(video) How To Make Four Thieves Tonic

4.64 out of 5 [11 Votes]

I make this “Four Thieves Tonic” each year just as the holiday season gets going. It needs about a month to set, and is ready by January when my immune systems could use a good nudge.

Even though I don’t really like spicy stuff that much, I really do like this one.

There are numerous versions of the onic on the web. Some are made to be used only externally – on the skin to ward against bacteria. And some are made out of essential oils. Since making essential oils is a trail I am not wanting to go on right now, I prefer this recipe which is ingested.

Here are the ingredients I used, and a list of other possible ones yo might want to add. Of course, be careful if you have nay kind of allergies to any of these…

Hot Peppers
Juniper Berries
Horseradish Root

And here is a ‘possibles’ list – please add your own ingredients in the comments section if you’ve made this before! I’ll come back and add your ingredients into the post.

Black Pepper

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Marjory Wildcraft

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Marjory Wildcraft is an Expedition Leader and Bioneer Blogger with The [Grow] Network, which is an online community that recognizes the wisdom of "homegrown food on every table." Marjory has been featured as an expert on sustainable living by National Geographic, she is a speaker at Mother Earth News fairs, and is a returning guest on Coast to Coast AM. She is an author of several books, but is best known for her "Grow Your Own Groceries" video series, which is used by more than 300,000 homesteaders, survivalists, universities, and missionary organizations around the world.
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64 Comments on (video) How To Make Four Thieves Tonic

  1. DaveM

    I’d never heard the story before and love it! One thing occurs to me: most of the ingredients will make you smell bad to insects. And plague is spread by fleas. It wouldn’t surprised me if it worked.

    As you say, there is plenty there to boost the immune system during the heart of winter So a good idea, plague or not.

  2. John R

    I partake of all this “stuff” with the exception of the horseradish. Is it necessary? Also, for the 30 days of storage, is it refrigerated or just on the counter? How much of the finished product do you take daily.
    I just love your website.

    • Marjory Wildcraft

      Oh I just put it in the pantry – no refrigeration.

      A few people I know bury it in the garden to get ‘earth energies’ from it.

      I take about a tablespoonful 2 or 3 times a day when its miserable outside.

  3. James Davis

    Margory, you are so loved and appreciated by all of us reading and listening to your wisdom. Thank you for your unending perseverance with providing your knowledge to us for better health naturally.

    God Bless and grant you abundant Grace in the days ahead. MErry Christmas Margory.. JD

  4. Alan

    Really I just make and drink Kombucha.
    I do not believe there is any greater immune system builder than Kombucha.
    Most of these other healthy things do no harm and do some good.
    I just do not see the need.
    I used to get every cold or flu that I got close to but only six weeks after starting to drink Kombucha colds and flu bugs never touched me even though my wife and daughter had both of them.
    I do not understand why they won’t drink my Kombucha but I sure will.

  5. I’m unsure of how you administer this tonic. I take it that you drink it as a liquid? How much do you drink? How often? Mixed with anything else?

    Thank you, this is very interesting.

    • Marjory Wildcraft

      I take about a tablespoonful at a time. Maybe 2 or 3 times a day in the dead of winter.

      Or I use about a spoonful as a salad dressing.

  6. to clean off garlic cloves—use two aluminum bowls. Put the garlic into the one bowl. Put the ‘top’ on the bowl with the other bowl. Shake, Shake, shake—your bootie (ha ha). it works.

    I learned this from Martha Stewart.

    Take care

  7. Great information for an immune system tonic! I’ve been making my own tonic of neem leaves and vodka. I use it both internally and as a hand sanitizer. It works very well. Will have to try out your recipe. I have most of the ingredients already. Thanks for the info.!



    • Marjory Wildcraft

      Oh yes, a publicist I know calls me the Martha Stewart of self-reliance. but you know, I’ve never really seen her so this is good.

      Hey, I liked that double bowl technique.

  9. tom

    If surface exposure is desired why not grate the horseradish and ginger, crush the garlic, berries and peppers, or would that be too strong? Seems it would speed up the infusion as well.

    Think of the polis the mash would make! If it didn’t put hair on your chest, it might keep it off!

  10. Vic

    The Thieves remedy I read about used garlic and vinegar. Supposedly, this was from the actual court records. Beforehand, they soaked cloth in vinegar and wrapped their nose and mouth with it and they ate cloves of garlic. Then they robbed the people. Afterwards, they washed all over with vinegar and ate more garlic, and supposedly didn’t catch the plague by doing this.

