Apple Cider Vinegar in Ancient Greece

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Apple Cider Vinegar in Ancient Greece

Postby ScottOden » Sun Apr 22, 2012 2:08 pm

I came across a paragraph the other day that made me wonder about something. Bragg Live Foods sells an apple cider vinegar drink ( ... honey.html ), among other things, and they advertise it with the following paragraph: "Apple Cider Vinegar has been highly regarded throughout history. In 400 B.C. Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, used it for its amazing natural detox cleansing, healing, and energizing qualities. Hippocrates prescribed Apple Cider Vinegar mixed with honey for its health properties." Curious, I went to the Internet Classics Archive and searched the works of Hippocrates for every instance of the words "apple cider vinegar", "apple", and finally, simply "vinegar". Only the last word came up with any hits, which I've included below:

Hippocrates, "On the Articulations", Part 86: "The treatment, if no fever be present, consists in the administration of hellebore, but otherwise (it is not to be given, but oxyglyky (decoction of honeycombs and vinegar) is to be given for drink, if required." (

Hippocrates, "On Fractures", Part 11: "But if there be no fever, we must give emetics, as has been said, and administer the other remedies which are applicable when the fever is not of a continual type; but if continual fever be present, we must not give strong medicines, but enjoin abstinence from solid food and soups, and give water for drink, and not allow wine but oxyglyky (a composition from vinegar and honey?)." (

Hippocrates, "On Injuries of the Head", Part 14: "And in making the incision you must separate the flesh from the bone where it is united to the membrane (pericranium?) and to the bone, and then fill the whole wound with a tent, which will expand the wound very wide next day with as little pain as possible; and along with the tents apply a cataplasm, consisting of a mass (maza) of fine flour pounded in vinegar, or boiled so as to render it as glutinous as possible. (

Hippocrates, "On the Regimen of Acute Disease", Part 7: "And further, barley or tares may be infused and boiled in diluted vinegar, stronger than that it could be drunk, and may then be sewed into bladders and applied; and one may bran in like manner."

---- Part 16: "But if it appears advantageous to use a great deal of this drink during the whole course of the disease, one should add to it merely as much vinegar as can just be perceived by the taste, for thus what is prejudicial in it will do the least possible harm, and what is beneficial will do the more good. In a word, the acidity of vinegar agrees rather with those who are troubled with bitter bile, than with those patients whose bile is black; for the bitter principle is dissolved in it and turned to phlegm, by being suspended in it; whereas black bile is fermented, swells up, and is multiplied thereby: for vinegar is a melanogogue. Vinegar is more prejudicial to women than to men, for it creates pains in the uterus."

---- Appendix, Part 20: "If he labors under difficulty of breathing, if it is the summer season, and if he is in the prime of life, and is strong, blood should be abstracted from the arm, and then he should eat hot pieces of bread, dipped in dark wine and oil, drink very little, and labor much, and live on well-fed pork, boiled with vinegar, so that he may be able to endure hard exercises." (

Hippocrates, "On Ulcers", Part 4: "When the ulcer is clean, but both it and the surrounding parts are inflamed, lentil is to be boiled in wine and finely triturated, and, being mixed with a little oil, it is to be applied as a cataplasm; and the leaves of the hip-tree are to be boiled in water and pounded in a fine powder and made into a cataplasm; and apply below a thin, clean piece of cloth wetted in wine and oil; and when you wish to produce contraction, prepare the leaves of the hip-tree like the lentil, and the cress; wine and finely-powdered linseed are to be mixed together. And this is proper: linseed, and raw chaste-tree, and Melian alum, all these things being macerated in vinegar."

---- Part 5: "Boil the roots of the holmoak in sweet white wine; and when it appears to be properly done, having poured off two parts of the wine, and of the lees of wine as free of water as possible one part; then boil, stirring it, so that it may not be burnt, at a gentle fire, until it appear to have attained the proper consistence. Another:-The other things are to be the same; but, not withstanding, instead of the wine, use the strongest white vinegar, and dip into it wool as greasy as can be procured, and then, moistening it with the lees of oil, boil, and pour in the juice of the wild fig-tree, and add Melian alum, and natron, and the flowers of copper, both toasted."

---- Part 6: "Another:-Sprinkle on it dried wakerobin, and add the green bark of the fig-tree, pounding it in the juice: do this with or without wine, and along with honey. Another:-Boiling the shavings of lotus with vinegar (the vinegar should be white); then mix the lees of oil and raw tar-water, and use it as a liniment or wash, and bandage above. These things in powder prevent recent wounds from suppurating, or they may be used for cleansing the sore along with vinegar, or for sponging with wine."

---- Part 7: "And there is another preparation of the same:-The strongest vinegar of a white color, honey, Egyptian alum, the finest natron; having toasted these things gently, pour in a little gall; this cleanses fungous ulcers, renders them hollow, and is not pungent."

---- Part 8: "Of the slender cress in a raw state, of horehound, of each equal parts; of the dried fig, two parts; of linseed, two parts; the juice of the fig. When you use any of these medicines, apply above it compresses wetted in vinegar . . ."

