How This California Farmer is Reclaiming the Ancestral Roots of Fire Cider
“It’s about reclaiming this knowledge that has been passed down to me and making it accessible to those around me that I know have ties to it.”
If you’re anything like me, you’re used to getting at least two colds a year and hitting up your local pharmacy to stock up on Nyquil, Mucinex, cough drops, and whatever else will hopefully provide some relief for your sinuses. It’s true, you never realize how grateful you are to breathe through your nose until you can’t do it anymore.
Thankfully this year I haven’t gotten a cold at all, mostly because I’ve stayed inside and when I do venture out, I’m wearing a mask. But during this time of hibernation, I’ve been doing all I can to strengthen my immune system, especially as flu season nears. While I’m no stranger to multivitamins and good ol’ orange juice, I wanted to try a new approach to immune boosting: fire cider.
No, it’s not apple cider made with fire. It’s a tonic of apple cider vinegar infused with herbs that have immune boosting properties.
The term “fire cider” was coined by herbalist Rosemary Gladstar in the ‘80s and her traditional recipe includes apple cider vinegar, horseradish root, onion, garlic, ginger, and cayenne pepper.
It’s believed that fire cider acts as a natural defense against colds, flus, and seasonal allergies and in a year where a pandemic has taken over our lives, I can use all the protection I can get.
To get a better idea of what fire cider is and how to make it, I reached out to Claudia Morales-Barrera, a queer, Brown farmer and cook who fosters communal food knowledge and land relationship through their Instagram page. They were raised in the Central Valley of California, a profound agricultural space which produces a quarter of the nation’s food. Since their parents are both farm workers, Morales-Barrera also grew up producing foods with them, which influenced how they view food relationships and access today.
“I follow Diaspora Co. very closely just because I support the work that they do in terms of providing their farm workers with healthcare, being very transparent about their food supply chain and also being a queer woman-owned business,” they said. “A lot of the food that I would upload to my food Instagram page, I would tag them because I used a lot of their ingredients, specifically the turmeric and the chiles, which are things that are core ingredients in making the fire cider.”
Morales-Barrera makes a big batch of fire cider around the same time every year for themselves and to share with others, but they felt it was even more necessary to make it this year because of COVID-19 and the uncertainty surrounding it. Positive cases of COVID-19 are statistically higher in people belonging to racial minority groups compared to other groups, and factors such as socioeconomic status, access to healthcare, and having an occupation with high exposure to others further increases the risk of being exposed to the virus.
“A lot of people in the communities that I'm part of don’t have access to healthcare or they aren’t comfortable going to doctors,” they said. “When COVID was first happening, a lot of people were wanting more information about how they can prepare things for themselves at home that could support their immune system, so fire cider is really good for that because of its immune-boosting properties and its anti-viral and active bacterial properties.”
Morales-Barrera sees importance in communal care and making a big batch of the fire cider was a way for them to use their skills and knowledge to support others by distributing food sources.
A lot of the ingredients in Morales-Barrera’s community fire cider recipe are commonly found in kitchens, like onions, lemons, and rosemary. But the neat thing about it is that you don’t necessarily need to have every ingredient to make it, but Morales-Barrera suggests doing research on herbs near you that have immune-boosting properties.
“Peppermint is good and is something that is widely available. If you are sharing it with folks, make sure that you list all the ingredients so that folks who are consuming it are aware of what they are consuming,” they added.
Although fire cider is used to help fight off illnesses and ease the symptoms of colds and allergies, for Morales-Barrera, making and sharing it is more about reconnecting with ancestral knowledge.
“People have different names for fire cider. It leads on to larger conversations about the wellness industry and how inaccessible it is, yet a lot of this information comes from Indigenous and ancestral knowledge that has been passed through generations,” they said.
As the wellness industry surges on during a period of high stress and anxiety, the desire to seek out meditation practices, holistic remedies, and natural ways of coping is high. However, many of these practices are rooted in cultural traditions and methods from Indigenous peoples, who are often left out of the conversation.
“To me, it’s about reclaiming this knowledge that has been passed down to me and making it accessible to those around me that I know have ties to it but for whatever reason no longer have those ties, and rebuilding that relationship with the land and the community,” Morales-Barrera said. “I think that's something that's special to me, at least for this recipe, that aspect of community care -- what are ways that we can continue to care for each other and the land that we are in and just help support ourselves through these hard times?”
Claudia Morales-Barrera’s Fire Cider Recipe
- 1 large horseradish root - approximately 6-8 inches (if you can't find horseradish, any other radish will do, though not as powerful!)
- 1 large ginger root - approximately 6-8 inches
- 1 large onion
- 1 garlic head
- 1 large orange (whole - do not peel)
- 1 large lemon (whole - do not peel)
- 1 small bunch of fresh rosemary
- 1 small bunch of fresh oregano
- 1 habanero pepper
- 1 jalapeño pepper
- 1 serrano pepper
- 2-4 dried chiles of your choice (suggested Guntur chilli, chile de árbol , chile guajillo, chile cascabel - or better yet, a mix of them all)!
- 1 tablespoon Pragati Turmeric
- 1 teaspoon Aranya Peppercorns
- 4-6 cups raw apple cider vinegar with “The Mother”
- ½ cup honey or more to taste
- 64-ounce jar (half a gallon) or one gallon jar if doubling the recipe
- Parchment paper if you’re using a metal lid
1. Begin by chopping the horseradish root into medium sized pieces or use a mandoline to slice into thin/almost transparent disks. Make sure you do this in a well ventilated area or outside, because horseradish is potent and has the ability to clear your sinuses and make you cry on sight! Add to the container you will be using.
2. Chop ginger, onion, garlic, whole orange, whole lemon (do not peel), fresh and dried chiles and add to your container.
3. Add 1 or 2 bunches of fresh woody herbs like oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage to the container - no need to chop.
4. Add dried herbs and spices like whole peppercorns, turmeric, and more immune boosting herbs like echinacea, holy basil, and lemon balm to the mix.
5. Cover with raw apple cider vinegar until everything is submerged by at least an inch. Produce may spoil if not completely submerged.
6. Place a tight fitting lid (if using metal, use wax or parchment paper to prevent the lid from corroding). Shake well.
7. Place in a dark place for 4 weeks and shake daily. Send your medicine a little affirmation and give thanks each time.
8. After 4 weeks, strain with a fine meshed sieve or cheesecloth, making sure to squeeze out any extra juice from the chopped roots and herbs. Stir in ½ cup of raw honey or more to taste.
9. Place in sterilized containers - no need to refrigerate because it can last up to 6 months. Take 1 tablespoon up to 3 times a day for boosting your immune system or if you have cold/flu-like symptoms. You can also dilute with water/juice or add to smoothies/salad dressings!