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Let's Free Fire Cider - Trademarks and Herbal Traditions

Fire cider is arguably one of the best known, and easiest to make, herbal recipes out there. Every fall and throughout the winter, herbalists head to the kitchen and start chopping up the pungent, spicy herbs that give fire cider its name. (Actually, it's not even just herbalists who make this simple concoction - plenty of non-herby people I know whip some up to stay in good health during the cold months.)  Fire cider is a go-to for nipping a cold in the bud, clearing the head and lungs, and supporting the immune system through the winter.

The History of Fire Cider

Fire cider is a term and recipe that was invented over three decades ago by herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, and has been shared freely by her and others in the herbal community ever since. A strong mixture of spicy horseradish, peppers, ginger, lemon, onion, garlic, honey and apple cider vinegar, it’s an original formula that draws on the wisdom of hundreds of years of herbal and folk medicine.

Rosemary sold fire cider in her herb shop in the 1980's, and used the term fire cider in her pamphlets. The term was also copyrighted by her and appeared in her books beginning in the 1990s.

As I’ve mentioned above, the recipe, as well as the term fire cider was freely shared by Rosemary in a spirit of generosity and a desire to spread herbal knowledge to everyone. In fact, since it was invented, many herbalists and small herbal businesses have been selling their own variations of fire cider in small shops and local markets. 

This remedy is an old standby, an essential folk medicine. At this point, fire cider a household name. 

So what's the controversy? Why do we need to "free" fire cider?

A few years ago, a certain company, Shire City Herbals, began making and selling fire cider on a large scale in a commercial capacity. Which hey, there isn't anything inherently wrong with that...

The issue is that they decided to trademark the name "fire cider."

Yes, that's right - they trademarked what is widely considered the generic name of a freely shared, well known folk remedy. This is sort of like putting a trademark on kombucha or chai or Italian sub.

At first glance, maybe this seems like no big deal. But before long, letters began going out to small businesses and independent herbalists who were selling their own versions of this traditional brew, asking them to remove "fire cider" and variations thereof from their product names on the grounds that they were in violation of the trademark. In 2015, the attorneys representing Shire City began sending ‘cease sales’ letters to those same individuals and small companies. Herbalists and small businesses who had been producing their own versions of fire cider for decades were suddenly threatened with legal action.

This is a bit like if Starbucks decided to trademark the generic term "vanilla latte" and then told independent coffee shops that they could no longer use that name. Kind of unthinkable, right? Well, that is essentially what is happening to herbalists with fire cider. 

The concern here is that if a standard, widely known and used recipe and name like fire cider can be claimed and trademarked, our other traditional recipes could be at risk as well. This could set a dangerous precedent. Next it could be Elderberry Syrup, or Calendula Salve, or Lavender Oil, and herbalists might have to alter product names, descriptions, and hashtags to avoid legal trouble. Which means it will be harder for someone searching for, say, elderberry syrup, to find a small business or local herbalist that sells it.

How Can We Free Fire Cider?

Shire City has been approached by Rosemary Gladstar herself (as well as thousands of others via petition) asking them to release the trademark and set "fire cider" free again. They have so far refused to do so. (This article contains a statement from Shire City, as well a response from Rosemary Gladstar, if you are interested in hearing both sides of this story.)

In 2014, a few herbalists and fire cider producers banded together and started a grassroots movement to petition the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to recall the trademark. In response, a lawsuit was filed by Shire City against three of the herbalists, demanding $100,000 in damages the company claims are due to negative publicity against their brand. 

Unfortunately, the suit could not be resolved through mediation and will finally be going to trial this year, on the 25th of March.

If the outcome favors the herbalists, it will set a precedent and send a message that our traditional recipes and names cannot be pirated and pulled out from under us by big businesses.

To be clear, no one is calling for Shire City to stop selling its product...the whole point of this is for all herbal companies to be able to succeed! 

So, how can you help?

  • Sign this petition.
  • Consider donating to the cause. The legal fees and costs associated with this fight have really added up, and any contribution could help lessen the burden being placed on the herbalists who have had the courage to take up this issue.
  • Encourage people in your community to learn how to make their own fire cider. It's so simple to do, and you can get really creative with what you decide to include. I love to throw in extras like rosehips, elderberries, citrus fruits, peppers, nettle, rose...whatever I have on hand that might lend an extra boost (or delicious taste)!

Here is Rosemary Gladstar's original recipe:

Fire Cider

  • ½ cup grated fresh horseradish root
  • ½ cup or more fresh chopped onions
  • ¼ cup or more chopped garlic
  • ¼ cup or more grated ginger
  • Chopped fresh or dried cayenne pepper ‘to taste’. Can be whole or powdered.  ‘ To Taste’ means should be hot, but not so hot you can’t tolerate it.  Better to make it a little milder than to hot; you can always add more pepper later if necessary.
  • Optional ingredients; Turmeric, Echinacea, cinnamon, etc.
  1. Place herbs in a half-gallon canning jar and cover with enough raw unpasteurized apple cider vinegar to cover the herbs by at least three to four inches.  Cover tightly with a tight fitting lid.
  2. Place jar in a warm place and let for three to four weeks.  Best to shake every day to help in the maceration process.
  3. After three to four weeks, strain out the herbs, and reserve the liquid.
  4. Add honey ‘to taste’.  Warm the honey first so it mixes in well.  “To Taste’ means your Fire Cider should taste hot, spicy, and sweet.  “A little bit of honey helps the medicine go down……”
  5. Rebottle and enjoy!  Fire Cider will keep for several months unrefrigerated if stored in a cool pantry.   But it’s better to store in the refrigerator if you’ve room.

A small shot glass daily serves as an excellent tonic Or take teaspoons if you feel a cold coming on.

Take it more frequently if necessary to help your immune system do battle.

 

 For more in-depth info, ways to get involved, and updates on what's up with the fire cider fight, check out freefirecider.com

Be well,

 

 

 

 

All information herein is strictly for educational purposes and has not been verified by the FDA. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease.


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