  11. Marjory-

    That mixture looks like it will cures what ails you! Am I correct in assuming those juniper berries are from “cedar trees”? I live in the Austin, TX area and no one refers to them as juniper trees. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Steven Feil

    Four Thieves: Historic Anti-Plague Remedy

    by Ingrid Naiman


    During the dreadful years of the Black Death, a few people found the way to survive the plague that was decimating the population. Among the more colorful of these were four thieves from Marseilles who while plundering for treasures protected themselves with garlic and a concoction of herbs extracted in vinegar. The tale is a fascinating exploration of herbal lore, but there are so many versions of the story that it is up to you to choose which to believe.

    This formula is so popular in herbal circles that some people have organized “Four Thieves” parties where groups of people produce big batches of the formula during times of epidemics. There are, as one might imagine, many versions of the formula, all, of course, claimed to be authentic.

    The famous French aromatherapy doctor, Jean Valnet, has two recipes in his book. He claims the original recipe was revealed by corpse robbers who were caught red-handed in the area around Toulouse in 1628-1631. His story is the more credible of the many one can find. Given the virulence and deadliness of the plague, the judges were astonished by the indifference of the thieves to contagion. Valnet quotes the archives of the Parliament of Toulouse:

    During the Great Plague, four robbers were convicted of going to the houses of plague victims, strangling them in their beds and then looting their dwellings. For this, they were condemned to be burned at the stake, and in order to have their sentence mitigated, they revealed their secret preservative, after which they were hanged.
    Given the source, I choose to believe the Valnet account, but there have obviously been many spins of the tale. Here is the recipe stated to be the original:

    Original Recipe for Four Thieves Formula
    3 pints white wine vinegar
    handful wormwood
    handful meadowsweet
    handful juniper berries
    handful wild marjoram
    handful sage
    50 cloves
    2 oz. elecampane root
    2 oz. angelica
    2 oz. rosemary
    2 oz. horehound
    3 g camphor

    Dr. Valnet has a variation of his own described as an antiseptic vinegar:

    Marseilles Vinegar or Four Thieves Vinegar

    40 g. greater wormwood, Artemesia absinthum
    40 g. lesser wormwood, Artemesia pontica
    40 g. rosemary
    40 g. sage
    40 g. mint
    40 g. rue
    40 g. lavender
    5 g. calamus
    5 g. cinnamon
    5 g. clove
    5 g. nutmeg
    5 g. garlic
    10 g. camphor (do not use synthetic camphor)
    40 g. crystallized acetic acid
    2500 g. white vinegar

    Instructions: steep the plants in the vinegar for 10 days. Force through a sieve. Add the camphor dissolved in the acetic acid, filter.
    Valnet says this remedy, i.e., his formula is useful in the prevention of infectious diseases. He says to rub it on the face and hands and burn it in the room. It can also be kept in small bottles that are carried on the person so that the vapors can be inhaled.
    Dr. John Christopher had a slightly different story and a variation of the formula that is clearly American, not French. His “Four Thieves” story is that there was a man named Richard Forthave who developed a remedy for the plague that was marketed under his name, a name which was corrupted to “Four Thieves.” There might indeed have been grave robbers who used this remedy to protect themselves while they divested corpses of treasures they would no longer need. The King of France had the thieves arrested and they bought their freedom with the remedy they had been using. Thus, the remedy did not fall into obscurity and has been used for centuries since to protect against contagion.

    Dr. John Christopher Plague Formula
    8 parts apple cider vinegar
    5 parts glycerine U.S.P.
    5 parts honey
    2 parts garlic juice, fresh
    2 parts comfrey root concentrate*
    1 part wormwood concentrate
    1 part lobelia leaf and/or seed concentrate
    1 part marshmallow root concentrate
    1 part oak bark concentrate
    1 part black walnut bark concentrate
    1 part mullein leaf concentrate
    1 part skullcap leaf concentrate
    1 part uva ursi, hydrangea, or gravel root concentrate
    Mix the ingredients well!

    *Due to new restrictions on comfrey for internal use, it is suggested that slippery elm be substituted for this ingredient.

    How to make the concentrates:
    Each concentrate should be made individually. Start by soaking the herb for four hours or more in enough distilled water to cover it completely. After soaking, add more distilled water so that the total added equals 16 oz. (.5 liter) water per 4 oz. (113 grams) herb. Use a multiple of these amounts for a larger quantity of formula. Using these amounts approximately one gallon (3.75 liters) of the formula will be produced.
    After adding the appropriate amount of distilled water to the soaked herb, simmer the herb on very low heat in a covered pan or double boiler for thirty minutes. Then strain the liquid into a clean pan. Put the liquid into a double boiler or on very low heat (uncovered) and simmer (steam) it down to one fourth of the original volume (4 oz. 1256 ml). Only after all ingredients have been prepared should the liquids be mixed.
    Do not use aluminum, Teflon, or cracked porcelain. Glass, corning ware or stainless steel or whole porcelain are best.
    Dosage: 1 tsp. 3 times a day; or 1 tablespoon every 1/2 hour if infected.

