Nance Klehm on swine flu hysteria, Four Thieves Vinegar, organic anti-virals and flu foes


by Nance Klehm

Last week, in response to the swine flu outbreak, Mexico City managed to close its shop doors and empty its streets of 20 million folks. That’s darkly impressive, but consider this: Mexico City, which once was an island, and whose main environmental pressure has been flooding, has also advised its residents to do frequent hand washing—a simple task made difficult because one of the main fresh water pipelines shut down before the outbreak, affecting a quarter of the city’s population. This is not the first drastic water rationing for this populace, nor will it be the last.

With a high level of street culture where informal interactions are inexhaustible and richly layered—in my deepest belly, I xoxox Mexico City even though I usually come out bruised after a prolonged stay—I can’t help but ask how are we “lean in” when social distancing becomes policy, however temporary.


In Egypt, pigs are not only a food source for the non-Muslim population, they are the “clean up crew,” an integral part of the solid waste disposal system in major cities. In Cairo, pigs are mostly handled by the Zabaleen (Arabic for “garbage people”). The Zabaleen (pictured above) are landless farmers and pig breeders, Coptic Christians who migrated to the city 50 years ago from northern Egypt and became the unpaid grassroots garbage collectors of the city. The 60,000 or so Zabaleen make their living absorbing and sorting Cairo’s waste. Raw materials such as steel, glass, plastic, etc. are resold and other materials are repaired, reused or burned as fuel. Their low-tech, metabolic system means that 80-90% of what they collect is reused, recycled or otherwise returned to the economy.

The Zabaleen keep pigs in apartment courtyards, where they are fed food and other waste. The pigs’ waste is used for fertilizer. Pigs also are used for food.

At the start of this year, Egypt hired foreign multinational contractors to manage Cairo’s waste stream, replacing the Zabaleen and existing systems. The result has been higher disposal fees and a much lower recovery/recycling rate of materials.

Why would a country hire a transnational at a high cost when they have for decades had a highly effective grassroots labor of an indigeonous group do it voluntarily?

To make matters even worse for the Zabaleen, Egyptian goverment officials have responded to swine flu hysteria by ordering the slaughter of the nation’s 300,000 pigs…

* * * * *

In light of all this panic around a possible “pandemic,” my seed-saving pal Damon recently reminded me of an herbal anti-viral elixir, the historic anti-plague remedy called “Four Thieves Vinegar.” The story of this remedy, distilled from many versions, goes like this: In France, during the bubonic plague of the early 1600s, poor mountain folk were hired as gravediggers to dig mass burial pits. Thieves made busy looting homes of dead families. It was a few individuals from both of these groups who had the herbal knowledge of anti-virals, putting them to use in warding off the deadly virus. It is said that a few surviving thieves who were captured for their crimes were released when they shared the elixir’s recipie with the authorities.


Using a quart jar or larger vessel, gather equal parts of dried or fresh thyme, peppermint, rosemary, sage, and lavender, a teeny bit of clove if you’ve got it, and, if you’re a believer in the stinking rose, add some garlic. Pour enough of your homemade fruit scrap or cider vinegar to just cover the herbal material. Put a lid on tight and keep the vinegar some place you pass every day, like near your coffee maker or bed, so you can shake or stir it once or more a day. Do this for as many days as you can. Six weeks is the optimal tincturing time. Strain liquid from the plant material and drink a teaspoon several times daily; wipe down skin and surfaces with it for disinfection; or do both as you feel necessary.


Viruses do not contain the enzymes that are needed to live, so they need to have host cells. Those could be in a plant, or an animal or even a bacteria. Without a host, viruses die.

Many of the plants in this remedy are anti-virals – others are also anti-bacterial and/or anti-fungal – I’ve included a full list of easily forageable and cultivatable anti-viral and flu foe plants below.

I’ve taught you how to make fruit scrap vinegar (“Breaking it Down” Weedeater column in Arthur No. 32) and Molly Frances has talked about the uses of apple cider vinegar in Arthur. If you have some of that around then use this as a base. If not , make some so you always have some on hand. Vinegar is so healthy and antiseptic, not to mention delicious, it behooves you to always have some around.

