Fire Cider – A must have for the cold and flu season! Make your own powerful oxymel with fresh ingredients right from your garden & pantry!

Layers upon layers of fresh colorful medicinal herbs and spices fill the air with a delicious pungent aroma! This zesty oxymel is filled with such simple ingredients that offer tremendous health benefits! These ingredients contain properties like antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and even antioxidants! And that was just the many properties of turmeric alone, imagine the benefits of the other ingredients!  Many of these herbs are easy to grow and cultivate at home for a lush healing garden. 

Layers upon layers of fresh colorful medicinal herbs and spices fill a glass jar from this Fire Cider workshop at Bartram's Garden in November 2020. Photo by Marc Steiner.
Layers upon layers of fresh colorful medicinal herbs and spices fill a glass jar from this Fire Cider workshop at Bartram’s Garden in November 2020. Photo by Marc Steiner.

Fight Cold/Flu with a Homemade Remedy, from your Garden

What’s Better Than Homemade? Not Much! The first thing you should know about Fire Cider or Fire Tonic is that it’s a traditional immune-supporting preparation rooted in folk herbalism and indigenous practices. So basically Fire Cider is a spicy home remedy Grandma would can up throughout the year from her garden and store in the kitchen pantry. And as soon as she had a tickle in her throat or heard a sniffling nose there she was with a spoonful of this stuff! And just like that, that sniffle never had a festering chance.    

You’re still probably wondering what an Oxymel is and how to make one and how to use it. Well, making an herbal oxymel is a simple and a convenient herbal preparation that creates an ideal balance between vinegar and honey for supporting the immune and respiratory systems. So at the first sign of a scratchy throat, a cough, a sneeze or anything closely related, take a whole tablespoon full and knock that cold out of the your system! With so many different ways to prepare an oxymel, there is room for creativity and experimentation with every batch of Fire Cider you brew! 
Fire Cider is fun, easy to make and smells absolutely delish! You might forget your making medicines instead of dinner! This infused vinegar is packed with powerful immune-supportive, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, antiviral and circulation stimulating herbs and foods the you can grow at home even in small spaces and pots! Foods an spices like: a variety of Hot Peppers, Ginger, Turmeric, Onions, Garlic, Thyme, Horseradish and Oregano for starters. The addition of hot peppers and a little local raw honey makes it both spicy and sweet, hence the name! This is what I like to call my affordable health care plan! Ha!

Two colorful jars of freshly prepared fire cider.
Two colorful jars of freshly prepared fire cider. This oxymel will be ready to use in as little as 2-3 weeks after sitting in a dark pantry or cabinet and shaken every other day. Strain and save the golden liquid, re-batch or compost the left over ingredients. Can you see the fresh cracked black pepper melding with the lemons garlic and turmeric? Is this medicine or marinade? Photo by Marc Steiner.

How to Make Homemade Fire Cider

Before making a Fire Cider or consuming any ingredients listed below, please read POP’s disclaimer at the end of this article.

So what goes into a Fire Cider? Depending on how spicy you want the fire cider to be, you might use more peppers or omit them altogether. What makes the perfect Fire Cider is that you get to choose what goes in it! What can be better than the freedom to choose how you want something to be? You get to decide what goes in and how much of it goes in it. Whew, *Say that three times fast! 

Anyway, Chop up your ingredients, layer your ingredients in a clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid, top off with apple cider vinegar and seal it up. Let the oxymel set for 2-3 weeks, giving a good shake every day and strain the “liquid gold” off at the end of the 2nd or 3rd week and store it in a clean glass jar with a tight lid.  A tablespoon a day keeps the viruses away!! That’s it! You can add honey later if you want to– but that’s it, that is how you do it! 

Now, it can be of great benefit to know the medicinal constituents of the herbs you decide to use to build your Homemade Fire Cider. These flavorful ingredients can range from sour citrus slices to pungent roots to savory stems and spicy bulbs you decide. Here are a few profiles of the powerhouse herbs we used earlier this month at the Urban Medicine Cabinet Fire Cider making workshop at Bartram’s Garden.  Try adding these to your next brew of Homemade Fire Cider.

THYME Photo provided by Nyambi Royster via Square Online

Thymus vulgaris (Lamiaceae)
Aerial parts
Anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiparasitic, antispasmodic, astringent, carminative, diaphoretic, expectorant
Warming and drying

Ginger, echinacea, elder—these herbs are some of the first to pop into our minds for cold and flu season. It might surprise you that an herb tucked away in your kitchen cabinet, thyme, is the quintessential herb for winter! A Mediterranean member of the mint family, thyme’s name indicates that it may have once been used as sacred incense: Thyme can be harvested by cutting vibrant stems at any time during the growing season. To dry, hang the sprigs in a dark, well-ventilated area or place them on a tray to dry.

