Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Vinegar of the Four Thieves

Have you seen or tried Four Thieves Vinegar or Oil yet? Curious about the name, or want to make your own? Read on!
The History of Four Thieves Vinegar

There's an old, and possibly apocryphal, legend about four cunning thieves. It takes place during one of many plagues -- some stories suggest that it was while the Black Plague was rampaging through Europe, anywhere between the 1300s to the 1700s -- in either the city of Toulouse, or Marseilles.

According to the story, these four thieves robbed either the graves of the dead, or the houses of the gravely ill. Not much was done about them, since the city had their hands full with the plague outbreak, and it was generally assumed that the thieves would eventually meet a grisly end from coming into contact with so many sick people. When they didn't, it raised suspicion.

Once the thieves were finally caught, they revealed that they'd been using a special concoction of herbs and vinegar to protect themselves from illness. To escape the gallows, they offered to barter the recipe in exchange for their lives. While it isn't known whether the city's law enforcement honored the agreement, we do know the recipe.
Preparing Four Thieves Vinegar

There was a copy of the recipe hung in the Museum of Paris in the '30s that purported to be the original that hung from the walls of Marseilles during an outbreak of the plague. It goes as follows:
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.

Still other stories claim the recipe was different, and the thieves used it by taking spoonfuls of the vinegar every day. (You wouldn't want to ingest camphor and wormwood like that, though!)

Another old recipe I've come across that purports to be the original gives the instructions thus:
Take a measure of red wine, and add to it cloves of crushed garlic, and handfuls of rosemary, sage, and thyme. Cork the wine and let it sit until it goes sour and becomes vinegar.

If you search for "Four Thieves Vinegar," you'll find a ton of recipes from the simple to the complex, the delicious to the deadly, and the straightforward to the baffling. I think there are probably as many recipes for Four Thieves Vinegar as there are witches and healers who make it!
My Four Thieves Vinegar Recipe

While the recipe I use could be ingested (provided the bottles are properly sterilized first), I don't usually use it that way. Add it to a bath or a floor wash, anoint a candle or a petition paper, or wipe your door frames and window sills down with it to keep evil out and protect your space. It's said to be especially helpful in sick rooms, though, naturally, it doesn't take the place of a doctor's care.

For my version of the Vinegar of the Four Thieves, you need the following:

  • White vinegar

  • Garlic

  • Peppercorns

  • Rosemary

  • Bay leaves

  • Red pepper


Garlic and vinegar form the base of the preparation. The remaining ingredients are, themselves, unimportant -- as long as you're using banishing and purifying herbs, and have at least four of them, you're okay. If you're planning on ingesting the vinegar, use edible herbs and proper sterilization procedures while making the vinegar.

To make the vinegar itself, fill a jar or bottle halfway to the top with vinegar. Peel and crush the cloves of garlic, and add them to the bottle. Add the remaining herbs in whatever measure you deem fit. Allow to steep for at least ten days (though I prefer to wait for a month). Strain, and use.
Four Thieves Vinegar vs. Oil

With the rise in popularity of essential oils, there has been a corresponding creation of all kinds of oil blends. One of these is Four Thieves Oil, sometimes just called Thieves Oil. Despite the name, it often doesn't have much resemblance to the legendary vinegar. Young Living describes their blend as, "a powerful combination of Clove, Lemon, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus Radiata, and Rosemary essential oils."

I frequently see questions like, "How do I make Four Thieves Vinegar with oil?" The short answer is: You can't. Vinegar and oils will never mix. No matter how long you allow it to sit and infuse, they will never interact. You can add vinegar and essential oils to a bath or floor wash to good effect, but it is not the same as preparing Four Thieves Vinegar. If you want to infuse vinegar, the only way is to do it is with herbs and time.


Want to use Four Thieves Vinegar, but don't have the time, space, or wherewithal to prepare it yourself? There are tons of sellers who can help you out. It's usually inexpensive, and readily available on sites like Etsy or in your local natural health store or occult shop.



  1. This is a really interesting post. I had never heard of four thieves vinegar and the history behind it is really intriguing!

  2. I've never heard of this vinegar before, it's fascinating. I love vinegar for cleaning, I might try to purchase some

  3. One to save for again. Very nice!

  4. It's something you usually come across in natural health or occult circles -- one uses it for keeping away germs, the other uses it to keep away everything else! I use a lot of white vinegar for cleaning, but this stuff is good to have around.

  5. Thanks! It's amazing how long the recipe's survived -- now there's about a thousand different versions out there, all based on the same tale.

  6. Very interesting read, I've never heard of this before so will definitely bookmark it for later.

  7. I haven't heard of this either, but quite keen to have a go at making some!

  8. Interesting read! Thanks for sharing with all of us! When I get time, I just may try this!

  9. It's really easy, especially if you don't intend to make it for consumption. The infusing process just takes a little time. :D

  10. Thank you! Edible versions are really tasty (courtesy of all the garlic, but I love garlic), and non-edible versions are pretty effective at what they do.

  11. Love the story of the origin of the 4 thieves vinegar. But 50 cloves? wow...

  12. Right? I don't know how it was imbibable at that point. 50 cloves of raw garlic steeped in vinegar would be mouth-blisteringly strong, seems like.