Clove was used to fight against the Black Death, ISP
Clove was used to fight against the Black Death, ISP

Four Thieves vinegar is an old recipe based on vinegar and herbs but today many substitute the herbs for essential oils. Although the therapeutic properties of herbs are not exactly the same as essential oils, you can make a version of the recipe using essential oils. The original Four Thieves vinegar herbal recipe has in itself been used and adapted over the centuries but the following essential oils can be used in place of the herbs for a similar purpose. Just remember to use a good quality essential oil with true therapeutic properties.

This post is for informational purposes only.

Origin of Four Thieves Vinegar

The original Four Thieves Vinegar (Vinaigre des Quatre) contained a base of vinegar (red, white or cider) which was infused with herbs. Popular legend tells us that it was used during the time of the Black Plague in Europe (approximately 1348 – 1350) but it may have been used both prior to this period of time and after. The herbs used in the original recipe contained strong anti-bacterial properties which were said to protect people from succumbing to the disease. How the recipe was “invented” is open to discussion as there seems to be various stories told about its origins. Many variations and adaptions of the “original” ingredients also developed. In addition, remember that this recipe was based on herbal use, not the essential oils which we use today, so properties of the plant may vary in different formats.

Today, the following essential oils are in popular use for creating an oil based version of Four Thieves vinegar; you can either dilute the essential oils in vinegar or use undiluted as advised below. Basically, if an essential oil has either antiseptic and anti-bacterial properties, you can use it in this blend to protect against bacteria, germs and disease.

This post is not a definitive guide to all the essential oils used to create a version of Four Thieves Vinegar; other essential oils include sage (Salvia officinalis), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), and mint (Mentha spp.).

Cinnamon Essential Oil

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) is a member of the Lauraceae plant family; it is tropical tree which is native to Sri Lanka, southern India and Indochina. Cinnamon has traditionally been used as a spice. However, it has also been used medicinally since ancient times in the treatment of colds, flu and digestive problems.

Cinnamon essential oil is also a potentially toxic oil if not used correctly and in moderation. However, it has strong antiseptic and anti- microbial properties. The essential oil is extracted from both the bark and the leaf of the plant, with a difference in the percentage of chemical components.

Clove Essential Oil

Clove (Syzygium aromaticum) belongs to the Myrtaceae botanical family. The clove tree is cultivated in tropical places such as the Philippines and Indonesia. Common as a spice, clove has traditionally been used as a tincture for skin and digestive problems, in addition for the treatment of intestinal parasites.

Clove essential oil is a potent essential oil and should be used with care in aromatherapy practice; use in low dilution and be aware that it might cause skin and mucous membrane irritation in some individuals.

Eucalyptus Essential Oil

There are various species of eucalyptus essential oil which are used in aromatherapy practice; Eucalyptus radiata and Eucalyptus smithii are two of the most common species used. Eucalyptus is native to Australia and belongs to the Myrtaceae plant family.

Eucalyptus oil is predominately used for its antiseptic, anti-viral and and anti-bacterial properties in aromatherapy practice. According to Valerie Ann Worwood, in The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, the disinfectant properties of eucalyptus oil actually improve with age.

Lemon Essential Oil

Lemon (Citrus limon) belongs to the Rutaceae plant family. The lemon tree is native to Asia but is now found in many different places, such as the Mediterranean region, South America and some states of North America.

Lemon has traditionally been used in Europe to treat many types of infectious diseases. It has been used for malaria, typhoid and to treat scurvy on English ships. Franchomme and Penoel, 1990, state that lemon essential oil has anti-viral properties (Price and Price).

Rosemary Essential Oil

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) belongs to the Lamiaceae botanical family. It is an evergreen bush or shrub that has pale blue flowers and silver-gray leaves shaped like needles. It flowers in the spring.

Rosemary has been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times. In Medieval times, sprigs on rosemary were hung in doorways and carried for protection against the Plague, a devastating epidemic that wiped out millions of lives.

Rosemary essential oil is used for its anti-microbial, antiseptic and anti-bacterial properties, amongst others. Rosemary was effectively used in a blend with pine, thyme, peppermint, lavender, clove and cinnamon oils to purify the air and reduce the existence of pre-existing microorganisms in a laboratory test (Valnet 1980) (Price and Price).

Using Essential Oils for Four Thieves Vinegar

The chosen essential oils can be blended together in an undiluted format and used to clean down work surfaces. The blend can also be diffused through an aromatherapy diffuser. Never put undiluted essential oils on the skin; blend in a base first. You could also dilute the blend in a vinegar base which is ideal for cleaning down work surfaces. Consult a qualified aromatherapist for further advice.

Learn More About Essential Oils with Sedona Aromatherapie

If you wish to learn more about using essential oils safely and for a number of purposes, consider one of the Sedona Aromatherapie courses!


  • Lawless, Julia, 1995, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils UK: Thorsons

  • Price, Shirley, Price, Len, 2002, Aromatherapy for Health Professionals, 2nd Edition UK: Churchill Livingstone

  • Worwood, Valerie Ann, 1991, The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy US: New World Library

  • Author’s own experience and training

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