Apple Cider Vinegar Formulas

The Quintessential Symbol of Fall, The apple lends itself to a tasty vinegar that’s become a staple base for herb tonics. By improving digestion to combating allergies, these “ACV” formulas give the body a {delicious} boost.

An Apple Falls from the Tree

The first recorded mention of vinegar date back to 5,000 BCE in Babylon and 3,000 BCE in China. People used vinegar both as a food and as a preservative for perishables, much like we do today, but they also believed it was capable of some pretty unbelievable things. Legend has it that Hannibal the Conqueror dissolved limestone boulders using a combination of fire and vinegar on his march over the Alps to attack Rome. In 400 BCE, Hippocrates suggested vinegar as an antiseptic to treat wounds and prescribed formulas made with vinegar and honey, our modern day oxymels. These oxymels have remained in use throughout history with records found in old British, German, and French pharmacopeias. In later years, Posca, a mixture of water, herbs, and vinegar or sometimes wine, became a popular drink in Rome. And by the 11th century, Sung Tse {1188-1251 ACE}, the “father” of forensic medicine, instructed his students to wash their hands in a combination of vinegar and sulfur to prevent infection.

While many early herbal formulas used vinegar as a preserving solvent {menstruum}, over time, alcohol proved more stable. It lacked the “mother” of vinegar – the colony of beneficial bacteria in unfiltered vinegar that instigates the secondary fermentation process {to produce vinegar} – that could alter a formula’s chemistry if stored for too long.


Assistance from Apples

Apple cider vinegar is composed of 5-6 percent acetic acid, which serves to preserve ingredients and extract their compounds. While we don’t expect vinegar to dissolve boulders, it does have legendary powers in the realm of health.

For the heart: To start, high levels of polyphenols in ACV protect the heart from atherosclerosis and heart disease. In a study published in Life Science Journal, regular doses of apple cider vinegar lowered LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol.

For blood sugar: Before the advent of modern medicine, people living with diabetes used vinegar to help maintain blood sugar levels. Now, current research is beginning to understand why. In a study from the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Japanese scientists found that adding pickled foods to rice reduced its glycemic index {GI} by 20-35 percent. This and other studies show that meals containing vinegars may have a significantly lower glycemic response from diabetic patients. In those without diabetes, vinegars can still reduce blood sugar, potentially giving a longer sense of satiety, resulting in the consumption of fewer calories and weight loss.

For digestion: Because it’s a fermented beverage, ACV contains probiotics, which help promote healthy flora in the gut. In order to enjoy this benefit, you will need to opt for raw, unpasteurized ACV, which contains the mother. It’s this mass of enzymes that provides the probiotics.

For bacteria and fungus: Studies have found vinegar capable of combating some levels of bacteria and fungus, but if you need its antibacterial cleansing powers, you will want to use it at full strength, undiluted. Studies of watered-down vinegar have found it ineffective.

For cancer: While evidence is still limited, studies have found vinegars effective against human cancer cells in lab dishes and against cancers in rats.

An Apple Improved

Aside from its own benefits for health, apple cider vinegar serves as a wonderful base to deliver medicinal herbs and foods. Its particular flavor profile supports endless combinations of ingredients, providing for formulas that can do anything from boost the immune system to combat allergies.

There are two general ways to make an ACV herbal formula: a vinegar extract known as an “aceta,” or an oxymel, which is basically an aceta with the addition of honey. Some people like to add the honey up front so it infuses with the herbs, while others add it later as just a sweetener. Fire cider recipes usually call for adding it at the end. Both acetas and oxymels can be made to taste using a traditional method of simply covering herbs with vinegar, allowing them to infuse, and straining. For more precise measurements, James Green’s Medicine Maker’s Handbook recommends making an aceta with 1 part dried herbs to 7 parts vinegar {e.g., 1 ounce of herbs to 7 ounces vinegar}. For an oxymel, he recommends a ratio of 1 pound {16 ounces} of honey to 1/2 pint {8 ounces} of vinegar. However, many other ratio recommendations exist, depending on recipes and herbalists. It really comes down to your taste buds and personal preferences. Unless you plan to sell your formula, there’s no need to be exact.

Here are basic directions for acetas and oxymels. Some recipes will offer slight variations, particularly on the length of infusion time. In general, I follow the longer infusion time if one is provided.

Basic ACV Formula Directions:

  1. Chop and/or grind herbs as small as possible.
  2. Cover with ACV {and honey if desried}; allow to macerate for 10-14 days {unless otherwise, noted}, shaking the formula regularly.
  3. Strain and bottle your formula. {Use a plastic lid to prevent corrosion.} If you are making an aceta, you’re done! If you want to make an oxymel, move to step four.
  4. If you haven’t already added honey while the herbs were infusing, add it now.

