Monday, January 27, 2014

The Fire Cider Fiasco

What is Fire Cider?
Have you heard of fire cider? It's a traditional herbal remedy often used in the wintertime. Thousands of people across the globe make this herb-infused vinegar as a preventative and cure-all. The recipe differs from person to person, but almost always contains garlic, onions, ginger, horseradish, and peppers, sweetened with honey to taste, in an apple cider vinegar base. I first learned to make it when I was in herb school back in 2000, although the formula I was taught contained cayenne instead of the more commonly used jalapeno. Personally I prefer honey-based elixirs over vinegars, but my personal taste aside, fire cider is a pretty well-known remedy in herbal circles everywhere, and thanks to the internet, is no longer limited to herbalists and grandmothers' kitchens. Search for it on Pinterest, or put it into a Google search and you'll get thousands of hits, a mix between DIY recipes and indie herbalists offering their pre-made fire ciders.

Who Invented Fire Cider?
Probably the most famous proponent of fire cider is Rosemary Gladstar, founder of Sage Mountain and the Women's Herbal Conference. Often referred to as the godmother of herbal medicine, almost every herbalist in New England, and many across the US and across the globe, have learned something from Rosemary, through her published books, online or in-person courses, or through word of mouth. Rosemary is a guiding light in the herbal community, and most people who know, make, and/or use fire cider have heard of it through Rosemary. Even though so many people learned from her, Rosemary doesn't claim to have invented it, and instead credits traditions that came before her.

Who "Owns" Fire Cider?
Nobody. It's a remedy that belongs to all of us. It belongs to "the people". It's a remedy to be shared from person to person, through generations, across state, country, and continental lines. Nobody really knows who invented fire cider, and nobody owns fire cider. 

Or, that's what we all thought.

Until yesterday.
(For me at least. For some it was a bit earlier.)

The Theft of "Fire Cider" From the People.
Yesterday Ryn from The CommonWealth Center for Herbal Medicine shared a blog about fire cider on their Facebook page. Or, more specifically, Fire Cider®. A company, Shire City Herbals, right here in MA, had trademarked the term "fire cider". I couldn't even get halfway through his blog before going to the USPTO to search for the trademark. I was sure there had to be a mistake. How could something so universal be trademarked? Yet there it was. Filed on 04/20/12 and officially registered on 12/18/12. Yes, in 2012

How did it take us all so long to find out? I'm not sure, but I can only guess that nobody knew until Shire City Herbals started enforcing their trademark rights by having sellers like The Withered Herb remove their fire ciders from Etsy.

I finished the article, read the response by Shire City Herbals, clicked through all the links, and became really angry. No, livid. I rarely swear, but every dirty word in the book popped into my head. You know in the Christmas Story when Ralphie gets back at Farkus and all the kids stand there with their mouths gaping, in shock at the words that came flying out of his mouth? That was happening to me, but I managed to keep it contained.

Protesting the Fire Cider Trademark
I posted my (censored) thoughts on Shire City Herbal's facebook page, spread the word to a few more, and internally tried to follow the lead of more understanding protesters by wondering if maybe it had actually been just a mistake. Maybe they didn't really know that fire cider was such a universal term. Maybe Shire City would just apologize and release the trademark. Maybe we could even run a crowdfunding campaign to help them get a new trademark. I know how expensive the process is. I went through it less than two years ago. I decided to sleep on it.

But here's the thing.

I woke up thinking about it.

Thinking about how they claimed it. Thinking about how they said, "I did not invent the name Fire Cider, I got that percolating through the herbalist underground, without attribution" (Ryn has this quote in his blog, along with a link to the original posting of it on Facebook).

They admit to taking the name. Here they are practically saying that the name belongs to them because they were the first ones to think of trademarking it.

I was happy to see that someone created a "Revoke Fire Cider Trademark" petition. Even happier to see that right now, as I'm writing this, there are over 1600 signitures, less than 24 hours after it was made. Especially after reading their response to all the protesting, which alludes to their invention of fire cider. Yes, I'm serious. Read it.

What We Want (and why we want it)
I can't speak for everyone, but most of us agree on these things:

  1. Shire City Herbals DID NOT invent fire cider. 
  2. Shire City Herbals SHOULD NOT own "fire cider", as it is a universal term for a generic product. There is not one fire cider. Everyone has their own formula. Absolutely, they should protect their product. Just not the universal term.
  3. Shire City Herbals SHOULD release their trademark on "fire cider" and give it back to the people.
Being able to trademark a universal trade term such as "fire cider" sets a scary precedent. Who will be the first to trademark "elderberry syrup" or "herbal bitters"? Those are both as universal as "fire cider". It's not a far stretch to see this happening if Shire City Herbals is allowed to keep "fire cider".

What You Can Do
Shire City Herbals has had a fair chance to make things right, being contacted directly by Rosemary Gladstar (see below), and other herbalists, but they hold fast to their "too bad, so sad" attitude. So, it's up to us to take some action to guide them in the right direction.

Write to Shire City Herbals and let them know how you feel. Contact Brian, Amy, or Dana directly by using any one of their names "". Or, go to their facebook page. Speak your mind, but try to be civil. We want to be taken seriously, not blown off as "venters" as we have been so far.

Their brand of fire cider is sold at stores all over Massachusetts and across the country. Let your local health (or other) store owner know what is going on. If you plan on boycotting, let them know that as well.

