(Also called Marseilles vinegar),
a concoction of vinegar (either from red wine, white wine, cider, or distilled white) infused with herbs, spices or garlic believed to protect users from the plague.
This vinegar composition is said to have been used during the medieval period when the black death was raging and to prevent catching this dreaded disease.
The first time mentioned in Toulouse, during an epidemic of plague 1628-1631, four thieves were arrested when robbing infested people. The four thieves revealed their “secret potion” against the promise to stay alive, but were hung anyway.
In 1720, when Marseilles got hit by the plague, once again, thieves used the same preparation. They drunk the concoction and rubbed their bodies with it, before committing their crimes. It is believed, that the recipe was posted on Marseilles’ wall during this episode.
In 1748, this elixir was recognized for his efficiency against diverse diagnoses and sold in pharmacies for the longest time as a natural antiseptic. Since then, 4 thieves’ vinegar has been used against different forms of contagions.
The original recipe
· Take three pints of strong white wine vinegar, add a handful of each of wormwood, meadowsweet, wild marjoram and sage, fifty cloves, two ounces of campanula roots, two ounces of angelic, rosemary and horehound and three large measures of camphor.
· Place the mixture in a container for fifteen days, strain and express then bottle. Use by rubbing it on the hands, ears, and temples from time to time when approaching a plague victim.
Plausible reasons for not contracting the plague was that the herbal concoction contained natural flea repellents since the flea is the carrier for the plague.
Wormwood has properties like cedar, as an insect repellent, as aromatics such as sage, cloves, camphor, rosemary, and campanula. Meadowsweet, although known to contain salicylic acid, is mainly used to mask odors like decomposing bodies.
Another recipe called for dried rosemary, dried sage flowers, dried lavender flowers, fresh rue, camphor dissolved in spirit, sliced garlic, bruised cloves, and distilled wine vinegar.
Modern-day versions of four thieves vinegar include various herbs, sage, lavender, thyme, and rosemary, along with garlic. Additional herbs sometimes include rue, mint, and wormwood. It has become traditional to use four herbs in the recipe—one for each thief, though earlier recipes often have a dozen herbs or more. It is still sold in Provence.