You know when you taste something and can just tell it is the right thing to imbibe? I’m thinking less about cocktails and delicious desserts and more about those foods that feel nourishing and healing, like greens in the middle of winter or the first strawberry of the season. Fire cider falls into that same category for me.

Fire cider is a concoction of apple cider vinegar and other health-giving vegetables, fruits and spices that is more often considered a medicine or tonic than a food. It is simple to make, and it is the perfect thing to clear your sinuses when you are starting to get a cold or to warm you and boost your immune system on an icy winter day.

There are many different versions of fire cider, but the recipe I like to use includes onions, garlic, fresh horseradish, ginger root, turmeric, orange, lemon, habañero pepper and rosemary. These foods are chopped and grated and added to a jar, where they are then covered with apple cider vinegar. After four to six weeks on your countertop, the fire cider is strained so that its liquid component is left. The spicy, pungent liquid is mixed with honey to give it a sweetness that, well, helps the medicine go down.

The result is a food medicine that I have come to crave in the winter months, especially at the onset of any illness. You can take a sip or a spoonful as a daily tonic, or ramp up consumption when your immune system needs strengthening.

Though there are ancient sweetened vinegar concoctions like oxymel, from Latin meaning “acid and honey,” fire cider was developed and named by famous herbalist Rosemary Gladstar at the California School of Herbal Studies in the early 1980s. Her goal was to bring herbal medicine back into people’s kitchens, especially through the use of foods as medicine.

The benefits of fire cider are vast. Each ingredient has its own health-giving properties.

Horseradish, for example, clears your sinuses in a matter of seconds and is perfect for colds, fevers and flu. For respiratory infections, it helps as an expectorant, meaning it helps you cough up the mucus in your lungs.

Garlic is one of my favorite medicines and can be helpful for bladder and kidney infections, yeast infections, ear infections, and strep throat, among other ailments, due to its antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. This superfood is called the poor man’s penicillin because of its immense healing effects.

Ginger warms you and helps to promote digestion and circulation. Apple cider vinegar is likewise a great digestive aid. The heat from hot peppers like habañero and cayenne improves blood flow.

Though you can buy fire cider in the Rutland Area Food Co-op or from local herbalists, it is very easy to make yourself. Here’s a recipe adapted from Rosemary Gladstar’s original version.

Fire cider

½ cup grated fresh horseradish root

½ cup or more fresh chopped onions

¼ cup or more chopped garlic

¼ cup or more grated ginger

Chopped fresh or dried habañero, jalapeño, or cayenne pepper “to taste.” Better to make it a little milder than too hot; you can always add more pepper later if necessary.

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 lemon, chopped

1 orange, chopped

Dried or fresh rosemary (optional)

Raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar

Honey, to taste

Place ingredients in a half-gallon canning jar and cover with enough raw unpasteurized apple cider vinegar to cover the herbs by at least a couple inches. Cover tightly with a tight-fitting lid.

Place the jar in a warm place and let sit for four to six weeks. Give it a shake every day.

After four to six weeks, strain out the herbs, and reserve the liquid. Use a cheesecloth to squeeze out all the goodness.

Add honey to taste. Gently warm the honey first so it mixes in well. It should taste hot, spicy and sweet.

Fire cider will keep for several months unrefrigerated if stored in a cool pantry, or in the refrigerator for much longer.

Lindsay Courcelle, CMT is a myofascial release therapist, part-time vegetable farmer, and natural-health advocate.

E-MAIL: alchemyMFR@gmail.com.

WEBSITE: www.alchemyMFR.com

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