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The Battle for the One, True ‘Fire Cider’

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But herbalists from around the country say they have been making and selling fire cider for decades, long before Shire City Herbals even existed. Many trace the term’s use to a 1980s home study course by Rosemary Gladstar, a woman known as a “godmother of modern herbalism” who runs an herbal retreat center in Vermont.

“This is a warming, decongesting tonic and/or medicine that can be taken daily,” Ms. Gladstar wrote under the heading “Fire Cider” in a self-published booklet from the late 1980s. She listed horseradish, garlic, onion, ginger, cayenne, honey and apple cider vinegar as necessary ingredients for the mix. Her book, “Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbs for the Home Medicine Chest” (1999), also contained the recipe. If a cold is coming on, she advised, “Take 1 tsp. every half-hour or as often as needed.”

Among herbalists, there is a culture of sharing recipes, even those that might be profitable.

“It’s a people’s medicine. That’s what herbalism is,” said Ms. Gladstar, 70, in a recent interview. Many traditional recipes, she said, spread through instruction. “You go to someone else’s class, and they’d be sitting there, and they’d be making it,” she said. “And that was fabulous.”

That Shire City trademarked the name “fire cider” was a frustrating breach of etiquette. But that was only the first move in its intellectual property battle. Soon after, the company began sending messages to small-scale vendors on Etsy, asking them to stop selling their fire ciders. When herbalists refused, Shire City reported them to Etsy for violating a trademark, and the website delisted the products.

“They said that they owned ‘fire cider’ and that I had to take my fire cider and remove it,” Pam Mitchell, an herbalist working in Georgia, said in a deposition. “And, of course, we laughed. Nobody can own ‘fire cider,’ so it was just sort of funny.”


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