Recommended dosage:

For an aceta, take 1 tablespoon per day as a tonic {more if you are ill} or add to salad dressings or drizzle over grains or meats. For an oxymel, take 1 tablespoon per day, or 3 if you are under the weather. Try it over pancakes or in a smoothie.

fire cider ingredients

Fire Cider

Perhaps the most common herbal recipe featuring ACV is the classic fire cider – packed with healthy ingredients and the go-to ACV formula for combating colds and flu and generally boosting the immune system. It can also help with heart disease and diabetes.

Garlic combats the bacteria that causes salmonella, E.coli, Staphylococcus {staph}, and Streptococcus {strep}. It’s a flu-fighting antiviral herb, and research has found garlic a more effective treatment for typhus than penicillin. If you do get sick, garlic’s antispasmodic action can help ease cramps and spasms from coughing. On top of all of this, garlic lowers blood pressure and prevents blood clots, and shows great promise in managing diabetes as a cancer preventative.

Onion contains the same properties as garlic but in milder amounts, and adds depth of flavor. Horseradish stimulates both the circulatory and digestive systems and helps lower cholesterol. As an expectorant, it loosens mucus, and those suffering from sinusitis know how it’s strong aroma can relieve the pressure. As an antiviral, it wards off the flu.

A digestive aid clinically proved to alleviate gastrointestinal discomfort, diarrhea, and bloating, ginger also lowers blood cholesterol and sugar and blood pressure levels. Like other fire cider ingredients, it provides an anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antifungal, antiviral, and antioxidant boost, helping to support the immune system.

The amounts listed below are from fire cider’s creator, herbalists Rosemary Gladstar, but you can alter it as needed or desired.

  • 1/2 cup onion
  • 1/4 cup garlic
  • 1/2 cup horseradish*
  • Cayenne pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup ginger
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Honey to taste

Follow the basic directions {above}. Let the vinegar infuse for 3-4 weeks. Strain out the solids {you can add these pickled ingredients to salads, grains, or roasted meats}. Add honey to ACV to taste. *If you use a food processor, let sit for 30 minutes before opening as the horseradish vapors can burn!

Recommended dosage:

A tablespoon or shot glass 1-2 times a day for prevention, and more if you are ill. Fire cider will keep for several months in a cool cabinet and longer in the fridge.

Some folks like to add Echinacea {use only with acute illness or temporarily when exposed to acute illness} or astragalus root {good for a long-term immune boost}; others like cinnamon with a bit of fresh squeezed orange or lemon. The variations never end and, as you learn more about herbs, you can make this formula your own! I nearly always add turmeric root and black pepper for anti-inflammatory goodness. You really can’t go wrong in any combination here.

4 thieves oxymel 2

Hyssop Oxymel

Hyssop {Hyssopus officinalis} is an excellent respiratory support. Medieval herbalist Hildegard of Bingen suggested it “cleanses the lungs,” and Nicholas Culpeper said od hyssop, “It expelleth tough phlegm and its effectual for all griefs of the chest and lungs.” Modern-day herbalist and author Robin Rose Bennett says hyssop is her “go-to” herb in cases of bronchitis for both children and adults, due to the herb’s ability to loosen even the most entrenched phlegm, cleansing the lungs of mucus. In addition to containing the oils typical to plants in the mint family, giving this herb a fresh, minty flavor, hyssop also contains the phytochemical marrubiin, a diterpene that scientists believe can help with respiratory issues and even hypertension. Hyssop also contains phytochemicals that make it an excellent nervine, an herb that calms the nervous system and reduces stress – an excellent added benefit when you need some sleep with a cold.


  1. Fill a canning jar about 1/4 – 1/2 full with dried hyssop {optional: add yarrow, boneset, lemon balm, or eyebright to your hyssop oxymel}.
  2. Next, fill your jar about 1/3 – 1/2 way full with a good, high-quality raw honey, and the remainder of the way with apple cider vinegar.
  3. Allow to infuse 2-4 weeks before straining out the herb.

Recommended dosage:

1-2 teaspoons every hour or so for acute coughs, bronchial issues, or congestion. Reduce dosages by weight for children.

Safety Considerations:

Be aware that while many plants go by the name hyssop, there are only one Hyssopus officinalis; check the Latin before purchasing. Only ingest Hyssopus officinalis, not other types of hyssop. Do not use this herb if you are pregnant or nursing. Do not give to children under two. Avoid taking extremely large doses of hyssop and taking it long-term.

