Friday, 10 September 2010

Potions, Potions Potions!!! Four Thieves Vinegar

This fascinating potion's very first roots are unknown, but it is believed to have been created in France, possibly during the 1600's when wellness promoting vinegars were popularly used by people trying to ward off, and in some cases fight the many contagious diseases of the time.  It first became famous during the height of the Black Plague in France, perhaps in Toulouse, perhaps in Marseilles when looters would rob the homes of those that had been killed by the plague. Most people did not even go near these homes for fear of catching the diesease and in some parts of towns entire sections of houses were left abandoned by those that  had perished. According to legend there were four looters who successfully, and repeatedly ventured into those pestilence-filled homes and came away with their stolen goods unscathed by the plague. Eventually these four were caught, and, according to the laws of the time, they were sentenced to hang. Before they were led off however, the judge of the proceedings, curious as to how these men had thwarted the deadly illness time and again asked them what they did to prevent themselves from catching it. The thieves replied that they had a special potion they used that warded off the disease, but upon being asked as to the ingredients, they said they were sworn to secrecy. Further legend says that some of the thieves were brothers and it was their mother, a midwife & healer, who had concocted the potion to use from herbs easily gathered growing in the wild at the time. However, knowing that if her potion was so effective, the herbs would soon all be overharvested and she would probably lose business, she swore hers sons to secrecy. Another story says that they were the sons of perfume-makers and were worn to secrecy for the same reason. However, the offer the judge then gave them was too difficult to resist. Offer up the recipe, and you will simply be banished from the town forever. Keep silent and hang. Obviously, not an offer to be refused. There are several recipes for this, many claim to be ''original'' but obviously, that is going to be difficult, if not impossible to prove, so here is one of the easiest.

To start with, you need vinegar. Well, obviously. The type is up to you white, wine, and cider vinegar have all been cited in recipes. Personally I prefer to use wine vinegar, either white or red. No particular reason, I just like wine. And the red is such a pretty colour! You can make as much or as little of it as you like, but this recipe will make a fair portion, approx 1.5 pints of the stuff.

2 pints vinegar, into which you put the following:

One garlic bulb, peeled, cloved and crushed (there is debate as to whether or not the original recipe called for this, but because of it's antibiotic & immune sytem boosting properties, it has been added)

2 tbsp each of thyme, rosemary, lavender, rosemary (the four thieves, also herbs known for their strong antibacterial)

Leave this covered with a cloth in the sun or in a warm place or 24-36 hours, strain, and bottle (the longer you leave it, the stronger. Also you can leave the herbs for 2 days, strain, and put in fresh herbs. Or, leave sealed in a cool dark place for a week before straining.
The Italians, not to be outdone, have their own version, with more herbs (and many old recipes from France also have more herbs), the idea being, the more ''thieves'' the stronger the vinegar. These additional herbs included (to be added in 1/2 the amount each of the herbs above):
Asafoetida, Gentian root, Juniper berries*, Rue*, Angelica, Meadowsweet, Melissa (lemon balm)*, Wormwood*, Sage, Cloves*, Elecampagne, Marjoram, Horehound, Camphor (non synthetic), Mint*, Nutmeg, Calamus, Cinnamon and Hyssop.

The herbs that are starred are ones that appear most commonly in recipes aside from the original four. I am not surprised that cloves are in there, as the oil of cloves not only smells good, but is also great at killing or fighting viruses. If you can stand the sting, dab a little on your cold sores and they'll clear up doubly-quick. Wormwood is used to make absinthe, and I'm not sure why it's in there as technically speaking, it's kindof poisonous, Rue, Juniper, Mint, Marjoram and Melissa I'm assuming are in there to try and make the vinagar smell better. Trust me, they don't do much, but you're welcome to try!

This is used in spells by witches for protection, by the French as a salad dressing (the simple recipe above!), and by mothers and naturopaths as an immune boosting tonic. In the days of the plague vinegars such as this were sprayed into the air to kill viruses and bacteria but it's up to you if you want your house to smell a little like salad dressing. With white wine and cider vinegar, the vinegar smell gives way to the herby smell faster than with white vinegar. I don't suggest using red wine vinegar for this purpose as it stains.

When bottling, you can use any sort of bottle you like obviously, but I really like the old corked ones! I found the ones in this photo at World Market, on sale for $.60 each! I do suggest dipping the ENTIRE cork in melted beeswax to create a thin coating before putting the cork in your bottle or the vinegar and moisture with disintegrate your cork. As the wax hardens it will seal the bottle a little, and it's always fun to pour a little more wax over the top and put something in it, like a coin, or a dried herb leaf or flower.

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