Sign the petition.

EDIT: I don't know how I could forget this one, but spread the word! Share this blog, share the original blogs by Herbal Revolution and A Withered Herb (these two blogs are how many of us found out), share the petition, share your words. Share one, share all. Just make sure that the word gets out. Shire still doesn't seem clear on exactly what they've done here. (Their newest response on their facebook page begins, "Fire Cider is not considered a generic term by the government- this is the problem!!!")

EDIT II: There is also an open facebook group called Fire Cider that you can join to keep updated.

EDIT III: Last night (01/27), Shire posted on their Facebook page asking for two weeks. We (as a group) want to honor this by not sending them anymore emails. Give them a chance to think. But, don't stop spreading information to friends, family, and retailers, and keep collecting signatures. Make sure people are aware.

A Message From Rosemary Gladstar
I emailed Rosemary last night, and was not expecting a response, but I got one. This was not sent to just me, but several others:

"Dear Lisa,  thank you for contacting me. I just found out about this situation a few days ago and, of course, was surprised and extremely disappointed that someone would think they had the right to trademark a name and product that's been in public use for over 3 decades.   I had written to the gentleman directly, hoping to be able to persuade him that this wasn't his name to trademark as I didn't want it to go public without giving him the opportunity to rescind his trademark. Unfortunately, he seems pretty set in his 'right' to own the name even though I first made  fire cider and gave it its name over 35 years ago.  In the meantime I've taught hundreds if not thousands of people to make it, who have them taught others….this product is clearly a 'peoples medicine' and isn't to be 'owned'.   Of course, as with most herbal products, its based on old formulas, so it's even pretentious for me to say 'I made it up'.    My grandmother used herbs, vinegar and honey and she probabily learned from her grandmother.  We all learn from one another….. 

My guess is that this man or his sister (I think its actually his sister or sister in law who makes the product) learned how to make it from someone who read the directions in my book or from one of my classes, or, perhaps, one of my students.   They thought it was a great recipe, which it is, and decided to make it for others, as so many others have done, and have been doing for centuries. That's the beauty of herbs, learning and passing the information on. Like so many others, he, too,  decided to make it and sell it. All great, but then to lay claim to something that's clearly not his to lay claim, is wrong.  And to then tell others they can't use the name anymore!! What am I suppose to do, remove it from all of my literature, copyrighted books, class handouts and correspondence course?! 

Personally, I don't think that a good response is necessarily anger, but rather a clear message that this isn't to be tolerated in the herbal community.  That we  as a community are here to teach, educate,  heal, and share information,  recipes, and ideas.  Furthermore,  with something like Fire Cider that's been in use for so long, and a product whose name is already well known and circulated in the world, he nor anyone else has the right or privilege to take ownership of it.   He can certainly make the product and even call it Fire Cider, but if he wants to trademark it, he needs to make up his own name, and, ideally, a product that's uniquely his own.  If we allow Fire Cider to be trademarked, then it sets a precedent.  Next we'll see Rosemary's Famous Face cream trademarked or Kloss's lineament, Kava Chai, Chaga Chai, etc etc. Its one thing when you make a totally unique product and give it a name that's not been used before. But this clearly isn't the case in this situation.  He may have brought the trademark and thinks he owns the formula and name, but  he's doing it at a great cost to himself, and his company.  

I spend hardly any time on the internet or Facebook so am behind the times in what information is being passed along  in 'cyber space'.  But please do feel free to post this response. What I would suggest is for people to actively respond to this person with a kind but clear and straightforward  that this isn't going to be  tolerated.  He needs to rename his product.  Fire Cider was around long before he ever starting making and using it and that unless he recinds on the trademark, we will spread the word like wildfire. He may end up owning the name but he won't  have a very popular or successful business.   We also needed to cc Etsy on all correspondence, as  they too, need to understand the situation.  

Thank you again for contacting me.
With you in herbal ways, 
Rosemary Gladstar"


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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Annual Birthday Sale

It's another year for Wunder Budder!

Ok, it's another year for everyone, but January 2014 marks the end of our fourth year and beginning of our fifth year.

What? You thought we started in 2002, not 2010, you say?

That's true. Someday we'll figure out a way to make this not confusing.

If you haven't heard the story yet... From late 2002 to late 2009 Wunder Budder was a seasonal home business, and products were only available through me directly, in person, or through someone I knew. It was more of a hobby that I paid taxes on, a dream I didn't want to let go. I'm glad I didn't.

Through a series of events in late 2009/early 2010, I decided to make it a full-time thing, left school, rented a studio to work out of, and made my first website. The rest is Wunder Budder history.

January of 2010 is when Wunder Budder became "real", so that's when we celebrate Wunder Budder's birthday.

It's our birthday and we're happy you're here (here, as in part of it all!), it's the new year, it's wintertime (aka Wunder Budder season), and it's the perfect time to start making changes.

It's also the perfect time for a sale. So that's what we do.

Once a year everything on our website goes on sale. Everything is 5%-25% off.

It's the perfect time to stock up on items, try out new things, or just pick up a couple of your favorites.

The Annual Birthday Sale runs from 01/01/14-01/15/14 or as supplies last. The sale is on our existing stock only, so get it while you can!

I hope you all have the happiest and healthiest 2014, 

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