How To Make The Legendary Four Thieves Vinegar Tonic

This herbal concoction supposedly protected people from the plague. The recipe has many variations —is it magic elixir or the stuff of legends?

As legends go, during the 18th-century plague epidemic in Europe, a band of thieves robbed the homes and graves of those who were sick and dying of the disease but never fell ill themselves. Their secret? An herbal tonic known as Four Thieves Vinegar. When the authorities finally apprehended the individuals, they agreed to grant them their freedom in exchange for the recipe. They wrote it up and posted it on the walls of the city so every man could make it for himself.

Over the years, many versions of this story exist, as do variations of the recipe. The original included several herbs and roots steeped for days in white wine vinegar. Scientists believe the concoction worked against the plague because it repelled insects, including fleas, which spread that disease.

French chemist and scholar René-Maurice Gattefossé published the “original” recipe that hung in the museum of Old Marseille, France in  his 1937 book, Gattefossé’s Aromatherapy:

Take three pints of strong white wine vinegar, add a handful of each of wormwood, meadowsweet, wild marjoram and sage, fifty cloves, two ounces of campanula roots, two ounces of angelic, rosemary and horehound and three large measures of champhor. Place the mixture in a container for fifteen days, strain and express then bottle. Use by rubbing it on the hands, ears and temples from time to time when approaching a plague victim.

Modern Recipes

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Close up of the Praying Mantis

Modern versions of the recipe generally include four herbs—one for each thief—and garlic, a strong anti-viral and antibacterial itself, infused in apple cider vinegar. Some herbalists recommend the Four Thieves tonic as a preventative to ward off any communicable sickness like the common cold and influenza.* This makes sense when you look at the health-promoting properties of the individual herbs that you’ll find in most of today’s recipes.

Herbs Used in Four Thieves Vinegar Recipes

GarlicGarlic not only smells wonderful in cooking, but it promotes health as well. In addition to its positive effect on cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, garlic has been used for centuries to fight infectious diseases. Scientists now know that its principal compound, allicin, has strong antibacterial and antiviral properties.

RosemaryRosmarinus officinalis is one of the most popular culinary herbs around the world. And it’s also been widely studied for therapeutic use. A few of the validated medicinal uses of rosemary include antibacterial, anticancer, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory.

Clove—For centuries, people have used clove as a food preservative because of its antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. Studies have shown clove oil is effective against staph, E. coli, and pseudomonas.

Sage—Sage, or Salvia officinalis, has a wide range of traditional uses such as to relieve digestive disturbances, bronchitis and cough, and sore throat due to inflammation. The flavonoids and compounds in sage have strong antioxidant and antibacterial properties.

Juniper Berries—Studies show that juniper possesses anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antibacterial properties, among others.

Thyme—Thanks to the phenols thymol and carvacrol, thyme has the highest level of antioxidants of any herb. Thymol is a proven antimicrobial and antibacterial which is effective against staph, E. coli, and salmonella infections.

Cinnamon—Not just for cookies, cinnamon possesses antimicrobial, antifungal, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. Its historical uses include promoting oral health and improving blood coagulation and circulation.

Four Thieves Vinegar Recipe

To make your own Four Thieves Vinegar Health Tonic, you will need:

1 bulb of garlic, cloves separated, skins removed, and crushed
2 tablespoons each of four or more dried herbs, chopped. Choose herbs with the properties you desire (consider ones from those listed above or from the original recipe).
1 32 oz. bottle organic apple cider vinegar


Place the herbs in a wide-mouth quart jar and cover with the vinegar. Cap and place in a warm spot such as the back of the stove or a sunny window. Let steep for 2-4 weeks.

Decant and bottle.

Herbalists recommended dosages of around 1 tablespoon diluted in a glass of water per day for an adult and 1 teaspoon in water for a child. Because its flavor is akin to salad dressing, you may want to use it as such, or add it to juice.

Let us know if you give this recipe a try!

*This recipe is not intended to take the place of regular medical care or advice.

Keep Learning

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5 Herbal Remedies To Have On Hand

Join The Discussion!

Have you ever made this vinegar tonic before?

How about any kind of herbal tonic?

Let us know in the comments below!

We look forward to hearing from you.

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Carol J. Alexander

Carol J. Alexander is a Virginia writer specializing in sustainable/green living, home remodeling, and lifestyle topics. She has written for over 100 national, regional, and local print publications, as well as online. She is the author of Homestead Cooking with Carol: Bountiful Make-Ahead Meals, available on Amazon Kindle and in paperback.

