Winter is approaching and that means we can look forward to more reading, browsing through seed catalogs, holiday celebrations with family…and the flu. Flu season starts off slowly in October, growing stronger until it peaks around February, but can hang around as late as May. Luckily, there are herbal cold and flu preventative measures you can take, in addition to the flu shot. One of the most trusted herbal cold and flu remedy is known as Fire Cider.
Fire Cider has been used by herbalists to treat a variety of common winter complaints, but it is most notable for how it can help you get through the flu season. It is said to support the immune system and shorten the duration of cold and flu symptoms if you catch the bug. Best of all, it is made with food – nothing weird that makes it unsafe for children, the elderly or immune-compromised. One of the complaints about herbal medicine is that it doesn’t work quickly enough. We are used to a prescription that provides immediate effects – both good and bad. Chinese herbalists say that if a medicine produces noticeable effects immediately, it is not a good medicine. If it works within several weeks, it is just mediocre. But if you can take it your whole life with no visible effects other than continuous good health, it is an excellent medicine. This is the kind of medicine Fire Cider is.
Like most herbal remedies, the recipe for Fire Cider can be altered based on your specific needs and resources. There are a few base ingredients, however, that are necessary. These ingredients are easy to grow in your kitchen garden. If you didn’t happen to grow these veggies this year, don’t worry. They are abundant at farmer’s markets and you can even find them in the organic section of almost every grocery store.
The first ingredient is ginger. Ginger is used in traditional herbal medicine to eliminate mucus, decrease nausea, improve circulation and clear the sinuses. It is classified as a superfood, containing antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties. When you are buying ginger, look for thin, smooth skin. If you can find ginger with skin that is almost green, that is perfect. Old ginger will have thick, dark brown skin and will be covered in knobs.
As convenient as it is to grab ginger from the local supermarket, it is a very easy plant to grow at home. Because it lends itself well to container gardening, you do not even need to make space for it in your garden bed. If you have a space on your porch for a container, you can grow more than enough ginger for a family of four.
Ginger grows year-round in zones 9b and above, but gardeners in colder areas can successfully grow ginger indoors. You can purchase a young, living ginger root from a nursery or seed company, or you can visit your local grocer, as long as they sell organic produce. Look for a root that is firm, plump and has tight skin. The root should have several eye buds on it, similar to potatoes. Soak the root in warm water overnight. Cut the ginger root into chunks, each piece with its own eye bud. Because ginger roots grow horizontally, you will need to fill a shallow but wide planter with rich, well-draining potting soil. Place the root on top of the soil, with the eye bud facing up. Cover with 2” of soil and water lightly. Keep the soil moist but not soggy and place the container in a warm, sunny area. You should see the first shoots in 2-3 weeks, and you will be able to harvest pieces of your ginger in six months. If you harvest what you need from around the edges of the pot, then cover again with soil, you can enjoy a continuous harvest of ginger.
The second ingredient is horseradish. Horseradish is an easy perennial to grow, which you can learn more about my previous article, Growing Horseradish on the Homestead. Horseradish is a stimulant and diuretic with antiseptic properties. Traditional herbal medicine has used it to treat sinus infections and asthma.
Hot peppers are the third key ingredient in Fire Cider. Any hot pepper can be used, as all hot peppers have antioxidant properties, aid the circulatory system, improves metabolism and supports the immune system. If you did not grow any hot peppers in your garden, you will not have any problem finding them at your local farmers market or neighborhood grocery store.
The final must-have ingredient is garlic. Garlic has traditionally been used to treat all types of winter illnesses, especially respiratory problems. Garlic is inexpensive to purchase and wild garlic is fun to harvest in late spring or early summer. It is also fun and easy to grow. For more information on how to grow garlic on your homestead, see Grow Garlic… It’s Easy!
Other than the four essential ingredients: ginger, horseradish, hot peppers, and garlic, you can tweak the following recipe to suit your taste and needs. Other recipes for Fire Cider use thyme, star anise, parsley, oregano and/or cloves. Go with what you have!
Fire Cider Recipe
- 1/2 cup fresh, grated ginger root
- 1/2 cup fresh, grated horseradish root
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 8-10 cloves garlic, chopped
- hot peppers: 4 medium heat or 2 hot peppers
- zest and juice of one lemon (You can substitute any citrus for the lemon.)
- 2 tablespoons peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne powder
- organic apple cider vinegar
- 1/4- 1/2 cup local honey
Put the first nine ingredients in a quart-sized mason jar. Cover to top with the apple cider vinegar. Lay a piece of parchment paper over the mouth of the jar before putting the lid on the jar. Cap tightly and shake well. Store your Fire Cider in a dark, cool place for one month, shaking daily. Once you have let the Cider sit for a month, use a cheesecloth to strain out the pulp. Pour the vinegar into a clean jar and add honey to taste.
It is recommended that you take 1-2 tablespoons daily during the fall and winter months as a preventative. If you have symptoms, increase the dosage to 1-2 tablespoons every four hours. You can drink it straight, add it to a cup of hot tea, or even drizzle some over a salad. Children who are old enough to consume honey can begin with 1 teaspoon mixed with a glass of juice.
Now what to do with all of those fermented vegetables and herbs? Of course, you can toss them to your chickens or throw them in the compost pile, but you can also use them for a delicious dinner. Fire Cider Spring Rolls are a spicy way to kick off winter.
Fire Cider Spring Rolls
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 8 cups Napa cabbage, shredded or sliced very thin
- 2 carrots, thinly sliced
- Fire Cider pulp
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 24 eight-inch square spring roll wrappers (not egg roll wrappers!)
- oil for frying
Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet on medium-high heat. Add the cabbage and Fire Cider pulp, and cook 8-10 minutes until almost all of the liquid has cooked off. It is important to cook the filling as dry as possible so the spring rolls will not tear.
Add the carrots and cook for 1 minute before adding sesame oil and soy sauce. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool completely.
Once the mixture is completely cooled, mix the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of water.
Lay out a spring roll wrapper. Brush the cornstarch mixture around the edges to moisten. Add 2 Tablespoons of filling down the middle of the wrapper. Fold the sides in and roll wrapper to close. Repeat with the remaining wrappers.
This recipe will make 24 spring rolls. If you do not want to make that many, place the filled spring rolls on a baking sheet in a single layer and freeze. Once they have frozen, you can put them in a freezer bag and freeze until you are ready to cook them.
To cook, heat 3” of oil in a dutch oven until hot and fry the rolls until they are golden brown, approximately 2-3 minutes.
Taking responsibility for the health and well-being of ourselves and our families has long been a core component of homesteading. Making your own Fire Cider at the beginning of the cold and flu season is something every homesteader can include as part of their winter preparation. It is simple to make, easy to include in your diet, inexpensive and a great way to pass on some traditional herbal knowledge to your children and other family members. It also makes a much-appreciated gift.
Being prepared makes life more enjoyable. No one wants to think about getting sick, but it can happen. Unfortunately, it seems to happen at the worst possible time! Try Fire Cider this fall and winter, in addition to your other health care remedies, and see whether or not it makes a difference.