There lived, once upon a time, four thieves who risked their lives robbing the dead of their belongings during the time of the Black Death or Plague. Miraculously, none of them succumbed to the disease while others died around them. They continued to gain from their dubious employment until the King’s guard came across them. Rumour had spread of their ability to outwit death and the King wished to know their secret. The four were hauled before the King who demanded the key to their invulnerability, promising their lives if they shared their knowledge. The four had concocted a potion of a variety of herbs and vinegars that was drank and/or rubbed over the body. Once they shared their secret, the matter of whether the King spared them is contentious.
This legend varies in region and time frame, depending on the story teller. However, in the Museum of Paris in 1937, there was a vinegar recipe that was said to have been posted on the walls of Marseilles during the Plague for all to copy and use. This “Marseilles Remedy” included white vinegar, wormwood, meadowsweet, marjoram, sage, cloves, campanula root, angelica, rosemary, horehound, and camphor. Various forms of the recipe have been in print form since 1741 under various names.
Today, a wide variety of recipes and formulas exist in various forms – from essential oil blends, to herbal baths and vinegars. It has many names, but usually features the word “thieves.” All are based on a combination of ingredients that science has now affirmed to be antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, insecticidal, and more. Most blends are composed of a combination of essential oils chosen from a scientific standpoint.