It was thought that the plague came over from China on merchant ships or the Silk Road via fleas who hitched rides on rats. Add in the Dark Ages lack of cleanliness it is no wonder that a plague could take on such enormous proportions. There is modern research that suggest any number of infectious diseases could have caused these plagues including anthrax and ebola types. Regardless of what caused the rampant plagues in Europe during the 1300's it had an awful outcome. The plague infected lungs, caused boils to erupt in the groin and under the armpits, resulting in fever and vomiting with skin that turned black, most often resulting in death.
But back to this particular legend... and there are a different versions!. In one such story there was a group of thieves who deemed it profitable as grave robbers to seek valuable items from the victims of the plague. In another version there were some theives whose sentence for their crimes was to bury the dead victims of the plague. Either way it seems these thieves came up with a vinegar and hebal cocoction that kept them from getting the dreadful Black Death. Most of these stories are centered in France.
There is another version that has nothing to do with any thieves. A man named Richard Forthave created a popular vinegar and herbal concoction that was called "Forthave's Vinegar" and later was known as "Four Thieves", a corruption of his name.
So what is this Four Thieves concoction exactly? I found that there was more than one variation to this recipe. Specifically it was reputed to prevent the catching of the dreaded Black Death though there are similiar versions that date back to the time of Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician.
One early recipe calls for a number of herbs including wormwood, meadowsweet, wild marjoram, sage, cloves, campanula roots, angelic, rosemary and horehound along with a hefty measure of camphor to be steeped in white wine vinegar for two weeks, strained and then bottled. The instructions were to rub on the hands, ears and temples when approaching a plague victim. Another similar recipe used rosemary, sage and lavender flowers, rue, camphor, garlic, and distilled wine vinegar. Although the recipes may have varied they all had the same purpose to prevent the plague.
Modern versions of Four Thieves Vinegars typically includes sage, lavender, thyme, rosemary, and garlic with the possible additions of rue, mint and wormwood. Traditionally, four herbs would be in a recipe with one for each of the four thieves, but most of the modern version tend to carry more than four possibilities. Eucalyptus replaces the camphor as it would not have even been available in the 1300's as it comes from Australia. Lemon, clove and cinnamon have also been added to the list of herbs.
Today we know that some of these herbs do indeed carry some chemical compounds that work as antivirals, antibiotics, antiparasitics, antifungals and even antiseptics. It is not in my realm of understanding to begin to break these herbs down into their components or validate their uses in any way. I will leave that to those who study herbal benefits.
Somewhere along the road the Four Thieves herbs were incorporated into essential oil remedies (again not my line of work). You can do your own simple google search to see how many companies are selling versions of a Four Thieves essential oil blend.
Even soapers are now making their own versions of Four Thieves soap. Can I say that there is any real benefit to using a Four Thieves soap. Nope! It is a wash off product remember. So why then did I make my own version of Four Thieves soap? It smells good! Plain and simple.
Ingredients found in A Touch of Eden's Four Thieves Soap: olive oil, coconut oil, sustainable organic palm oil, castor oil, shea butter, palm kernal oil, with quality essential oils of clove, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary.