber. “It’s one of our customers’ favorite green juices,” says Kaya Mello, The Hive’s front of house manager. “People really fall in love with the feeling Fire Cider gives them.” (Pro tip: Mello says you should try adding Fire Cider to bone broth.)
St. Pierre has also heard return customers rave about Fire Cider as a natural method to combat heartburn, and as a sort of “Paleo Powerade.” “People who are in the raw food world don’t drink Gatorade when they’re working out,” says St. Pierre. “A lot of folks make concoctions with water, apple cider vinegar, lemon, and maybe a pinch of salt as an electrolyte drink, energy booster, and thirst quencher. This isn’t something that had occurred to me, but we started to hear from people who were like, ‘Yeah, I put it in my water bottle with some lime juice and salt when I go to the gym.’”
For St. Pierre, it’s not the oddball uses that surprise him anymore, so much as the bulk some regulars by in. “Most stores carry 8-ounce and 16-ounce sizes, but we were bottling in half gallons and gallons to sell to local coffee shops and juice bars. To our surprise, when we put [the larger sizes] up on our web store, we attracted power users buying Fire Cider by the half gallon and gallon,” he says. “We hear from them when we’re running low on supply and we go out stock.”
I’m not going to need a half-gallon jug of the stuff any time soon, but you have to admit, that kind of devotion really speaks for itself.
Not ready to take the full Fire Cider plunge? Start with shots of ACV, like one Well+Good editor did. Or, try using the vinegar to wash your hair.