The History of Thieves (Oil/Vinegar)

The History of Thieves (Oil/Vinegar)

During the time when the Black Plague ravaged Europe, huge parts of the populations were being infected and dying . At this time of rudimentary medieval medicine, they did not understand what was really going on, or how this sickness was being spread.

Whole households were dying. People were asked to bring the dead bodies out of the houses, where they would be piled onto carts and brought to be burned or buried. Houses with known plague victims were marked on their doors with red Xs so people knew to stay out.


With so many people suddenly being deceased, houses were left abandoned. Just like people loot and pillage today in times of crisis, these were full houses, just waiting to be plundered for anything of value. But who would enter into a known plague domain? Not anyone that didn’t want to end up the same way. In France there was a small band of thieves (4 to be exact) that did seem to be going into plague homes and stealing items, and living to keep stealing.

When these thieves finally were apprehended, the judge asked what their secret was to be able to dodge the plague, and to save them from the hangman's noose, they told:

These clever men were using an herb infused vinegar to soak rags in and their skin and clothes. Their traditional recipe is as follows and was made for centuries after:

Soak in wine vinegar for a half of a moon cycle:

Wild Marjoram

Some versions contain Garlic, Lavender, Rue, Mint and Thyme.

Besides these herbs having disinfectant qualities, many of them, like wormwood and clove, have insect repelling qualities (which would have kept the plague infested fleas away). This blend in one form or another has been made for centuries after and has been referred to as the 4 thieves vinegar or Vinegar of 4 thieves, and Marseilles Vinegar.

In the 1990’s a popular essential oil company branded and trademarked their blend of 5 essential oils with the Thieves name based on the similar qualities to the original vinegar, thus leaving all herbalists and aromatherapists without the use of this common name that many use to refer to numerous antibacterial concoctions.


Today you can find this oil blend with Eucalyptus, Rosemary, lemon, cinnamon and clove, recreated by many different oil companies and apothecaries. Our blend comes with 5 essential oils and in concentrated oil for diffusing into the air, fabric and body safe spray, as well as cleaning vinegars for surfaces. Check out our Anti-Plague oil here:

Back to blog

You might be interested in...