“Ring-a-ring-a-roses, A pocket full of posies; Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down…” ~ Traditional Nursery Rhyme.
Spring has arrived and the insects are on the march. My artichokes have aphids, the ants are eating the aphids, there are caterpillars and moths in the brassicas the chickens have mites and the bees have waxmoth. I expect we’ll have the plague of locusts arriving any day now! So many bugs about…
But I have a medieval herbal remedy that I’m going to experiment with as a broad spectrum insecticide.
Four Thieves Vinegar.
The Black Death of 1346-53 threatened most of Europe. With a whopping 80% mortality rate, the plague wiped an estimated 50 million people from the planet. Imagine 60% of your town’s population dying. Such was the virulence of the Black Death. Black Death, or the Bubonic Plague, is a bacterial infection carried by fleas, delivered by rats. Remember that Antony van Leeuwenhoek didn’t discover his “animalcules” or bacteria until the 1670’s. Until his discovery, disease was thought to be spread by “vapours” or foul smells.
Fast forward a few hundred years, and plague emerged again Europe. Life was tough for everyone, especially grave robbers. Sure, the dead and dying don’t put up much of a fight, but it was risky business nonetheless. Because when your victims are blighted with a highly contagious, infectious, life threatening disease, extra precautions are required. And in the 1660’s, four looters faced a judge in Toulouse. The judge was astounded at the thieves continued robust health despite their continued exposure to plague. So the judge offered the quadrant of thieves leniency if they gave him the secret of their resistance to the plague.
Unsurprisingly, the thieves took the deal. The secret to their continued health was a vinegar steeped with thyme, rosemary, sage, and lavender. The blend became known as Four Thieves Vinegar. Garlic was added to the mixture later, yet this basic preparation was used for hundreds of years across Europe to ward off the fleas that carried the deadly bacteria. So perhaps it was the primarily the strong, pungent odour of the Four Thieves Vinegar that was thought to be the effective preventative to the plague. At the very least, unlike other plague remedies such as smoking tobacco or puncturing the bulbous blisters with chicken feathers, the Four Thieves vinegar would have caused the patient no further harm!
The collective antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral and pest deterring reputation of the ingredients is enough to convince me it’s worth experimenting with. Frankly, the vinegar alone would likely be a effective deterrent for most insects. In my research, I found so many recipes for the famed Four Thieves Vinegar. Some accounts even dispute that the thieves story is pure fallacy! Purely for the sake of romanticism, I am going to give it a chance. Also, like most good fables, there is usually a grain of truth.
Four Thieves Vinegar
Two handfuls of fresh Lavender flowers
Two handfuls of fresh Rosemary leaves
Two handfuls of fresh Wormwood leaves.
One whole head of Garlic.
Two litres of Apple Cider Vinegar
It is best to collect your herbs as early in the morning as possible. The heat, sun and wind can diminish their potency.
I minced up all the herbs and garlic, scraping the contents into a large canning jar with a secure lid.
I steeped the herbs in Apple Cider Vinegar for two weeks, shaking the jar occasionally.
Then I strained the vinegar, separating the vinegar from the plant material.
Once I had strained the vinegar, I decanted the Four Thieves Vinegar into a recycled spray bottle and while the chickens were on the loose, drenched the coop with the solution before letting it dry in the sun. Be careful to make sure you don’t get too much of this solution on yourself. It smells pretty awful (thanks to the garlic) but given the poisonous wormwood in the mix, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after use and before preparing food.
I used the remaining minced herbs to scatter in the coop and roost.
I sprayed it on the artichokes in a 1:5 dilution.
Next bee inspection, we’ll spray it around the apiary and closed hive at 100% strength.
So far, so good. It does appear to have an immediate deterring effect. I used mine in the evening, once most of beneficial pollinators have gone for the day. This spray has no residual effect so will need to be used fairly frequently and after watering or rain to be effective. I’ll add a smidge of detergent from now to the spray to help with the spreading and application. And while I wouldn’t rely on Four Thieves Vinegar to entirely eradicate any kind of insect infestation, I’ll likely continue to use it in conjunction with other preparations.
Have you ever tried a Four Thieves recipe? Do you you have your own blend you use? Do you find it works well in deterring insects?
I would love to hear from you, please leave me a comment below.