How to Make Four Thieves Vinegar

Legend has it that during the Great Plague of the Middle Ages, grave robbers would wash their hands in a solution called “Four Thieves Vinegar,” which was very effective in staving off infection. The concoction was made by infusing vinegar with wormwood, rue, mint, sage, lavender, and rosemary. Because these constituents all have known antibacterial and antiviral properties, it seems like a feasible tale. I was fascinated by the idea and since I grow most of these herbs in my garden, I decided to try brewing up a batch.

I looked at various recipes, and decided to go with the basic set of ingredients, plus some lemongrass for its mild insect-repelling and good antimicrobial properties. The finished product can be used externally, and safely, for a variety of purposes: as a surface disinfectant, a hair rinse, a skin cleanser, to treat insect bites, as a hand-sanitizer, just to name a few. While the ingredients are very effective, it is gentle enough to use on pets and kids, just dilute it one part Four Thieves to three parts purified water.

Here is what you need to make your own:

  • 2 tablespoons of Rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons of Sage
  • 2 tablespoons of Lavender
  • 2 tablespoons of Wormwood
  • 2 tablespoons of Rue
  • 2 tablespoons of Peppermint
  • Apple cider vinegar (enough to cover the herbs completely)

You can also throw in cloves, cinnamon and/or garlic for extra potency.

Fill a pint-sized jar with the herbs. For best results, cut the herbs into small pieces, and packed the jar with the herbs, leaving as little space as possible. Susun Weed recommends using a jar with a plastic lid since vinegar can erode metal over time. If you use a metal jar, place a piece of waxed paper between the rim and lid to form a barrier, or use a cork.

Pour room-temperature apple cider vinegar into the jar until it is full, then tightly cap the jar. Label the jar with “Four Thieves” and the date. Place the jar away from direct sunlight, like a kitchen cupboard, or some other place where you will remember to shake it every day or so. After six weeks of steeping, strain the mixture through cheesecloth and place in a clean jar or spray bottle. It will last at least 18 months (some articles I read say up to 30) if you store it in a cool, dry, dark place.

Let me know what you think. Or if you have your own recipe for Four Thieves, I would love to hear about it!

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77 thoughts on “How to Make Four Thieves Vinegar

  1. Nice work! This is a lovely alternative version of what I make. I researched too, but it is a total mystery trying to track down the original recipe. Mine includes lemon, rosemary, eucalyptus, clove, cinnamon and tea tree. Part history, part innovation. But I make mine with essential oils, not fresh herb. I would love to try yours!

    • Thanks so much, Tiffany. Your recipe sounds like it must smell wonderful. I’m sure there are many possible variations, all of which have good antibacterial, antiviral properties. Let me know how it goes if you do try it with the fresh herbs!

      • Hi Sharon, I’m sorry, but I don’t have a recipe for using essential oils to make Four Thieves. Essential oils are so much more concentrated than dried herbs that the effect would be quite different.

      • Hi! I found one that makes the thieves “essential oil” mix with oils only. It says 200 drops clove oil, 175 drops lemon oil, 100 drops cinnamon bark, 75 drops eucalyptus oil, 50 drops rosemary. I am positive you can add lavender, sage, etc. as they all hold wonderful properties for health and wellness. Two ways to do this– put those in a container and use in other mediums (like vinegar) as your “single essential oil” or, add it to a carrier oil like olive, coconut, almond… I used whole herbs (except eucalyptus– had to use essential oils) in a base of olive oil — 2 oz each herb for every cup of oil– and heated it on low for 6 hours. Kind of messy to strain. I was also told I could leave this oil mixture in the sun in a jar for 15 days and then strain it. You don’t have to add any carrier oils this way, but it’s less versatile for usage. Mine is pretty much for deodorant. I will be making an essentials oil mixture, though, to add to things like vinegar, cleaners, etc. for future use. Good luck!

      • Thank you for the tips, Erin! There are many ways to make this, as there is no one recipe. I have heard about the jar in the sun method, as well as the oven method of infusing the fresh herbs.

  2. I had never heard of this,but next Spring I am going to add wormwood to my garden so I can try it. Thanks for the recipe and info on it,very interesting!

    • Thanks Tammy. It’s a great all-purpose cleaner. And if you leave out the wormwood, it makes a great herb vinegar for salad dressing! I like your idea of giving it as a gift. It would look very cool in a brown apothecary spray bottle.

  3. Pingback: The Story of the Stinkhorn and the Four Thieves | herban lifestyle

  4. Intriguing, I want to try. You say to use 1 part FT to 3 parts purified water.
    Yet, you keep the concentrate in a “spray” bottle? I think I misunderstood, and the spray bottle is where you keep the strained, diluted mixture? Thanks for the idea!

    • Yes, to use with children and pets, you would dilute it. I have two spray bottles with Four Thieves vinegar in them, one holds the diluted mixture and the other the concentrate, for different purposes.

  5. I have made a few variations of this. One 1/2 essential oils + …1/2 fresh rosemary, cinnamon & lemon peel + vinegar. After I cleaned a shower in my house that waseasily mildewed, I sprayed it evenly top down. That was a year ago :) still no mildew…

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  7. This product was actually invented by Rroma gypsies. They saved many more Europeans from death and no they didn’t put this stuff on their hands to rob dead people. A doctor found out the gypsies were immune and wanted to know their secret. Once he found out, sold it as “thieves oil” since they hated gypsies and didn’t want to acknowledge anything good about them.