    Here is another version, much simpler to make, offered by one of my colleagues, Karen Vaughn, Licensed Acupuncturist and Herbalist.

    1 pint unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
    5 drops rosemary oil
    5 drops oregano oil
    5 drops lavender oil
    5 drops sage oil
    5 drops peppermint oil
    5 drops clove oil
    4 drops lemon oil
    3 drops black pepper oil
    1 drop capsicum oil
    1 head garlic finely diced
    3 oz ginger finely sliced
    4 oz echinacea tincture

    Warning: Be sure to use unadulterated, therapeutic grade essential oils.

  13. John W.


    Here’s an easy fast way to peel garlic:
    I do it this way, it’s less messy and tedious, but unfortunately my hands don’t get that garlic smell, either, so it’s a tradeoff.

    I love cooking and eating with garlic and ginger. We make a version of “Fire Cider” with onion, powdered cayenne, apple cider vinegar, and horseradish for the same ailments. Another recipe: http://mountainroseblog.com/fire-cider/

    All the best to you and the whole GYOG team!

    P.S. Just ordered the DVDs, hope to get them soon.


  14. karen green

    Have you ever had an essential oil blend called ‘Thieves” ? It ia wonderful and even more powerful than these vinegars. Let me know if you want some, I would not be with out it. It kills all Bacteria, Virus’ and even black toxic molds.
    Karen, ggmam@hotmail.com

    • Marjory Wildcraft

      Hi Karen,

      Oh thanks for your kind offer!

      I love essential oils, and have a collection just to smell them. Seriously…

      My concern about oils is, how can you make them in your backyard?

  15. Paul and Kathryn Roberts

    We just want to personally Thank You for all you do and Wish You a very Merry Christmas. Your tips are a lot of fun for us. We look forward to your web site in the coming New Year. Take Care, Paul and Kathryn

  16. Max

    What great ideas from your readers. I make an ‘Elixir” that I use more for relief from colds and flu that seems to work. Simmer the following, strain off & discard solids and add honey only after all has cooled to 140 degrees or less:
    Apple juice, grated ginger, cayenne, garlic and organic, never heated honey. This stuff taste pretty good when warm but not when tepid or cold.

  17. Debbie Evans

    A repeat here ~ but a good tip

    Martha Stewart garlic peeling trick ~ it works!
    I got my 2 small metal pans at CostCo ($1.38) [any two odd bowls work it’s just easier with two that match]

    I look forward to your home made vinegar tute.

    Thanks for all your hints, tips, sharing & caring
    Blessings for the Season

  18. Jerry

    There’s a master herbalist, Dr. Richard Schultz, who has been making this for years but with a little different ingredients and it’s called the anti-plague formula…I’ve made it and it’s potent!!!!!

  19. Bridget Broughton

    Hi Marjory :) Awesome video! Thank you for sharing your knowledge,as well. Concerning the finished product, once it’s down to just the liquid for use, do I need to keep it in the fridge? Also, how long does it stay good for? Thanks, again. And Merry Christmas!

    • Marjory Wildcraft

      Hi brigdet,

      Yes, i do keep it int he fridge, although I think it would be fine outside on my porch where it is chilly most of the time anyway.

      Merry Christmas to you too!

  20. Barbara

    My husband just bashes the garlic with the broad side of a large knife or cleaver, THEN peels it. The bruised garlic is that much more potent.

  21. Virginia

    When you have tinctures or tonic herbs soaking for a month or so,
    it is good to start them at the new moon.

    Also, if you place the soaking jar in your dish cupboard, it is away from sunlight and every time you grab a dish, give the mixture a swirl/stir.

    • Marjory Wildcraft

      Virgina, yes. Thanks so much for the full moon tip. And for reminding us to shake it a bit every now and then.

  22. Maridee Broadfoot

    Thank you, Marjory, for all your awesome info sharing. Brava! … that you offer so much care & cultivation of plant medicine & wisdom for free. That practice upholds the highest standard of Healer/Teacher/Sage. Our gardens propagate such bounty,.. inside and out. Thank you!
    Many blessings and love.

  23. Marilyn Sparnicht

    I am so disappointed that a trusted site (for me that is), Homestead Survival, listed your site as a go to site for the 4 Thieves recipe……after clicking on the link, “Grow your own Groceries” there was no video to be seen!! I did have the option to “join” for $10! I may come back and join because I do believe you have info that I would like to have. However, at the moment, I do not have the $10 to join so the video remains off limits! Seems a little unfair that you would “tease” us with the video in that manner!!

    • Hi Marilyn,

      Oh I am so sorry. I didn’t know that video was posted on other sites as a ‘go to’ source. I also wish we didn’t have to charge for anything, but you know the reality of hosting costs, video editing, book keeping, etc. etc. We are a very sincere group dedicated to growing food and medicine off grid. Hang out with our newsletter for a while and let me show you what we are all about.