---- Part 9: "The juice of the grape, the strongest vinegar, the flower of copper, natron, the juice of the wild fig-tree. Alum, the most finely levigated, is to be put into the juice of the wild grape, and it is to be put into a red bronze mortar and stirred in the sun, and removed when it appears to have attained proper consistence."

---- Part 10: "Then, having sponged the ulcer and cleansed it, bandage it as before, and compress it a little more.
Next day, wherever the medicine has not been taken in, sprinkle it on, press it down, and bandage. But when you wish to remove the medicine, pour in hot vinegar until it separate, and again do the same things, sponging it away, if necessary."

---- Part 14: "When you have removed the blood, you must not press hard upon the part with the specillum, lest you produce contusion. Bathe with vinegar, and do not allow a clot of blood to remain between the lips of the wounds, and having spread greasy wool with a medicine for bloody wounds, and having carded the woof and made it soft, bind it on, having wetted it with wine and oil."

---- Part 17: "Otherwise coagula of blood will be retained in the incisions and inflammatory ulcers will arise from
them. In all such cases the parts are to be bathed with vinegar, after which they are not to be wetted; neither must the person lie upon the scarifications, but they are to be anointed with some of the medicines for bloody wounds." (

None of these courses of treatment jibe with the use of apple cider vinegar in the paragraph from Bragg (or any of the similar paragraphs/histories across the internet). Further, I searched Perseus Project for the words "apple cider vinegar" and found nothing. I can find no evidence that the Greeks even had a word for apple cider vinegar, nor that they made vinegar from apple cider to begin with.

My question is: am I missing something? Is Hippocrates' use of ACV just an urban legend given long legs by the health and fitness industry? Any help or insight would be greatly appreciated!



Pezhetairos (foot soldier)
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Re: Apple Cider Vinegar in Ancient Greece

Postby ScottOden » Sun Apr 29, 2012 4:10 pm

I wrote to the company and asked them if they knew where their assertions that Hippocrates prescribed apple cider vinegar originated. Their customer service folks sent this back:

You can find it in the actual book of Hippocrates. It may be available online or you can certainly find it at the library.
Thank you and best in health.

Having gotten the feeling they're clueless, I replied with the following:

Per your advice, I searched online for the book of Hippocrates. Via the Internet Classics Archive (, I discovered 17 books authored by Hippocrates – part of a larger collection called the Hippocratic Corpus, described by as:

“. . . a body of about 70 medical texts written between the 6th and 4th centuries B.C., but mostly, between 450 and 350. Hippocrates of Cos, the putative author, did not write all of them and may not have written any of them. The people who wrote the treatises do not all agree with one another. There are two main schools of medicine identified with the Hippocratic Corpus, the schools of Cos and Cnidos. Only one text of the Hippocratic Corpus has been identified as probably having been written mostly by a specific person -- Hippocrates' son-in-law, Polybus, who was also his pupil. This is On the Nature of Man, which contains information on the humoral theory associated with Hippocrates.” ( ... Corpus.htm)

Unable to determine which of the 17 books attributed to Hippocrates might contain information regarding the use of apple cider vinegar in Antiquity, I searched each book. First, I employed the search phrase “apple cider vinegar” and received no hits; next, I narrowed the focus in stages: “apple cider”, “cider vinegar”, “apple vinegar”, “apple”, “cider”, and finally “vinegar”. Only the very last term resulted in a positive search. Out of the 17 books traditionally authored by Hippocrates, only 5 contain the term “vinegar”; it is mentioned most often in the book “On Ulcers”, which deals with the treatment of infections. I have included the search results below, with relevant links:

[See extracts in my first post, above]

Now, the drink Hippocrates espouses in the first two extracts, oxyglyky, is also rendered in English as oxymel. Pliny the Elder, in his encyclopedic Natural History, gives the traditional recipe for oxymel as a mixture of honey, old vinegar, sea-salt, and water that is allowed to boil ( ... apter%3D29). Investigating further, I used the resources at the aforementioned Perseus Digital Library ( to discover the Greek word for vinegar most often used by Hippocrates. That word, and its various declensions, is oxos – “sour wine”. There is no reference I could find of an ancient Greek wine made from apples, though a certain wine from the island of Thasos had an apple fragrance, according to ancient Greek and Roman writers, and was extremely expensive (which led to attempted counterfeiting by unscrupulous merchants who would add apple flavor to cheap table wine). Indeed, even the word “apple” in ancient Greek (mēlon) meant “tree-fruit” and was used for any type of non-berry hanging fruit. I could find no word in ancient Greek for apple cider vinegar.

