According to legend, a group of bandits, known only as The Four Thieves, sacked the homes of the dying and the dead during the Plague of the Black Death.
Some say The Four Thieves were brothers, born to either a perfume maker or a midwife trained in herbal remedies. Either way, the thieves seem to have been able to come into direct contact with the incredible virulent and deadly infectious disease without contracting it.
At first the authorities ignored the thievery, sure that the thieves would quickly succumb to plague themselves and save the county the trouble of prosecuting them. When the robberies continued however the law stepped in. They were tried, found guilty and threatened with death if they did not supply the recipe for their elixir. The thieves complied, divulging their secret recipe. Following which, they were promptly hanged.
Not only criminals benefited from herbs to ward off disease. During the Black Death, “Plague Doctors” made house calls to the sick in order to verify whether or not a patient was infected. Their uniform was both bizarre yet practical. Wearing a squat black hat used to identify the doctor’s profession, atop a face covered by an elaborate bird’s beak mask filled with herbs and spices (much like the 4 thieves concoction), and eyes were set with glass, creating thick, protective thick goggles. The body was clothed in a long, floor length waxed coat over heavy leather britches. A sturdy pair of leather gloves and full length leather boots also protected the doctor from contact with his patients, as did a cane which was carried and used to poke at patients, while still maintaining a safe distance (could this be the origins of “I wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole”).
Of course the most interesting part of this uniform is the strange bird mask. While it would have been fear inspiring enough to keep patients at a safe distance, it is not that different from modern doctor’s face masks, used to protect against airborne germs. Whether it was this, or the herbs themselves in the beak that proved most effective is unknown, if either.
For hundreds of years after and reportedly still, variations on the Four Thieves vinegar has been used as a cure-all for the plague and other diseases. Although these accounts are impossible to verify, and the effectiveness of the specific herbs is unknown, the ingredients of this potion are all natural antibacterial, antiviral agents. Sources even note: “Nostradamus owned a perfume manufacturing enterprise, (meaning distillation of plants to make essential oils.) People who worked in these facilities did not succumb to the plague”
The original Four Thieves Vinegar is said to include: elecampane root, wormwood (the hallucinogenic ingredient of Absinthe, illegal in the U.S), Juniper berries, sage, and cloves. Other versions include, garlic, camphor and lavender. This and other variations can be found HERE.
A note on Garlic:
As a child, an uncle of mine who lived in Mexico, got into a bar brawl and served several years in prison for manslaughter. While he was incarcerated, he took to eating raw garlic for it’s medicinal, immunity building properties. Eventually, the warden separated him from the other inmates, giving him his own cell. Apparently, his fellow inmates couldn’t stand the odor of garlic exuding his every pore. Because of this, I have eliminated garlic from my recipe.
The recipe below seems to be a very practical recipe (due to the antibacterial, disinfectant properties of each herb), perfect for warding off the common cold. I recommend carrying a small spray bottle full of this mixture with you at all times as a natural antibacterial & disinfectant spray.
Basic Four Thieves Vinegar Recipe
2 Cups of apple cider or white vinegar
4 Tbsp. Rubbing Alcohol
4 Tbsp. dried lavender flowers
4 Tbsp. dried rosemary
4 Tbsp. dried thyme
4 Tbsp. dried sage
4 Tbsp. dried peppermint
1. Combine all the ingredients and seal tightly in a glass jar. Place the jar in a warm, dark cupboard for four weeks, shaking occasionally.
2. After four weeks, strain the mixture, cut with equal parts water, and decant into a spray bottle.
Special note: If you are using herbs fresh from your garden, triple the amount specified in the recipe.
Note: Im also curious if using the rubbing alcohol alone is what disinfects, regardless of the rest of the ingredients…My conclusion on this matter is that the aloe and herbs will stop your hands from drying out at the very least…
Note that homemade herbal antibacterial sprays are not registered disinfectants.