Hot Debate Over ‘Fire Cider’

Updates on a trial deciding whether “fire cider” can be trademarked, the California super bloom, and how to visit the River of Five Colors in Colombia.

Photo by Adobe Stock/zetat

Prominent herbalist Rosemary Gladstar sent out a triumphant announcement in the beginning of 2019, eager to share that a court date had finally been set for Shire City Herbals’ trademark infringement claims against three independent herbalists.

The case concerns a folk remedy often called “fire cider,” a pungent herbal drink made from apple cider vinegar, garlic, onion, and horseradish, along with variable amounts of such ingredients as lemon, honey, and cayenne (usually tailored to the maker’s needs and tastes). Unpleasant as it sounds, many herbalists swear by its ability to ward off the sniffles of the cold and flu season, and it’s found in many folk herbalists’ repertoires and recipe books. The name became fairly common in folk medicine circles after Gladstar shared her recipe by that name in early 1970s.

In 2012, not long after Shire City Herbals, a small Massachusetts-based company, began selling the tonic, it sought a trademark on “fire cider.” According to Dana St. Pierre, the founder of Shire City Herbals, he trademarked the brand name to protect his product from being poached by larger corporations.

However, the move sparked fierce backlash on social media, with herbalists around the country angered at the monetization of a folk name. Shire City Herbals refused to budge on their position, stating that they “have followed best business practices and the advice of the legal community,” and that they simply asked that “all those who want to sell commercially” change the name of their product. Then, in 2014, they sent Etsy makers of “fire cider” cease-and-desist letters. A grassroots resistance followed, taking the form of boycotts, negative reviews, and even a petition sent to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the trademark.

Things escalated further in 2015, when Shire City Herbals sued Nicole Telkes, Mary Blue, and Kathi Langelier — known as the Fire Cider Three — for $100,000 in damages for the boycotts they helped to spearhead, and for trademark infringement. A federal judge threw out the damages claim in 2016, but the trademark infringement claims still stand.



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