So, why does any of this matter? It probably doesn’t to most people. The average consumer could care less if Hippocrates used apple cider vinegar or wine vinegar, so long as the modern version of the drink works for them. Advertising is about illusion, not fact. But to me, as a published author and amateur ancient historian, if a product claims such a storied antiquity as ACV, then the facts of that antiquity should be readily apparent. As it stands, linguistic data points to Hippocrates having used wine vinegar in his practice; there’s no evidence he knew of, or used, apple cider vinegar. It’s equally evident that the ancient Greeks had no knowledge of ACV, even anecdotal, since they failed to give it a name in their own language. I am not so naïve as to think any of this will cause you to alter the way in which you present your products, but it would be a refreshing change of pace in today’s marketplace. I do plan to use this research as a basis for an article that deconstructs the myth of Hippocrates and apple cider vinegar.

Discussing this with friends generally leads to jokes about a certain man from La Mancha and his penchant for tilting at windmills. I know it doesn't matter one whit in the real world, but I wonder where the association between ACV and Hippocrates got its start, and why no one has called them on it, before. Or is this one of those topics students of Antiquity just have to grin and bear, like Alexander's handedness or Caesar's rumored epilepsy?

I'm curious as to what others think . . .



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Re: Apple Cider Vinegar in Ancient Greece

Postby amyntoros » Sun May 06, 2012 3:55 am

Scott, I've been meaning to post here for weeks - since your first post actually. Unfortunately I keep getting caught up in real life (and debates on the main forum!) Just wanted to say that your second post is pretty much what I wanted to say, although I wasn't in a position to provide so much detail.

So many things can be turned into vinegar. When you are using grapes, knowing how to stop that vinegar process is what makes wine, and turning that wine into vinegar is a very simple process - I've even done it myself. So, in essence, you can make vinegar from whatever kind of wine or fermented alchohol that you have to hand. I'll never forget buying my father a wine-making kit when I was in my twenties. His first attempt was to make wine from potatoes. Darn wine was so potent that it almost killed my first husband! I'm mentioning this because it kind of ties in with the apple-cider vinegar claim. If what you have mostly to hand is apples, then apple cider followed by apple-cider vinegar is quite logical. The Greeks grew apples, and various other kinds of fruit which they also named apples, as you have stated, but what they grew in abundance were grapes (and olives, but they don't count here!). It just seems logical to me that when they made vinegar, it would have been from wine.

Can't add much to your references, but I do have a couple of quotes from The Healing Hand: Man and Wound in the Ancient World by Guido Majno.

Page 224 ... Pliny reports that whole volumes had been written on how to prevent wine from turning into vinegar. He mentions turpentine and all sorts of resins, pitch, honey, spices, perfumes, salt, even sea water. Between spices and perfume there was no clear-cut boundary. Myrrh was the veteran preservative. "The finest wines in the early days were those spiced with the scent of myrrh. Remember the myrrh wine offered to Jesus before he was put on the cross. "He was offered drugged wine, but he would not take it." The great variety of aromatic wines was probably a matter not only of taste, but also of preservation.

Page 367, referencing Celcus, De Medicina. ... If any wound admits of neither of these (suture or fibula) it should none the less be cleaned. Hence, upon every wound there is to be applied, first a sponge squeezed out of vinegar, or out of wine if the patient cannot bear the strength of vinegar.

Seems to me that if one had to choose between applying wine and vinegar to a wound, the odds are pretty favorable that the vinegar was also made from wine!

Good luck with your research on this. I, at least, am more than interested. I love all these "small" details about the ancient world.

Best regards,

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Re: Apple Cider Vinegar in Ancient Greece

Postby SearcherofReason » Wed Feb 11, 2015 10:00 pm

I know these are old posts, but I'm so fascinated by the discussion that I must comment. Scott, I admire your research and your dedication to the truth. If more people were like you on the earth, then we'd have a better world! Sadly, few people dig beneath the surface to find truth beyond all the internet wasteland of false information.

While I appreciate your research that included word searches for "apple cider vinegar", I think you may have missed the nutritional aspect of the link between vinegar and Hippocrates. If you research fermented foods, including all types of fermented wines and apples, you'll find that all fermented foods have powerful germ killing properties. It doesn't really matter if the fermented food, or vinegar, is made from apples or wine or another type of food. The same healing power lies in the probiotic and enzymatic properties of the fermented food. This even applies to raw fermented dairy products like raw milk kefir. Fermented raw foods which were used in ancient medicine are reemerging on the health scene.

What is powerful about Hippocrates use of vinegar is that he understood the health benefits of fermentation that are being rediscovered today. Scientists are finding that all health issues are related to the digestive system and the lack of probiotics and enzymes. There is a proven link between low enzyme counts and chronic disease. You may be interested to look at books like The Second Brain by Michael D. Gershon where he details the links between our digestive system and every other part of our lives.

So while a company like Bragg is touting it's "apple cider" version of vinegar and Hippocrates may have used another type of vinegar, I don't think it's relevant to the claims. Surely, the benefits of various fermented foods are varied because of the nature of the food, but the overall benefit of a fermented vinegar is the same whether it's apples or wine. Sadly, it's almost impossible today to find traditionally fermented foods as pasteurization has become the cost-effective norm for food preservation. But the use of fermentation of foods for the healing of internal diseases is a powerful and scientific remedy as much now as it was in Hippocrates time.

I hope you find that helpful!

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