From what evidence we have, infused vinegars have existed almost since we first discovered vinegar. It's so useful by itself, and infusing it increases its effectiveness and potency. Its many functions include:
- beauty regimes
I have gone into detail on some of the cosmetic vinegar infusions in this post. Now would be the time to start making them for the holidays, if you were considering giving them as gifts, by the way...
Herbally infused vinegars are natural, organic, non-toxic, inexpensive, traditional technology that used to and still can replace so many of our modern products. They can be full strength for cleaning and disinfecting, as an insect discouragement or anti-fungal. With the proper ingredients, they are remarkably effective against bacteria, as well as an efficient cleanser which leaves a refreshing scent. I personally have used the diluted spray to cure my apple trees of a debilitating fungus that had been plaguing them for years. I also got rid of the aphids on my Virginia Creeper and created a scent barrier against ants getting into my house.
Diluted, often with rosewater, it was used as a cosmetic, to tone the face, clear up eruptions, refresh clothing, and in a sponge nosegay, was kept near the face to ward off the Plague. Certain physicians are still called quacks due to the medieval practice of wearing a duck-like mask with a sponge of aromatic vinegar resting in the beak when visiting areas of contagion. Perhaps it's currently an insult to call a doctor a quack because it implies their techniques are right out of the Middle Ages.
It should be used only with extreme caution during pregnancy, as some of the herbs are abortifacient. I used it when I was pregnant with my son to no ill effects, but I took care not to get any on my skin.
Four Thieves Oil is a very modern invention, and not the same thing at all. It usually contains essential oils of similar herbs, but oils and aqueous infusions do not often share the same properties. It cannot be used for all the same purposes as the vinegar formulations, and are often far more expensive. Though it apparently can be used for similar magical purposes, such as banishment, in Vodun and other systems...
The first actual record we have for the version known as Four Thieves is not medieval. If it is indeed an actual record. Most of the "documentation" are really stories. I will take the liberty to re-post this excellent history. (I'd credit it if I knew the original source, but this exact version is all over the 'net.):
The famous French aromatherapy doctor, Jean Valnet, has two recipes in his book. He claims the original recipe was revealed by corpse robbers who were caught red-handed in the area around Toulouse in 1628-1631. His story is the more credible of the many one can find. Given the virulence and deadliness of the plague, the judges were astonished by the indifference of the thieves to contagion. Valnet quotes the archives of the Parliament of Toulouse:
During the Great Plague, four robbers were convicted of going to the houses of plague victims, strangling them in their beds and then looting their dwellings. For this, they were condemned to be burned at the stake, and in order to have their sentence mitigated, they revealed their secret preservative, after which they were hanged.
Given the source, I choose to believe the Valnet account, but there have obviously been many spins of the tale. Here is the recipe stated to be the original:Original Recipe for Four Thieves Formula
3 pints white wine vinegar
handful juniper berries
handful wild marjoram
2 oz. elecampane root
2 oz. angelica
2 oz. rosemary
2 oz. horehound
3 g camphor
Dr. Valnet has a variation of his own described as an antiseptic vinegar:
Marseilles Vinegar or Four Thieves Vinegar
40 g. greater wormwood, Artemesia absinthum
40 g. lesser wormwood, Artemesia pontica40 g. rosemary40 g. sage40 g. mint40 g. rue40 g. lavender5 g. calamus5 g. cinnamon5 g. clove5 g. nutmeg5 g. garlic10 g. camphor (do not use synthetic camphor)40 g. crystallized acetic acid2500 g. white vinegar
Instructions: steep the plants in the vinegar for 10 days. Force through a sieve. Add the camphor dissolved in the acetic acid, filter.
Valnet says his formula is useful in the prevention of infectious diseases. He says to rub it on the face and hands and burn it in the room. It can also be kept in small bottles that are carried on the person so that the vapors can be inhaled.
Years of experimentation using historical and modern recipes have helped create my interpretation of this legendary liquid. My version is an amalgam of several different recipes, taking into account what was commonly available, especially in England, during the medieval period, and what was in my garden fresh. It is a concoction of white wine vinegar steeped in aromatic and anti-bacterial herbs such as garlic, rue, and wormwood for a number of days, then filtered and used in dilution with water for cleansing the house and other areas.
Remember: Only use real, brewed vinegar for all these recipes. Ordinary store bought white vinegar is just lab-created Acetic Acid diluted to 5%.It doesn't have the same richness of composition or balance of acids as real brewed vinegar, or the same sustainability. Try these recipes with other base vinegars, too, such as apple cider and rice wine!
Here is my exact recipe, for those that want to try it at home, or who just want to see how crazy I get when I make these things.
My Four Thieves Vinegar Recipe:
Approximately the same sized twig piece of each:
four cloves garlic (slightly crushed to release the allicin)
3 bay leaves
4 small pieces cinnamon bark
Place ingredients in old, clean, spaghetti jar. Fill remainder of jar with white wine vinegar, stir to get rid of bubbles, add lid, and place in sunlight, like windowsill. Herbs will lose colour after a few days. Then you filter and can add a bit more herbs for a really strong batch.
Filter out completely in a few weeks, bottle and label.
Article published on Witchvox on December 30, 2012.