Folkloric Immunity Tonic
Below is my version of a warming, restoring, folkloric immunity tonic. It is spicy, sweet and sour. I started making it some years ago after a few bouts of serious winter illness that always seem to settle in my lungs; but this tonic is not just for winter. In our house, we take it year round. Honestly, a shot of it feels so healing. A few years ago I was experimenting with drinking vinegars, shrubs and fermented fruits for my blog Hungry Ghost Food and Travel which inevitably led me to this tonic. For a long time I didn’t integrate what I learned as a kid growing up on a small family farm into my life in New York and then slowly over time I started to see these movements here that were so familiar. I began to return to my roots, one of gardening and canning and pickling and making home remedies. Growing up in Western Mass in the late 70’s, I was no stranger to this way of life. The vibe in the area was an interesting mix of conservative yankees and ex New York liberals who became the next generation of back to the land hippies.
My stepmother was an avid gardener and self taught herbalist, as were most of the women in my neighborhood. They all had amazing herb gardens, they got together occasionally to share plants and seeds. I first read about the concept of healthy drinking vinegars and fire cider in a book she had; it was Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes For Vibrant Health. I revisited Rosemary’s book when I was making shrubs. This more curative vinegar based tonic was a natural progression as I began to look at food as medicine. Rosemary first made a version of what she called fire cider in the late 1970’s when she was teaching at the California School of Herbal Studies. I like the word folkloric to describe this tonic because it is something that has been passed down through may cultures and many generations, through spoken word. It has many incarnations and no one really knows when or where it started, but most cultures have a version of a healing vinegar tonic. The amazing thing about a recipe like this, is that it is not a recipe at all; just a set of guidelines, notes a friend might pass to you to do with it as you wish. It belongs to no one. My version has morphed and changed with time and place. The current mood it takes on is the local terroir of upstate (where I forage for anything and everything) as well as the flavors and inspirations of my travels.
The basic ingredients in this tonic are; vinegar, ginger, turmeric, garlic, horseradish, onions, lemons, chilies and honey. I add dried sumac, rose hips, pine and hibiscus for an extra boost of vitamin C and always extra turmeric and black pepper for anti inflammatory properties. In my last few batches I have been adding bee balm, fennel pollen, cranberries and a bit of bee pollen.I sometimes mix young ginger with mature ginger. You get the idea. Once you have the base you can really experiment. Gathering all your ingredients for this health tonic is almost as fun as drinking it. Before you start chopping and grating, take a moment to revel in what you have gathered. I have started growing horseradish and turmeric in pots in my kitchen. They are surprisingly easy to grow and are both such pretty plants. I don’t grow near enough for the amount I need to use, but it makes me feel good to grow plants I can use for health and wellness in my New York City loft.
If you start making this in big batches you may want to search out a farmer who grows turmeric, ginger and horseradish. It can get a little costly if you buy from health food stores or larger grocery stores. I started sharing half a case of fresh turmeric and young ginger a couple years ago with my friend India. We order it in the early fall. It comes from a farm in Western Mass. but now, more and more, people are growing ginger and turmeric and you can probably find them at the farmers Market. Last year, I cheated a little and instead of getting a large knob of horseradish root, I picked up some freshly grated horseradish at a market in Pennsylvania. There are quite a few farms around Lancaster that are growing delicious horseradish. I Didn’t notice any difference in using freshly grated or the pre-grated horseradish, so I would say do what is easiest. You might not want to spend the time chopping and grating it yourself. This year I am adding some deep red hibiscus from a trip to Oaxaca and some dried rose hips and sumac from upstate as well as some rose petals from Pushkar. I am always on the lookout when I travel for easy things to bring back and they inevitably end up in my cooking. Ingredients and market hunting are at the crux of what inspires me. Salt, honey, dried flowers and spices are high on that list. I hit the market wherever I am traveling first thing and if I know I will be cooking, I often travel with spices I cant live without. I don’t want to scare you off with all the foraged and stowed travel bits , because you can jazz this up or strip it back to just the key ingredients, so I will just stop here. The items with an asterisk are optional and in the end I want you make it your own!
You will want to make a BIG batch because once you share it with friends they are going to be asking for more. You might want drink it at the first sign of feeling a bit of a cold or sore throat or you might want to take shot everyday as preventive.
Makes approximately two gallons. Takes 4-6 weeks to mature.
Make it now to combat that New Year Hangover or that inevitable winter chill.
The most basic recipe is below. The add ins are just for fun and you shouldn’t feel worried or intimidated if you cant find or don’t have any or all of the add ins.
2 cups chopped ginger root
2 cups freshly grated horseradish
2 medium sweet yellow onions chopped fine
1 medium red onion chopped fine
20 cloves plump fresh garlic chopped fine
20 1 inch nubs of fresh turmeric (finely chop) buy turmeric root at your local health food store Whole Foods or farmers market. Turmeric is insanely good for you so don't worry if you cant measure 20 one inch nubs exactly . A little more wont hurt.
* You can used dried turmeric if you cant find fresh. Substitute 6 tablespoons dried turmeric.
4 organic lemons de-seeded, juiced and peeled. I peels the skin making 1/2 inch strips (it looks pretty in the jars)
4 dried red chilies ( give them a little smash in the mortar
and pestle to release the oils)
2 tablespoons crushed Himalayan pink sea salt
2 tablespoons crushed black pepper
24 cups of organic apple cider vinegar (192 fluid ounces)
4 cups raw honey
OPTIONAL ADD INS ( I used all of the below in my most recent batch)
4 tablespoons dried sumac powder*
1 cup organic raw cranberries chopped*
30 dried whole small organic rose hips *
1 cup of dried organic rose petals*
1 cup of organic dried hibiscus flower*
1/2 cup buzzed dried white pine powder* ( dry the needles and buzz to a powder in your food processor. Pine is super high in vitamin C and you can make a tea of what you don’t use!)
6 tablespoons organic bee pollen*
1 1/2 tablespoons wild fennel pollen*
1/2 cup dried bee balm *
Chop ingredients, measure lemon juice, salt and cracked pepper and any add ins if you are using any.
Add all your chopped and dry ingredients together in a large glass bowl.
Add the lemon juice and Give the whole mixture a thorough stir
Divide the chopped ingredients evenly into four half gallon Mason jars
Top each jar with 6 cups of organic apple cider vinegar.
Cover the top of the jar with baking paper or cheese cloth before screwing on the metal lid. The metal will corrode if you don't.
Place the jars in a darkened, room or cool pantry for one month.
Periodically turn the jars gently.
After one month (or more if you want to leave it longer)
Strain the liquid from the chopped and macerated roots and other bits with a fine mesh sieve. ( reserve the bits)
Strain the tonic it into a large bowl or pot and give your Mason jar a quick rise.
Pour the strained tonic back into a clean Mason jar.
Repeat this process for all 4 jars.
Add 1 cup of raw honey to each Mason jar. (add more or less to taste, stirring constantly until it dissolves)
Your tonic should be spicy and sweet but not overtly sweet.
Refrigerate or keep in cool dark pantry and decant into a smaller bottle for easy access. Take daily or when you are feeling little less than stellar.
Save the strained roots and macerated debris to be jarred and stored in a smaller jar in the fridge. You can use the chopped relish in your favorite dragon bowl or in fried rice., or even on a pork taco.(SO GOOD) I substitute it for Kimchee (see Julia Turshen’s Kimchee fried rice recipe in Small Victories, substitute some fire relish for the kimchee)