For years, my family has turned to a mix of cider vinegar, honey and hot water to keep colds at bay. A runny nose, scratchy throat or rheumy eyes would call for a mug of what we called “The Concoction,” recommended to be consumed three to four times daily until no trace of a cold remained. It wasn’t until six-odd years ago that I saw jars of Up Mountain Switchel on grocery store shelves and realized that The Concoction was more than a secret family curative.

Drinking vinegars — a product of longstanding holistic medical practices — have been consumed since the 17th century, when shrubs, or vinegar-based syrups, were added to spirits. Switchel, a naturally sweetened, vinegar-based tonic and member of the drinking vinegar family, was favored by New England farmers during the 18th century for its restorative, thirst-quenching properties (shot of firewater optional).

Cider vinegar, in particular, has long been heralded as a magic cure-all, capable of detoxing livers and halting signs of aging. “‘Old-timers’ in many cultures take a daily tonic of vinegar, often sweetened with honey, maple syrup or another traditional sugar, to help stay healthy,” writes specialty grocer and food-focused entrepreneur Harry Rosenblum in his new, all-things-vinegar cookbook, Vinegar Revival, crediting amino acids in live vinegar with reducing fatigue, irritability, stiffness and soreness. Medicinal claims aside, switchel is best thought of as nature’s Gatorade — refreshing, hydrating, energizing. And if it kills a cold in the act, even better.

Switchel

Makes 1 quart

Ingredients:
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (homemade, or an organic, unfiltered vinegar like Bragg’s)
3 tablespoons high-quality maple syrup
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger (or 2 teaspoons ground ginger)
Pinch of kosher salt
1/2 lemon

Preparation:
1. In a clean quart-sized mason jar with a tight-fitting lid, mix together the vinegar, maple syrup, ginger and salt. Squeeze the lemon juice into the jar and add the lemon half. Fill with water, seal the jar and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

2. Remove and discard the lemon; shake, drink, and enjoy. Switchel will keep tightly sealed in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Buy the Book

The recipe above appears in Vinegar Revival: Artisanal Recipes for Brightening Dishes and Drinks with Homemade Vinegars, by Harry Rosenblum, published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Crown Publishing, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House. Buy Now: $14