Here in Erie, throughout the Commonwealth and indeed across the country, herbalists and users of herbal medicine are facing a critical issue. This short message is intended to help raise awareness, offer resources and ask for your support so that together we can protect one small element of the "The People's Medicine".
Like many traditions, herbal recipes are passed down from generation to generation, ensuring that all get to reap both the pleasures and the benefits of age-old recipes. We are coming together to address an issue rooted in trademarking that is now in the courts. The focus? "Fire Cider".
The details are many, but in short: "Fire cider is a traditional herbal remedy used primarily for colds and flus. This mixture of garlic, onions, horseradish and cayenne covered with apple cider vinegar [and infused with honey] is a powerful winter tonic. Herbalists and grandmas have been making variations of this recipe for hundreds of years."1 Indeed, we owe much to herbalist Rosemary Gladstar's efforts and unwavering enthusiasm to return many forgotten yet once common, recipes to us all. A respected teacher and elder in the herbal community, Rosemary began talking about this traditional remedy, gave it a twist of her own, published recipes, taught classes and decades ago dubbed it "Fire Cider", keen to share the healing power of plants. Ten years ago, a quick Google search would have found "Fire Cider" references abounded on the web. Sales from regional herbalists sported their own unique twists. Fire Ciders were sold on eBay, Etsy, on individual websites and larger commercial sites.
Fast forward to 2012. A newly-established Boston-based company, Shire City Herbals, filed a trademark application for the name "Fire Cider". For those that do not know, a "trademark" mandates exclusivity. Sadly, the trademark was approved. It now means that no one else can use the age-old term "Fire Cider" for commercial activity. It's like trademarking the terms "coffee" or "blue jeans". Proprietors of Shire City Herbals, Brian, Dana and Amy now face the hurdle of defending their trademark. Their tactics.
Threatened legal action in 2015 finally went to court in March of this year. Mary Blue of Providence, R.I.; Nicole Telkes of Cedar Creek, Texas; and Kathryn Langelier of Lincolnville, Maine face a $100,000 lawsuit. The charges? Trademark infringement, disparagement, unfair trade practices, and other related claims, including the usurpation of the fire cider domain name. Shire City Herbals has further threatened herbalists and herbal companies, both big and small, with legal action should they not "cease and desist" the sale of their own versions of Fire Cider. Yes, a Google search today will yield a very different result.
As Zoe Greenberg reported in a New York Times article (March 16, 2019), "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." Ms Greenberg went on to quote the Shire City founders saying, "As a business we are a legal entity, and we have followed best business practices and the advice of the legal community. We did not write the law, but we ignore it at our peril... We are asking all those who want to sell commercially to change the name within that commercial setting, that is all."2
It is more than a matter of "etiquette". As herbalists, like cooks, vintners and medicine makers around the globe, we rely on tradition. Have we strayed so far from our roots that "apple pie" should no longer be called "apple pie"? That "pot roast" and "lasagna" have become monikers of the past? Should we fear asking for a "cup of tea"? These are traditional terms in the kitchen. And while Rosemary Gladstar has begun to work with the US Patent office to create a list of common traditional medicine terms, prompted by this violation of tradition, she remains committed to protecting our herbal roots, protecting the people's medicine. There are a few things that we as individuals can do.
- First we can be informed (resource list below).
- Second, we can show our support for Mary Blue, Nicole Telkes, Kathryn Langelier and Rosemary Gladstar. We can write, sign petitions, and perhaps most importantly, we can vote with our feet.
- Please boycott the purchase of Shire City Herbals Fire Cider. As representatives and members of the herbal community, we ask that you help raise awareness about this dilemma. If you see Shire City products being sold, please speak to merchants and point out the importance of maintaining access to common language, medicinal and otherwise.
Here in Erie and elsewhere, autumn is the traditional time to make Fire Cider. We look forward to your joining workshops at the Co-op at that time; learn how to make Fire Cider with kitchen ingredients so that we can continue the tradition of safeguarding our health and the health of others with accessible, affordable and reliable remedies that have been passed from generation to generation.
Please boycott Shire City Fire Cider. Choose the alternative. If you don't see one, make your own or ask an herbalist!
The discussion is freely available here: freefirecider.com
With gratitude and thanks,
Join us in the Community Room on September 14, 2019 for a class demonstrating how to make your own fire cider.