Digestive Bitters

This recipe features equal parts dandelion {Teraxacum officinale} leaf and/or root, burdock {Arctium lappa} root, ginger {Zingiber officinale}, and chamomile {Matricaria chamomilla} blossoms. Because of their bitter properties, dandelion greens stimulate digestion. The roots act as a prebiotic to build healthy gut flora, treat indigestion, and speed the digestive process. Similar to dandelion root, burdock root also has prebiotic constituents that feed good gut bacteria, and it also acts as a digestive stimulant. Ginger is a classic digestive aid, a carminative, and anti-spasmodic, and helps to alleviate diarrhea.


Follow the basic aceta recipe {above}.

Recommended dosage:

Take a teaspoon or more 15-30 minutes prior to meals and/or as needed. You will want to swallow down the bitterness rather than adding honey to this one. The physiological pathway by which bitters stimulate digestion begins with the taste buds. If it doesn’t taste bitter, its effectiveness is weakened.

Sting-Stop Spray

Plantain {Plantago major or Plantago lanceolata} is the herbal queen of astringency, capable of drawing out and drying up just about anything. As a result, it’s sometimes known as “the drawing herb,” and its perfect for any sort of skin irritation. Combined with apple cider vinegar, it contains extra antiseptic and soothing properties. This formula is also good for keratosis pilaris and other skin conditions, such as chickenpox, shingles, and acne. These conditions also benefit from ACV on its own.


Infuse dried plantain leaves in apple cider vinegar and strain after 4 weeks. You can also add yarrow to the infusion. Spray on those pesky bug bites for itch-relief. {Keep away from eyes; if rash worsens, discontinue use.}

Spring Green Tonic

In this recipe, use any combination of dandelion greens, nettles, chickweed, ramps, garlic mustard {or other mustards}, or other edible spring greens local to you. All of these greens are high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and blood and liver cleansers. Optional ingredients include yellow dock root {Rumex crispus} or burdock root {Arctium lappa} for extra iron and minerals.


Allow freshly picked young herbs to wilt overnight, then chop finely, place all herbs in a jar, and cover with ACV. Keep this formula refrigerated. Because it’s made with fresh greens rather than dried, it might not last quite as long. Allow to infuse for 2 weeks, shaking daily. To use: Strain and use vinegar in salad dressing or as a daily tonic. Too bitter? Add some honey and turn it into an oxymel.

Elderberry Oxymel

This is a variation on the classic elderberry syrup. Most folks are familiar with elderberry’s immune boosting properties, but it also helps prevent anemia, promotes healthy circulation and kidney function, and aids digestion. If you do get sick, this wonderful decongestant can work with your body’s chemistry and either bring down a fever or warm you if you are chilled.


Rather than infusing elderberries in water, pour dried elderberries into a jar, cover with vinegar and honey, and allow to infuse for 4 weeks. Add a bit of cinnamon and orange peel if you like.

Spring Allergy Oxymel

In the fall we harvest elderberries for use against colds and flu; in spring the same tree provides blossoms that have antihistamine properties. Mullein {Verbascum thapsus} serves as a natural bronchodilator, while eyebright {Euphrasia officinalis} provides relief for red and itchy eyes. Nutrient-dense nettles {urtica dioica} is a powerful antihistamine. Combine your herbs and vinegar with raw local honey, which will gently expose you to local pollens, potentially helping your body to recognize these allergens, preventing the histamine response.

The “Free Fire Cider” Movement

Like “ketchup,” “barbecue sauce,” or “salsa,” fire cider is a generic and cultural term, not a branded item. But it is the copyrighted intellectual property of herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, who have freely shared and allowed others to create variations on the recipe for 30-plus years. Nobody would think of trademarking the words ketchup or salsa, yet one small company, Shire City Herbals in Pittsfield, MA, has managed to trademark “fire cider” and has been actively pursuing legal action against smaller companies that use the name. The corporate world, of course, didn’t recognize that fire cider was a generic cultural term, and while a trademark by law allows for a period of Public Opposition, no herbalists were notified of the pending trademark. Only after the trademark had been filed did Shire City begin contacting other herbalists with orders to stop selling fire cider. This has resulted in immense push-back from the herbal community and the birth of the “Free Fire Cider” movement. Rosemary Gladstar is at the lead in advocating for its freedom. You can read more at and learn how you can help reclaim this cultural tradition.

4 thoughts on “Apple Cider Vinegar Formulas

  1. Funny, I just read about Apple Cider Vinegar this very morning. I think this stuff is awesome and powerful as well as much needed. This post give some very useful information.

    Liked by 1 person

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