Portions of this blog are excerpted from the Free Fire Cider website.
A spicy hot and deliciously sweet vinegar tonic, I first made Fire Cider in the kitchen at the California School of Herbal Studies in the early 1980s. Intent on teaching my students how to make herbal preparations that were as much food as they were medicines, I was constantly experimenting and concocting all manner of medicinal herbs into a variety of recipes. Those that turned out well were shared freely with my students and our community. The idea was to bring medicinal herbalism back into people’s kitchens, as part of their food and as a way of being, not just for medicinal purposes.
Fire Cider was among those early ‘crossover’ recipes ~ part medicine, part food ~ that was made and shared freely. I taught hundreds of people how to make it at the California School of Herbal Studies, which I directed and taught at from 1978-1987, and also as I traveled about the country teaching about medicinal plants in conferences, schools and various events.
What’s All the Fuss About Fire Cider?
In April 2014 I received an email from a gentleman stating that he had a small herbal business and had been selling Fire Cider on Etsy, an online retail outlet for home crafted products. He was writing to inform me that he had just received a letter from a man claiming to have trademarked Fire Cider and was asking (demanding) everyone else to stop selling it since the trademark was in effect. I wasn’t overly concerned, thinking that there was some error; how could anyone trademark a popular and well-known herbal product? I assured the person who contacted me that there was obviously some mistake and asked him to forward me the name of the person/company that was claiming to have trademarked Fire Cider.
I then wrote a rather lengthy note to the company founders explaining how and when Fire Cider had been created, that it was, in fact, already made by thousands of other people, and also made and sold by at least several other companies. And that was that… I clearly thought that once being made aware of the situation, they would withdraw their trademark, or at least change the name on the trademark to reflect a more original name so that others could continue to market the product as well.
Unfortunately for everyone, that’s not how it unfolded. The company made it quite clear that they were unwilling to drop the trademark on Fire Cider. For reasons unbeknownst to me, word had gotten out through several businesses that had received letters to stop selling Fire Cider and there was a virtual outcry on the Internet. Though the last thing in the world I wanted to do was get pulled into an argument over who has the rights to Fire Cider, having been there when the first batch of Fire Cider was made and knowing the origin story, I felt it was important to step in and try to reclaim Fire Cider as a legacy herbal product and a people’s medicine.
Though I fully believe in trademarks and recognize the need for businesses to lay claim to products and titles they’ve created and invested small fortunes in, I find it unjust that someone can claim to a name/product that without question has been circulating in the world, in the marketplace, in books, and articles long before the company was even started and quite possibly before some of the owners were born. Quite clearly, the trademark lawyers didn’t do a good job in their investigations and made an error in granting a trademark to a name/product that was in such free circulation.
In March 2019 the “Fire Cider 3, (Kathi Langelier of Herbal Revolution, Mary Blue of Farmacy Herbs and Nicole Telkes of Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine) went to court to make the case that ‘Fire Cider’ is a traditional term that cannot be trademarked. Finally, in October 2019, Judge Mastroianni of Springfield, MA federal court handed down his verdict: Fire Cider is a ‘generic’ term and cannot legally be trademarked!
As the Free Fire Cider campaigners wrote “Why is this decision so important? This is a precedent-setting case…Meaning that if another corporation tries to trademark a generic herbal term (or a term from any other small community), this case can be referred to. The Judge’s decision recognizes that terms are generic in RELEVANT communities. This means that a term does NOT have to be known to the wider public to be protected by genericism!!!!”1https://freefirecider.com/
Keep Traditions Free
If this were about just one herbal product and/or a name, would it be worth the time and effort? Those of us who advocated to keep Fire Cider trademark-free were busy with our own vibrant lives; we have students, classes, events, and our own small businesses to run. Who has the time to fight this battle?
However, if a company is allowed to ‘own’ a product that they neither created nor named, it sets a dangerous precedent in the herbal community. What would happen to all our other popular legacy herbal recipes? Zoom Balls, Kava Chai, Chaga Chai, Pesto, Nesto (nettle pesto), Kloss’s Liniment, Miracle Grains, or even Elderberry Syrup… What would prevent other companies from trademarking these popular herbal products, which prevents others from making and selling them?
I believe firmly in those famed words of Margaret Mead that clearly proclaim that, as committed individuals, we can indeed change the world and make a difference.
As an herbal community we can create a special category, a safe haven, for ‘Herbally Owned’ legacy products; popular herbal products that have been made, used, and sold for decades. We can protect our traditions and we can start by keeping Fire Cider free from trademark. Fire Cider is a tradition, not a trademark!
Make Your Own Fire Cider!
Making your own Fire Cider is a great way to keep the tradition going. It is simple, fun and easy to make. Recipes are numerous and can be found on blogs, in books, and many places online. My book Fire Cider!: 101 Zesty Recipes for Health-Boosting Remedies Made with Apple Cider Vinegar (2019) includes favorite recipes from more than 70 contributors!
Rosemary's Fire Cider Recipe
- 1/2 cup Horseradish freshly grated
- 1/2 cup or more Onions chopped
- 1/4 cup or more Garlic chopped
- 1/4 cup or more Ginger freshly grated
- Cayenne pepper fresh (chop it up) or dried (flaked or ground), to taste
- Apple cider vinegar preferably raw and organic
- Place the herbs in a half-gallon mason jar and add enough vinegar to cover them by 3 to 4 inches. Seal the jar with a tight-fitting lid. Place the jar in a warm spot and let sit for 3 to 4 weeks. Shake the jar every day to help in the maceration process.
- After 3 to 4 weeks, strain out the herbs, reserving the liquid. Warm the honey (so that it will mix in well) and add it to the vinegar, to taste. "To taste" means that your Fire Cider should be hot, spicy and sweet.
- Bottle, label and enjoy! Your Fire Cider will keep for several months unrefrigerated if stored in a cool pantry. But it's better to store in the refrigerator if you have room.
Grateful that Fire Cider recipe remains widely and freely shared. This was an important fight and thank you all who took time and resources to meet the legal challenges and win a better precedent for all of us.