Four thieves vinegar is an herbal remedy that is a mixture of vinegar, herbs, spices and garlic. In medieval times, it was believed that four thieves vinegar protected against the bubonic plague.
Four thieves vinegar is also known as Marseilles vinegar or prophylactic vinegar. It is taken orally to fight illness, sprayed as a disinfectant, used as a soak for foot fungus and applied to the scalp as a dandruff remedy. There are a variety of recipes for four thieves vinegar, variously using distilled vinegar, red wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar. The vinegar is infused with garlic, camphor and herbs such as mint, rosemary, sage, lavender, thyme and rue, and it is left to steep for anywhere from one to eight weeks, depending on the recipe. It is traditional to use four herbs in honor of the four thieves, although some recipes include as many as a dozen herbs.
According to legend, a gang of thieves were caught robbing the homes of persons who were sick or had died from the plague.The thieves claimed that the vinegar concoction had protected them from the plague. One version of the story is that the thieves were set free in exchange for the recipe. Another version is that the thieves were sentenced to bury the dead and created the vinegar recipe to protect themselves.