As preventive health gains popularity, more and more people look for natural remedies that can strengthen their immune systems and protect them from illness.
Fire cider is a popular yet controversial tonic. It’s used in alternative medicine to boost immunity and fight colds, even though skeptics argue that it’s nothing more than a spicy concoction.
As such, you may wonder if it’s even worth trying.
This article discusses fire cider, including its health claims and whether science backs them up.
Fire cider is a spicy tonic used to prevent and treat colds by supposedly boosting your immune system. It’s also claimed to improve blood circulation and digestion, among other benefits.
Similar tonics have been used in traditional medicine in the past. This one was developed and popularized in the late 1970s by Rosemary Gladstar, an herbalist and founder of the California School of Herbal Studies.
Fire cider combines hot, sweet, pungent, and sour tastes into one drink. The original recipe requires:
- fresh garlic
- fresh ginger
- cayenne pepper
It instructs you to soak these ingredients in apple cider vinegar for up to 4 weeks, and add honey before drinking.
You can also purchase premade versions of the cider from various food manufacturers.
Gladstar also suggests adding other plants to enhance flavor and target more health ailments. Examples include:
It’s recommended that you take 2–3 tablespoons (30–45 mL) of fire cider throughout the day or one large shot of 1.5 ounces (45 mL) daily to support your immune system. If you’re not used to the strong flavor, you may want to dilute it with water.
Alternatively, you can add the tonic to other recipes, such as:
- meat dishes
Fire cider is made with apple cider vinegar, garlic, ginger, onions, cayenne pepper, horseradish, and honey. Proponents of the drink claim it can help boost the immune system, prevent and treat colds, and aid in digestion, among other things.
Though fire cider has many health claims, there’s little research to back them up.
Immune health and cold prevention
The main reason why people take fire cider is to support a healthy immune system.
However, while proponents of the tonic claim that it can boost your immune system, this isn’t possible — or even desirable. In fact, overactivity of the immune system is a sign of illness rather than optimal health (
There’s currently no direct research on fire cider and its role in immune health, although some research exists on specific ingredients used to make the beverage.
However, this doesn’t mean that apple cider vinegar will fight off bacteria or viruses that can cause colds, flu, or other illnesses in the human body. In fact, there are no human trials to date on the subject (
Garlic is another ingredient in the tonic. One 90-day study in 120 healthy people showed that taking 2.56 grams of aged garlic extract per day reduced the severity of self-reported cold symptoms compared with a control. However, it didn’t decrease cold frequency (
Similarly, honey has antimicrobial properties and is sometimes used to treat cough and cold symptoms. However, while it’s been shown to soothe the throat and possibly reduce cough severity, it hasn’t been proven as an effective remedy for preventing colds (
Small, preliminary laboratory studies have also shown that capsaicin — the main bioactive component of cayenne pepper — may have antiviral and antibacterial properties that support immune function, although this hasn’t been demonstrated in human trials (
Finally, while horseradish and cayenne pepper are pungent and have anecdotally been said to provide relief for nasal and chest congestion, there’s no human research available to support these claims (
Ginger has been shown to be a safe and effective remedy for nausea, vomiting, and stomach upset. It may also improve gastric emptying — the rate at which food leaves your stomach — and intestinal motility. This, in turn, may help relieve fullness and discomfort (
Apple cider vinegar hasn’t been shown to improve digestion in human trials. Even though it’s speculated that consuming the vinegar before a meal increases gastric acid and digestive enzyme production, there’s little research to support this (
On the contrary, apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid, which may delay gastric emptying and increase feelings of fullness. This may potentially lead to unwanted side effects like bloating, gas, and discomfort (
There’s no research to support that the other ingredients in fire cider may improve digestion.
- Garlic and cayenne pepper may support heart health and improve circulation.
- Ginger, horseradish, garlic, cayenne pepper, and honey contain antioxidants that support overall health by fighting disease-causing free radicals.
While some research supports health benefits of these ingredients, no research directly ties fire cider to improved health. Further, many studies used high doses of the ingredients in supplement form that wouldn’t be present in fire cider.
Finally, since you consume the tonic after it’s been prepared, it’s unknown if you will reap the same benefits as if you ate the ingredients whole. Ultimately, more research is needed.
Despite many health claims, there is little research supporting that fire cider improves immune health or other ailments.
Though there are no inherent risks associated with taking fire cider, there are some potential side effects to be aware of.
The tonic contains a high amount of apple cider vinegar, which can degrade tooth enamel over time. Further, because the drink is highly acidic, many people have reported a burning sensation after consuming it (
To overcome this, it’s best to dilute the beverage with warm or cold water. For example, try adding one shot of 1.5 ounces (45 mL) to one cup (236 mL) of warm water to make a soothing drink.
Further, if you have a history of acid reflux, indigestion, or gastroparesis — a condition that delays gastric emptying — you may want to avoid fire cider or dilute it with water before drinking it (
Finally, due to a lack of available research, those who have digestive or metabolic disorders, are taking medications, or are pregnant or breastfeeding should speak with their healthcare provider before trying fire cider.
Little is known about the side effects of taking fire cider, but it’s likely safe for most people. If you have any health conditions, are on medications, or are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk with your healthcare provider first.
You can purchase variations of the tonic or prepare it yourself at home.
To make 4 cups (1,000 mL) of fire cider, you need:
- 3 cups (710 mL) apple cider vinegar (5% or stronger)
- 1/2 cup (56 grams) ginger, chopped
- 1/2 cup (26 grams) onion, chopped
- 1/4 cup (100 grams) horseradish, grated
- 3 tablespoons (24 grams) garlic, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon (1 gram) cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup (85 grams) honey
Combine all ingredients except for honey and apple cider vinegar in a large glass jar with a lid that holds at least 4 cups (946 mL) of liquid. Next, add apple cider vinegar so that it completely covers the other ingredients. Seal the jar tightly and shake well.
Store the jar in a cool, dark place for 4 weeks, shaking it every day or so. After 4 weeks, place a large container underneath a strainer and strain the liquid to remove all solid pieces. Then, add honey to the liquid until it reaches your preferred level of sweetness.
Store the remaining liquid in the refrigerator. Though no expiry date is known, it’s recommended that you drink it within 2–3 weeks.
Most proponents recommend that you take one large shot of 1.5 ounces (45 mL) daily as a preventive measure, either in the morning or at night. You can also add water to make a cold or warm tea, add it to sauces or marinades, or use it as a salad dressing.
You can purchase fire tonic in certain stores. Alternatively, make it at home by following a simple recipe. Most advocates recommend taking one large shot of 1.5 ounces (45 mL) daily.
Fire cider is a spicy tonic promoted to:
- support immune health
- prevent and treat cold symptoms
- improve many other health issues
However, despite these many claims, limited evidence supports using its ingredients as a natural remedy for your immune system, and more research is needed.
There are no clear benefits or downsides to drinking the tonic. You can enjoy it as a drink or tea, or add it to recipes as a flavor enhancer. By itself, though, its high acidity may irritate your mouth or throat, as well as wear down tooth enamel over time.
If you want to add some spice to your life, there’s likely no harm in giving fire cider a try.