As per my conviction, I only include plants that are easily forageable, cultivated or available in any neighborhood store, urban or rural. This is a decent list but not an inclusive list. I encourage you to do more research around anti-virals and the listed plants.


Aloe Vera—Wound healer extraordinaire that is also anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and when the juice is drunk, helps repair digestive track and soothes ulcers. Always have this plant or a leaf on hand.

Eucalyptus—You lucky Californians! The oil from this common weedy tree is also anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. It breaks up and expels mucous, relieves congestion and cools fevers.

Garlic—The ubiquitous garlic is antiseptic, anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal, immune-stimulating and anti-protozoan. Growing garlic is easy… try it!

Ginger —Yummy and fairly easy to find, ginger is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, diaphoretic, anti-spasmodic, circulatory stimulant, anti-arthritic, anti-inflammatory and more. Can also be used in baths to warm the body and promote sweating.

Hen of the Woods – Forageable mushrooms -Yummy!

Lemon—Again this is a ‘forageable’ for the Californians… Lemon helps fight infections and stimulates immune system

Shiitakes – Easy to grow indoors. Investigate this!

Thyme—Chases mucus from the body. Thyme is antiseptic, antibiotic and anti-microbial.

Wildflower Honey – In its original undiluted state, there is no shelf lfve for honey. If you don’t keep bees, or know someone who does, work on either of these relationships this season. Honey is anti-biotic and anti-inflammatory; it’s an immune stimulant; it’s anti-carcinogenic, a laxative, a cell regenerator, and it’s anti-fungal… etc.!


Clove— Anti-bacterial, anti-septic, anti-microbial, bactericidal. Useful for infectious diseases and respiratory infections. This is something you pick up off a grocery shelf. Invaluable painkiller. I have used this on tooth and gun aches with huge relief.

Common Sage—wonderful for throat and upper respiratory infections.

Hyssop—This is most delicious as a tea. It relieves congestion, cough, sore throats and the constant beautiful blooms makes bees deliriously happy.

Juniper—Anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, antiseptic. Useful for upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, candida, salmonella, e. coli… Good to burn tby our dry toilets… Forageable.

Oregano—This common culinary herb is an anti-infectious agent and an immune stimulant. Who knew? Easy to grow too.

Peppermint—Fights infections, relieves congestion, clears sinuses – yum-yum and so easy to grow.

Rosemary—Anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic. Also for respiratory infections. I love to bathe with this plant. The steaming of this plant also helps relieve migraines. Forageable for you west coasters.

Walnut –A bitter as heck blood cleanser, anti-inflammatory an anti-parasitic. Forageable.

Western Red Cedar – Binds wounds, helps on clearing lungs, diarrhea and an antifungal. Forageable.

Wormwood—Here is my friend Artemesia again, though not the common weedy one. It’s her cultivated cousin of yore…. Wormwood is anti-malarial, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory. In public gardens and therefore forageable with discretion.

Categories: "Weedeater" column by Nance Klehm | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

About Jay Babcock

I am an independent writer and editor based in Tucson, Arizona. In 2023: I publish an email newsletter called LANDLINE = Previously: I co-founded and edited Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curated the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages, Grand Royal and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was somehow listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. From 2010 to 2021, I lived in rural wilderness in Joshua Tree, Ca.

5 thoughts on “Nance Klehm on swine flu hysteria, Four Thieves Vinegar, organic anti-virals and flu foes

  1. Pingback: » Nance Klehm on swine flu hysteria, Four Thieves Vinegar, organic …

  2. i am hugely in love with elder(berries and flowers) for viruses. if any of that hysteria about “cytokine storms” is true, then immune system stimulants might lead to some problems, but elderberry ain’t a stimulant, it’s an immune modulator and it stops viruses from replicatin’.

  3. Good to see the Four Thieves Rx circulating during flu scares as we endured in the recent weeks. As the author of The Healing Powers of Vinegar, The Healing Powers of Olive Oil, and Doctors’ Orders–it’s a breath of fresh air to find natural rememdies being taken with more than a grain of salt.

  4. In reference to the swine flu I think it is important to discuss the alleged origin of it at Smithfield Farms in Mexico. Here’s an article about it, and I don’t think it has been mentioned in much US press. I think US perception of it would be quite different if it were spoken of as US agroindustry overseas problem.

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