Monthly Articles

The history of Thieves oil/vinegar

You may have heard of the now famous “Thieves” essential oil. It is used for its antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. This essential oil blend takes its name from a historical vinegar blend used for similar reasons.

During the time when the Black Plague ravaged Europe, huge parts of the populations were being infected and dying. At this time of rudimentary medieval medicine, they did not understand what was really going on and how this sickness was being spread.

Whole households were dying, and people were asked to bring the dead bodies out of the houses where they would be piled onto carts and brought to be burned or buried. Houses with known plague victims were marked on their doors with a red “X” so people knew to stay out. With so many people suddenly being deceased, houses were left abandoned. Just like people loot and pillage today in times of crisis, these were full houses just waiting to be plundered for anything of value. But who would enter a known plague domain? Not anyone who didn’t want to end up the same way.

In France, there was a small band of thieves (four to be exact) who did seem to be going into plague homes, stealing items, and were still alive to keep on stealing. When these thieves were finally apprehended, the judge asked what their secret was to be able to dodge the plague – and to save themselves from the hangman’s noose, they told.

These clever men were using an herb-infused vinegar to soak rags in and put on their skin and clothes. Their traditional recipe is as follows and was made for centuries after:

Combine all the ingredients and let sit for half of a moon cycle (15 days).

  • Wine vinegar
  • Wormwood
  • Meadowsweet
  • Wild marjoram
  • Sage
  • Cloves
  • Campanula
  • Angelica
  • Rosemary
  • Horehound
  • Camphor

Some versions also contain garlic, lavender, rue, mint, or thyme.

Besides these herbs having disinfectant qualities, many of them, like wormwood and clove, have insect-repelling qualities (which would have kept the plague-infested fleas away). This blend, in one form or another, has been made for centuries and is referred to as the “Four Thieves Vinegar”, “Vinegar of the Four Thieves”, or “Marseilles Vinegar”.

In the 1990s, a popular essential oil company branded and trademarked their blend of five essential oils with the “Thieves” name based on the similar qualities to the original vinegar. This left all herbalists and aromatherapists without the use of this common name which many use to refer to antibacterial concoctions.

Today you can find this oil blend with eucalyptus, rosemary, lemon, cinnamon, and clove, recreated by many different oil companies and apothecaries. Our blend is with five essential oils and comes in concentrated oil, fabric and body safe spray, and cleaning vinegars.

Check out our Anti-Plague oil here:

Rebecca Piper-Graham is the district manager for Aurora’s Apothecary LLC. She has a degree in law enforcement, as well as education in molecular biology and cellular chemistry. She is also a former certified first responder, first aid instructor, communication specialist, field training officer, hazmat instructor, and is FEMA level 1 certified.

Aurora’s Apothecary brings the most pure form of herbs, teas, tinctures, and topicals to help with maintaining your body, as well as an endless supply of homegrown and handmade items for any occasion. Aurora’s Apothecary has locations in Green Bay, Appleton, and Fish Creek. Visit for more information.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button