    So while they saved alot of Europeans from death, what do they get? No acknowledgement, their product labelled with the word “thieves” more persecution that lasts today.

    Say thank you to the gypsies for sharing. Some of your ancestors were spared.

    • Thank you very much for this information, Sahla. I had not come across it anywhere. Given the history of the Roma, and the discrimination and misunderstanding they received in Europe, this description makes sense. I know some Roma living in America who continue the healing traditions of their ancestors.

  8. I am a master gardener……please do not plant wormwood in a garden, it is VERY invasive and you will be sorry! Just a side note because I read a previous comment that said they would plant some in their garden……Happy Gardening for 2013!

  9. Pingback: How to Make Four Thieves Vinegar | herban lifestyle | Muskegonvegan's Blog

  10. There are versions of Four Thieves Vinegar that can be ingested. Leave out the rue and the wormwood and use whole garlic cloves instead. The herbs I use in mine are garlic, rosemary, thyme, and rosemary.

  11. this looks cool! i am going to share this on my blog tomorrow (tuesday at 10am). I’ve been wanting to make 4 thieves for a while. i’ve gotta order those herbs! thanks for sharing!

  12. Hi! If you use dried herbs do you need to change the proportions? Do you still fill the jar to the top with Apple Cider Vinegar? Excited to do this! Thank you.

  13. My mother has cancer and I’ve been looking at many different things we can do to clean and other things around the house that would basically eliminate chemicals. Thank you so much for your posts and letting people know all the different things there are in nature that they can use.

  14. Pingback: Blog » How To Make Four Thieves’ Vinegar And Oil

    • Apple cider vinegar, with or without the Mother, is perfect. I prefer it to distilled for this recipe, but you can use either one. If you do use distilled vinegar, opt for organic since it is made from grains that aren’t genetically modified or treated with pesticides.

  15. Thank you so much for blogging! I’m going to use it everywhere! I’m not sure if the thieves oils I have found are corn safe or my family since everything is processed these days. So I will start with my herb garden and hope it takes off! Thanks so much! I think my herbs and the spray jar are still cheaper than buying the oil itself!

    • You’re welcome! Thanks so much for reading it :) Best of luck with your garden. It will not only be less expensive, but infinitely more satisfying when you make the Four Thieves from your own garden herbs.

  16. I’m glad u posted this it’s a good recipe to have on hand for now and future needs. Never know when we have to go back to the old ways and doctors are hard to find.
    My grandparents also used rabbit brush, it has to have the flowers on the tops. They used it to help a man who had gangrene on his leg and foot. The mans leg and foot was healed. Although it took a month and several times of soaking his foot and leg in the solution daily.
    The preparation of it should be cooked outside, in a very large pot. The reason is due to the smell of it while it’s cooking. Cut the rabbit brush in a bunch like u would cut a head of romane. Leaving about 2″ above ground. U want several bunches for the pot. (At least 6″ or more in diameter in your hands) if u have extra save them for future uses. Dry them out and place in a bag. Fresh is better, but in a pinch these will work too.
    Cook the rabbit brush for a good hour. Bring to a boil until the brush has softened enough to push down in pot, then turn down to a simmer. U want a good black color.
    Once it’s done cool it, pour into jars and keep it in frig or a root cellar. It will keep for up to a month or more depending on how cold it’s kept. It will mold if kept at room temp. Toss it at that point.
    This is only used for external uses. Open sores like scratches is good for this. Deeper wounds should b seen by a doctor, although u can use this as a cleanser over the stitches.
    Due to the smell I wouldn’t use it as a rinse in my hair or cleanser on my face unless u had nothing else.
    Just another old fashioned method of healing to share.

    • Thank you very much for sharing your recipe, Lee Ann. I hadn’t heard of rabbit brush. It appears it grows in the Western half of the United States, so I will keep my eye out for it when I am visiting that area.

      • Your welcome, the old recipes r hard to find. I like sharing them because I won’t be around forever and if it isn’t shared then it will be lost forever. I have a few others my grandparents shared too. But this one has always been my favorite. It was used by the Mexicans and the Indians as well, when they had no way for healing.

  17. I make a version using equal parts of essential oils – rosemary, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus and clove. I mix it all together and use a few drops as needed for whatever it is I am cleaning etc. . . I also mix it with vodka in a spray bottle and use as an air-freshener, hand sanitizer

  18. I have a Four Thieves essential oil (I did not formulate it myself) and apply it conservatively whenever I have to fly. On another note, please exercise due diligence when using Four Thieves with cats — some of the constituents can be toxic because kitties aren’t able to metabolize some of the oils that dogs can. There is a lot of conflicting conflicting information out there regarding which oils are, in fact, okay for cats. Please be careful.

    • Thank you for the advice, Diane. Any product made with essential oils should be used with caution, as they have strong medicinal properties, so it is good to check with a reliable source before using them on yourself, your family and your pets!

    • Hi Rebecca, I have seen many different versions of this recipe, with varying ingredients, so I would say that you can leave out the rosemary and still have good results. You can just increase the quantities of the other herbs to make up for it!

  19. tnks , ur info was very helpful , if u have any info on how to get the ingredients nearest to me , plse assit me i would be very greatful. My phisical address is : kwa zulu natal , south africa .

    • Hi Selwyn, I’m glad the information was helpful. I am not familiar with merchants in South Africa, but if you do a Google search on dried herbs in your area, you should be able to find something.

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