Thyme possesses a range of applications in Western and Eastern herbal traditions that have either been sustained to the present day or which are now being investigated and largely supported by science. Thyme was and is most frequently connected to the respiratory and digestive systems. This is paralleled in Chinese medicine, wherein thyme is associated with the Lung, Liver, and Stomach. For its connection to the Lung meridian, it is used to warm the Lung in instances of acute and chronic respiratory infections, asthma, and spasmodic coughs as well as for immune support during colds and the flu (Tierra, 1998).

Thyme has long been favored by herbalists as a go-to herb for breathing difficulties and for any kind of imbalance that encroaches upon the respiratory system. Thyme acts as a bronchodilator and as an anti-inflammatory agent and is used to address asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough, pneumonia, and the common cold (Holmes, 2006). In addition, thyme has an opening influence on the sinuses, where its warming and drying nature helps to clear congestion. It is often used as a tea, a gargle, or with honey to expel mucus. Thyme’s volatile oil constituents, especially thymol, are antimicrobial against many different kinds of bacteria including those involved in upper respiratory infections (Nabavi et al., 2015) and also contribute to thyme’s expectorant, diaphoretic, and anticatarrhal qualities that are used by herbalists to support resolution of colds, the flu, and other lower and upper respiratory tract infections. Choose thyme for mucusy respiratory conditions with productive coughs (rather than dry coughs), as it is drying.

Thyme’s antimicrobial properties also make it useful as a wound wash (use a tea or a tincture for this purpose) and the fresh aerial parts of thyme can be made into a poultice for cuts and wounds. Thyme can also be added to a mouthwash formula to protect the mouth from dental plaque-causing bacteria. The same volatile oils that contribute to the expectorant, diaphoretic, and anticatarrhal nature of thyme also give the herb a carminative quality. This ability to relax the digestive tract makes it helpful for bloating and gas. Use only culinary amounts during pregnancy. Thyme is a container friendly herb too that has produced well for me in all of the seasons we’ve had here in the region for the past 6 years.

GARLIC Photo provided by Nyambi Royster via Square Online

Allium sativum (Amaryllidaceae)
Anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, cholagogue, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, hypolipidemic, hypotensive, immune stimulant

Warming, cloves are used to support the body’s response to respiratory conditions. Used for at least 5,000 years as a food and an herb, an ancient Chinese proverb states of this member of the Allium (onion) genus: “Garlic is as good as ten mothers” (Ryther, 2013). Remember how garlic’s strong odor and pungency were believed to ward off evil spirits, werewolves, vampires, and hungry tigers in the old spooky movies? Well, the bulbs were even used as currency in ancient Egypt (Rupp, 2014). These days, its qualities are undisputed. In fact, thousands of studies have been done on garlic and its primary constituent of scientific interest, allicin, and its effects on the cardiovascular system, infections, the respiratory system, cancer, blood sugar, and more. It is one of the most well-researched herbs to date!

During the winter months garlic can ease some of the discomforts of a cold through its anti-inflammatory action, as well as shorten its duration by stimulating the immune system, thinning mucus, and throwing off a fever. Have you ever eaten fresh garlic and the next morning you wake up and you just reek of garlic, like you are sweating pure garlic? Similarly, if you cut up garlic and place it on the bottom of the feet and wear socks at night, your breath in the morning will smell of garlic. This is a good indication that garlic has a systemic effect on the body, reaching into those nooks and crannies where pathogens might hide.

The aromatic compounds in garlic work in the body as many aromatics do: by dilating blood vessels, opening and relaxing circulation. Many studies support the use of garlic in reducing blood pressure (Reinhart, 2008) due to its ability to reduce tension in the cardiovascular system. Studies also demonstrate garlic’s ability to lower serum cholesterol levels (Budoff, 2006; Hoffmann, 2003; Stevinson et al., 2000) and reduce vascular damage as well as the hardening and narrowing of arteries (Budoff, 2006; Orekhov & Grunwald, 1997). Now here we are talking about how to handle the common cold and flu and garlic is showing off with helping the heart too!