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Carol L

I have made this before. I used an older version of the recipe, but didn’t add the camphor. I did use the wormwood, though. I wonder if there were certain of the original ingredients that were essential for the recipe to work…like maybe the camphor, as this was never used to consume, just wash and apply to the body… I say this as the camphor is quite a large amount. Just makes you wonder…….

I too, feel that ancient remedies are given to us four our benefit and often work much better and are actually safer than many medications.

I have made several Organic, raw ACV remedies from Fire Cider, Queen of Hungary’s Water and this, four Thieves Vinegar as well as the essential oil blend I make myself.

Thank you for this recipe.


Carmen Thomas, your wellness shot looks very good: but why the Baking Soda? Is that to alkalize your system, or just to neutralize the ACV? May I suggest trying adding freshly ground Black Pepper, and local, raw Honey if you’re able to tolerate fructose. Add the Honey before the Baking Soda so that the Vinegar will dissolve it. The Black Pepper combined with Ginger, Turmeric, and Cayenne makes one of the best over-the-counter pain relievers I’ve come across. I made a “candy” out of those four ingredients last year after I injured the peripheral nerves along one side, and all my several doctors wanted to do was feed me opiates, which don’t work for me and don’t stay in my system for more than an hour.
After months of severe pain, my son bought me some CBD oil, legal where I live. It didn’t work, either, until I started drinking a ‘tea’ of Cinnamon and Cloves along with the CBD.
For people worried about Rx interactions, ask your Pharmacist for a copy of “Facts and Comparisons” for each drug you take. That should tell you what you need to know. And you don’t have to tell your Pharmacist why you want it. If s/he insists on knowing, find another Pharmacist.

As for the Four Thieves recipe above, I would go ahead and add the Garlic. However, to allow the Allicin time to “bloom”, develop its full potency, chop or mince first and let it rest undisturbed for about 15 minutes. Or, you could do as D. Smith suggested, and add the Garlic, “bloomed”, of course, just before using. Drink it, gargle with it, splash it on, spray your plants/animals/their living quarters.

Gee, now you’ve all got me excited.


Should be noted that all herbs should be looked into before ingestion. Large amounts of camphor (the original recipe) can cause seizures, or worse, when taken internally. Also breastfeeding/pregnant woman should be weary of certain herbs mentioned above. Otherwise, a great recipe!

D. Smith

My family has been using something similar for at least 60-65+ years. We owned a Hereford Cattle Ranch and there were flies and other bugs galore, as there usually are around animals. We did not add the garlic, and if we did it wasn’t until just before we were ready to use it. We used the sage, cloves, juniper berries and cinnamon – always – and sometimes if my grandmother had other useful herbs in her garden, we would use them as well. It was used externally only. Today there are people who actually use this stuff internally. I don’t think I’d be that brave. Too many people are on MULTIPLE Rx medications (which is a cryin’ shame) and mixing them with herbal things can sometimes be dangerous, and asking your “doctor or pharmacist” is of little help because they have not the first clue about these things. And besides, they pooh-pooh all this “legendary” stuff, because they don’t understand it and they don’t WANT to understand it. But I say, just keep on learning about it because some day you may be glad you know about other ways to help yourself, rather than depending on a “doctor” for every little thing.

Better off using it only externally, especially on the hands, arms, face (careful of your eyes though), feet if exposed in sandals or whatever, and lower legs. Actually, any exposed skin. And always wear a hat or cap but you can also run your fingers through your hair with this mixture and it really helps keep bugs off the top of your head (important for bald guys!!!).

There really is much more truth to this story than there is fiction or “legend”. Some of these “old time” remedies are coming back into fashion because they made sense and they actually worked.

Lisa Ray

I plan on trying this 4 thieves vinegar I already have 3 of the 4 herbs. Thank you for sharing

Carmen Thomas

I enjoy your site, very interesting and informative. I was particularly drawn to this article regarding the Four Thieves Vinegar. I was intrigued by the legends and stories surrounding the recipe. I too have a recipe I use that is somewhat similar to the recipes sited using herbs and spices. I generally take a daily organic apple cider vinegar shot infused with what I refer to as my wellness blend. The blend consist of ground ginger, turmeric, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and baking soda.

Trish Sandora

This looks like something to try.

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