A group claiming that the term “fire cider” is generic and has long been used to describe a type of cider vinegar-based elixir has launched a campaign that seeks to cancel a trademark of the phrase, which is owned by Shire City Herbals.
The “Free Fire Cider” campaign is rooted in a civil lawsuit filed by Shire City against Nicole Telkes of Austin, Texas, Mary Blue of Providence, R.I. and Katheryn Langelier of Union, Maine, each of whom identify as “herbalists” whose work is focused on botanical-based wellness and health remedies.
Shire City, named for its hometown of Pittsfield, Mass., filed its lawsuit in April, 10 months after the launch of an online petition on Change.org seeking to revoke the Fire Cider trademark. The petition includes a copy of the letter that organizers sent to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which claims that the term and recipe for fire cider was originally introduced in the 1970s by herbalist Rosemary Gladstar who has since used it in “her copyrighted and published books, blogs and [sic] you tube videos.”
“This name has become a household name for a blend of herbs historically used to prevent and support the body during times of colds and flu,” the letter reads. “Trademarking this term is like trademarking the word pizza!”
As of today, the petition has nearly 11,000 signatures, many from individuals who are participating in and calling on retailers to boycott Shire City products. The Free Fire Cider website asks visitors to “contact your local stores that carry Shire City Herbals Fire Cider,” noting that Shire City’s “label has a pirate on it, which is very fitting… they are pirating herbal traditions!!”
In a recent article in The Boston Globe, Shire City founders Dana St. Pierre said that he and co-founders Amy Huebner and Brian Huebner feel that they are being unfairly vilified by those behind the campaign.
“People think that we are some giant corporate monster, and that we are this huge dangerous threat to the entire herbalist tradition, and that we must be stopped at all cost right now or there are going to be this unraveling of everybody’s rights,” St. Pierre told The Globe.
Shire City’s lawsuit claims that Telkes, Blue and Langelier allegedly sold products with the company’s trademarked term, according to The Globe, and that the trio has also engaged in unfair business interference and trade practices. Shire City also states that the boycott has caused $100,000 in lost sales, an amount equal to what it is seeking in damages.
Free Fire Cider disputes that the boycott has negatively impacted Shire City. On the contrary, organizers say it had the opposite effect. A press release issued by the campaign states that “in February of 2015, Amy Huebner, owner of Shire City Herbals publicly stated that the boycott ‘effectively doubled their business.’”
While those behind the Free Fire Cider dispute ownership of the term, they do not have a specific definition for the formulation of fire cider; most vary depending on the producer. Of note, Shire City’s Fire Cider product and Gladstar’s recipe, among other versions of the tonic, are significantly different. Shire City’s is a blend of certified organic apple cider vinegar, organic oranges, lemons, honey, turmeric, garlic, ginger and habanero peppers. Gladstar’s recipe calls for a blend of apple cider vinegar, honey, garlic, ginger, horseradish and cayenne pepper.
Other versions of the tonic include a base cider vinegar, but vary in design. The one marketed by Langelier is formulated with a range of botanical ingredients, including burdock root, dandelion root, thyme and rosemary. After being contacted by Shire City in 2014, Langelier renamed her product from Fire Cider no. 9 to Fire Tonic No. 9, however, a description of the beverage on her website refers to it as “Fire Tonic aka. Fire Cider” and notes that “each person brings their own unique ingredients and interpretation to the blend.”