To retain garlic’s beneficial properties, it should not be heated at a high temperature or for too long. Basically fresh is best! I know it smells bad but it taste so good! Oh my goodness, chop up some fresh garlic and mix with a little cream cheese and spread on toast or add to tea towards the end of steeping time and add plenty of sweetener and lemon! Okay so no you don’t want to eat cream anything when you have a cold because it is mucus forming! And so maybe you shouldn’t use cream cheese, but you can use butter! Ha! Point is the power of garlic is apparent and that you should add it to your diet fresh as much as you can. Plus it is easy to grow and you can even harvest the tops of garlic and sauté with spinach butter mushrooms light sea salt and black pepper.  Mouthwatering!

Those with gastrointestinal sensitivities or ulcers may find that garlic aggravates their condition. Use only culinary amounts if on blood thinners and during pregnancy, in the postpartum period, and during lactation. Avoid 2 weeks before and after surgical procedures (Mills & Bone, 2005). A clove of garlic can be eaten daily for general support or 1 clove of garlic can be taken 3x/day during acute infections (Hoffmann, 2003).

fresh ginger root/rhizome
GINGER Photo provided by Nyambi Royster via Square Online

Zingiber officinale (Zingiberaceae)
Anodyne, antiemetic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antispasmodic, carminative, circulatory stimulant, choleretic, diaphoretic, expectorant, orexigenic
Warming and drying

Widely used for taming nausea and morning sickness, ginger also provides 
a range of applications for digestion, circulation, the reproductive system, and as a general anti-inflammatory. Herbalists use ginger’s antimicrobial activity and ability to thin mucus, as well as its diaphoretic action, to help the body progress through a cold or the flu. Fresh-pressed ginger juice diluted in water or a tea made with fresh ginger is ideal for this use.Ginger’s volatile oils stimulate the immune system to fight both bacterial and viral infections (McIntyre, 1996) and it is an all-around warming immune stimulant that is delicious and useful in cold and flu season beverages.

Many herbalists use it at the first signs of viral infection and find that it can abort the onset of upper respiratory infections (Holmes,1997). Ginger’s antiviral actions include stimulating macrophage activity, preventing viruses from attaching to cell walls, and acting as a virucide (Buhner, 2013). Ginger is traditionally used fresh, as the anti-microbialaction is most effective in the fresh rhizome. Herbalist Stephen Buhner (2013) states, “If you are using ginger as an antiviral, the fresh juice cannot be surpassed in its effectiveness” (p. 168). Fresh ginger juice can also be applied topically to skin infections.

Ginger also possesses other actions that make it useful as a catalyst in antimicrobial herbal formulas, helping to increase their action by dilating blood vessels and enhancing circulation. Tongue-tingling and pungent, this tropical rhizome’s culinary and herbal uses are detailed extensively in early Chinese medicine, ayurvedic medical texts, Mali Empire of Timbuktu, ancient Roman, Greek, and Arabic traditions. Harvest the rhizome about 10 months into growth, or after the leaves have died back. Pieces of the ginger root can be saved and replanted.

Above left: Lemons, Hot Peppers, Red Onions and Turmeric are the beginnings of a delicious meal or an aromatic tonic. Above right: The grater is a helpful tool to have on hand in the kitchen to cut hard root herbs and vegetables like turmeric and ginger. The grater is also an easy kitchen tool for children to handle. Images by Marc Steiner at the Urban Medicine Cabinet Fire Cider Workshop at Bartram’s Garden, November 2020.

A mother and child prepare the ingredients for fire cider together at Bartram’s Garden in November 2020. Photo by Marc Steiner.

Fire Cider: A health family activity
Fire Cider making is a fun way to spend time with the family and a creative way to get the children involved in their personal wellness by developing an intentional relationship with food. Learn about the different ingredients you decide to use together and the positive benefits for the body. Homemade fire cider is a also a nice gift to give at anytime of the year.


The Philadelphia Orchard Project stresses that you should not consume parts of any wild edible plants, herbs, weeds, trees,​ or bushes until you have verified with your health professional that they are safe for you. As with any new foods that you wish to try, it is best to introduce them slowly into your diet in small amounts. Any testimonials on this web site are based on individual results and do not constitute a warranty of safety or guarantee that you will achieve the same results.

The information presented on this website is for informational, reference, and educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as a substitute for diagnosis and treatment by a health care professional. Always consult a health care professional or medical doctor when suffering from any health ailment, disease, illness, or injury, or before attempting any traditional or folk remedies. Keep all plants away from children. As with any natural product, they can be toxic if misused.

This POP Blog Post was written by contributor Nyambi Royster. Her Urban Medicine Cabinet offers a variety of botanical skincare classes and herbal medicine workshops to help you navigate clean beauty, treat common ailments and choose foods for wellness: Nyambi Naturals.

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