The nights are growing colder and the colours start to brighten; there is an almost imperceptible shift in the air that heralds the approach of Autumn. This is a very special time of year, particularly so for those of us who really live with Winter.
Somewhere, deep in our genes, there is a collective memory of times when we spent our lives intimately with the Earth; following the cycles of her seasons…her light and her dark. Our survival was linked to this shared rhythm of Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter, and our lives were built around them. We are still tied to this turning of the wheel and respond to the inner urgings of our ancient selves, whether we acknowledge them or not.
It is why, in the deepest depths of Winter’s barren months, we dream of seeds and soil and planting. It is why we impatiently wait, in fresh Spring, for the Earth to awaken to receive our seeds. It is why we grow and tend our crops, almost religiously, in the burning heat of July. It is also why we harvest and fill our pantries and our freezers and our cupboards with food to carry us through the cold. Even one jar of jam or jelly; colourful, sweet and delicious, is a reminder of where we have come from and where we are going. It is an acknowledgement of our labour and a promise that spring will return. It is a ritual that is far older than we are and a reminder of who we are; the legacy of our ancestors who lived with the Earth. Herbalists, by choice, have tried to realign our energies with this tradition.
Amongst myriad other duties and responsibilities held by herbalists, we make medicines.; for ourselves, for our clients and for our communities. We garble and we macerate, we tincture and we press.
We learn about and from our plant allies ( a teaching that never ends) and are constantly aware of what herb is growing, flowering, needing to be harvested. We learn where the energies need to be in the plant to make the most potent medicine and we plan, mark and execute our year by the plants we study and use; each species and variety has it’s own lifecycle and we need to be in tune with the plant to best understand and use the medicine it offers.
Summer is busy for herbalists. It is when we are working with plants…blissfully learning, building relationships and cultivating.
As Summer begins to fade, however, there comes an almost manic awareness of change and a tremendous call to create medicine. While the sun is still bright and there is warmth in the air, we know what is coming and feel the pull to prepare. Make medicine. Get ready for what is coming next.
The first medicine of Autumn that I am always drawn to make is Fire Cider. As a tonic, it is warming, nourishing, protective and bracing; it is like lighting the furnace for Winter and revving up the engines. It also feels a little bit ( or a lot) like old magic come back to guide us. There is something grounding and strengthening about the ritual of taking medicine made from Earth’s bounty…worked by hand…prepared with love and intention. This daily routine is medicine in and of itself. It is self care and attention that we often do not take the time to offer to ourselves.
Fire Cider is a modern medicine, brought into awareness by the inestimable Rosemary Gladstar ( Mother of modern western herbalisism); Fire Cider combines several traditional principles and actions.
There are as many versions of Fire Cider as there are stars in the sky (ok…maybe not QUITE that many!) but they all have a similar feeling and follow a loose formulation.
Fire Cider is prepared as an Acetum or an Oxymel. An Acetum is a tincture in which the biochemical constituents of a plant are extracted using vinegar instead of alcohol or water. This is a process which involves a little belief and a lot of patience. Once all of the ingredients are cleaned, prepped, chopped and diced they are added to a vessel, covered with vinegar and tucked away into a cool dark place with care and good intentions. Once a day, for a period of at least 4 weeks, the tincture is shaken vigorously and then put back to bed. After the 4 weeks has passed, the Acetum is pressed, separating the plant material from the vinegar and what is left is now a potent medicinal tonic full of antioxidants, immune modulators, anti-inflammatories, circulatory stimulants, antimicrobials, liver support, digestive support and many other beneficial properties and actions too numerous to list ( have I already mention the stars in the sky?!).
At this point, Fire Cider can be used. It can be taken by the spoonful, added to soups, salads, rice or whatever else sounds like a good idea. It is perfect on the cold days when the chill of Winter settles in the bones and you despair of ever being warm again. Fire Cider can be taken daily or used whenever the body is feeling run down or as though it is getting ready to do battle with some unseen virus or pathogen.
Fire Cider does pack a bit of a punch, and for those who are worried that is might be a bit much or who would like to add even more healing/protecting actions to the medicine, the Acetum can be made into an Oxymel; the vinegar extraction is added to honey. This provides another dimension of nourishment and protection to the medicine (it is also delicious!) and is the best way to engage children in taking the medicine.
Of course, it should be mentioned that all of the ingredients used in the formulation – from the herbs/vegetables/fruits to the vinegar and honey- should be organic, raw and non-gmo; medicine will not serve our bodies or the Earth if we make it with poison.