A witches’ brew was a stew in Grandma’s kitchen, once upon a time. Macbeth comes to mind: “Double, double toil and trouble/Fire burn and cauldron bubble…” What kind of trouble did grandmas mix in their pots? With a pinch of stinky rose and a dash of Chinese billy goat, she wafted the fumes towards her nose and added a bit more ginger root. Just brewing, like her grandmother before her, with a recipe that’s been in her family for longer then she even knows.

Fire cider, also known as cyclone cider, is the common name for this elixir. As a holistic health coach, I’ve always introduced this tincture as my witches brew. Together, clients and I chop and combine the ingredients that make up this natural and medicinal remedy. This old kitchen medicine is a golden piece of history, passed down to me by a friend of my stepfather’s.

I’ve always had an interest in home remedies; maybe it’s in my blood. Years after my grandparents passed away, I learned that my grandfather was the resident healer in his small town of Bayamón, back in Puerto Rico. Picking herbs from the garden, my grandmother would assist. I’d love to hear their version of fire cider. I’m sure they’d have added coriander seeds, cilantro leaves and hot peppers to give it some native flare.

Passed down through the generations, many cultures have created immune boosting remedies used as preventative health measures. Before modern day emergency medicine, preventive care was the best defense. We’ve all known about the healing properties of grandma’s chicken soup, and the thought of a spoonful of castor oil might make a baby boomer shudder with childhood memories. Where is all that old-world knowledge now?

Lurking inside fire cider are foods that contain healing properties: anti-microbials that kill bacteria; anti-fungals; anti-inflammatories; antivirals; and anti-parasitic properties that can help our bodies help themselves. The ingredients of fire cider—things like garlic, ginger, red apple cider vinegar, hot pepper, onion—all mixed together and ripened for weeks or even a month provide maximum probiotics. These powerhouse ingredients can taste like old whiskey sliding from the tongue to the belly, as they create an environment of defense. A teaspoonful is great for upkeep. Two tablespoons can nurse different ailments, such as bacterial overgrowth like candida (or fungal infections), defend against viruses like the common cold, digestive problems and parasitic invasion.

Parasites, viruses and bacteria are part of our everyday lives. No amount of hand washing or Purell sanitizer is going to eliminate them from the dirt or air. They were here before us; no doubt they’ll remain long after us. But clearly a poor diet leaves the body vulnerable to invasions and bacterial overgrowth. Maintenance is necessary to keep our balance in check, and fire cider is one of many modalities that can be used. The amount of beneficial bacteria in this elixir is enough to keep what I call “breakdown bacteria” (or bad bacteria) in check.

Home remedies are not to be taken lightly. They can be powerful; this was medicine before medicine. Still, fire cider isn’t for everyone. Something this powerful could be dangerous to certain bodies. Working together with a trained professional can help decipher the potential dangers. A tonic this strong might have adverse effects for people with ulcers or acid reflux. Fire cider should always be taken with food and followed with water to protect tooth enamel, and supplemental medications should always be cross-checked for safety.

Human bodies have adapted to be synergistic with our environment. We’re all designed in such a way that we can thrive among the different viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites that live all around us. Eating strong by choosing powerhouse healing foods and taking a mindful role in personal health are great ways to enhance your quality of life. Getting back to the basics can protect the body from being broken down prematurely. Having a conversation with Grandma might reveal some family kitchen medicine of your own.

Tara Hitner is a Certified Health Coach (CHC), and the founder of Holistic Healthy Heart. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @hitner_holistic.