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The Practical Herbalist

Thieves Vinegar

It was the time of the Black Death. Plague was sweeping through Europe leaving fear and chaos in its deadly wake. There are stories from this time that tell a tale of a remarkable herbal medicine that is now known as Thieves Vinegar. I always found this story to be one of the most entertaining of the old herbal stories. In my research I have found (as with many old tales) everyone has a different variation. This is the version I like the best.

During the time of the great plague, whole families and villages were laid to waste as people died faster than the survivors were able to bury the dead. Superstition and fear ran wild, as people avoided contact with those that had the plague. Houses where families had died were left abandoned for fear of the disease. Soon thieves would descend on the houses of the wealthy sick and dying. Law enforcement did little to stop the thieves. Often the thieves were known in the villages, and they would turn up dead from the plague. Locals saw the dead thieves as getting what they deserved, a kind of divine justice.

Then a rash of robberies started. A group of thieves started to systematically clean out the houses of the wealthy. At first the locals wondered when the thieves would show up dead from the plague. Time passed, the robberies continued, and they expanded throughout the region. The thieves continued to hit more and more homes. Eventually soldiers were called in to track and capture the thieves. Eventually a band of seven thieves were caught, and jailed. One of the seven confessed to their secret.

The seven thieves had been highway robbers. One day they tried to rob an old woman, she offered them a secret herbal formula that would protect them against plague. She taught them how to pick and cook herbs into a wine vinegar medicine. The thieves drank the mix daily, they bathed in it and they washed all of their stolen booty in the vinegar. As long as they did that, they did not get the plague. It is said that one of the thieves survived prison and passed the formula on to his family who made a business of preparing the medicine.

Many modern companies claim to sell the Thieves Vinegar made from the "original recipe". I have seen several completely different formulations purported to be the correct formula, all with grand claims that theirs is the best and will cure all manner of infection. I do not recommend that people go out looking for the famous secret formula. The important part of the story is the fact that herbs are very effective in treating infection. There are many herbal formulas that can treat infection. Prior to antibiotics, infection was the main focus of every herbal system around the world. Nature appears to have provided anti ineffective agents everywhere. It is the knowledge of how to use them that is truly the powerful medicine that we need to pay attention to.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066