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Historical recipe: Four Thieves Vinegar

In every issue of BBC History Magazine, picture editor Sam Nott brings you a recipe from the past. In this article, Sam recreates Four Thieves Vinegar, a herbal concoction said to ward off plague and disease

Published: October 29, 2021 at 4:16 pm
  • Preparation and cooking time
    • Prep:
    • 10 mins prep, 4 weeks extraction
  • Difficulty 1/10

The stories behind Four Thieves Vinegar, said to date to the 17th century when plague struck Toulouse in France, intrigued me. The legend tells of four thieves who robbed the homes and corpses of those who had died of plague, but who allegedly survived the disease thanks to a herbal vinegar blend.

The exact contents of the original recipe are unknown, but a version by herbalist Jean Valnet in the early 20th century is said to resemble the original more closely than any other.

Jean Valnet’s version of the original recipe comprises: 3 pints white wine vinegar; a handful each of wormwood, meadowsweet, juniper berries, wild marjoram and sage; 50 cloves; 2oz each of elecampane root, angelica, rosemary and horehound; and 3g of camphor.

I’m no expert in herbal remedies, so I chose to base my Four Thieves Vinegar on a more modern-day version.


  • 450ml Apple cider vinegar
  • 4 Rosemary
  • 4 Thyme
  • 2 Mint
  • 5 Sage leaves
  • 1tsp Lavender flowers
  • ½tsp Peppercorns
  • 1 Garlic, crushed
  • Ginger
  • 1 Cinnamon stick
  • ½tsp Cloves


  • STEP 1

    Place herbs in a pint jar and fill with warmed (not boiling) apple cider vinegar.

  • STEP 2

    Close with a plastic lid or place a natural parchment paper under lid to keep vinegar from touching metal.

  • STEP 3

    Allow to extract for four weeks. Strain vinegar into a glass jar. Store in a cool, dark place.

Recipe based on a version by Laurie Neverman (commonsensehome.com)

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