Many legends spring forth from medieval Europe especially from around the time of the Black Death. One of the best, but not well known concerns four (or sometimes 7) ne’er-do-wells of indiscriminate origins. The story varies from country to country but essentially concerns the discovery of an elixir either in Marseilles or London that conferred immunity from the dreaded plague. This marauding band either burgled the houses of those who had fled the plague or robbed graves depending on your sources. When the locals noticed their inexplicable health they traded in their secret for either their freedom or a less painful death, again depending on who you talk to. Luckily for us, Europe shook off the plague but their (albeit very approximate) recipe survives and as we all know there’s one thing I love more than a good legend. A good recipe.
Now it’s worth noting here that this vinegar was not intended to be eaten back in the day, rather to be used to clean clothes, douse handkerchiefs or to rinse the mouth and nose. And if that’s the way you want to go, then go for it but I’d switch white or distilled vinegar for the more expensive cider vinegar. I actually do most of my cleaning with white vinegar and I do find that the addition of a few herbs here and there does make the smell less penetrating as well as bumping up those anti- microbial effects; not to be underestimated when living in a house with three pre-teenage and teenage boys (easily confused with creatures from the black lagoon). The plague hasn’t made any come back in their rooms yet I hasten to add but at least I know I’m ready for every eventuality. However I digress. If their recipe is used with cider vinegar it really does make a gorgeous vinegar to use in dressings for all those lovely summer salads we should be enjoying right now. Perfect for barbecue season, and really good for you too as a great way to preserve all those herbs and continue to access all their health benefits. Some people even swear by it as a morning tonic; a teaspoon full being enough to perk up the most sluggish of us apparently. I’m most definitely not a morning person so I feel expecting it to perk me up at 7 am is rather a lot to ask of one teaspoon of vinegar but don’t let that stop you revolutionising your mornings. I’ll stick to my green tea and shaking up my vinegar with a little dijon mustard and oil for a herby french dressing or with some yoghurt/ kefir for a creamier one. Let me know how you get on.
Four Thieves Vinegar Recipe
500ml cider vinegar or white vinegar depending on your choice of use
15 lavender heads
1-2 tablespoons each mint, oregano, sage, feverfew, rosemary and tarragon
5 cloves garlic
Roughly slice your garlic and bruise the herbs by bashing them a bit with the flat side of a knife.
Pour the vinegar into a wide necked bottle and add the bruised herbs and garlic. Close the bottle and turn it upside down several times.
Leave in a sunny place and turn every so often so that it gets a good mix up.
Strain after a week. Enjoy!