Health fads are annoying. Most of them are silly and have very little basis in reality. And they don’t even taste good most of the time. Kale is gross, everyone. Seriously. Just stop. Even chef Martín Rios of Restaurant Martín thinks so.

Most of the current health food trends focus on products designed to lower inflammation or to help with digestion. There are cases of kombuchas and probiotic beverages all over the place. You can even get kombucha on tap at the Violet Crown Cinema, in case you want to eat a whole tub of popcorn and then prevent that stomachache.

The problem with most health fads is that they don't actually address the root issues. We eat garbage. We are over-stressed in our daily lives. We live in extremes. A magic potion won't fix this. No matter how much Dr. Oz or Gwyneth Paltrow promote it, snake oil is still snake oil.

That said, there are some foods that are genuinely beneficial: Turmeric is nature's ibuprofen, honey helps with allergies and the herb feverfew will clear up a headache. The go-to home remedy for hippie crowds, the favorite be-a-better-you food to bring up, is apple cider vinegar. You can find shelves of the stuff at Whole Foods and organic grocery stores. You can't throw a rock without hitting someone in Santa Fe who will tout the benefits of the stuff.

In general, vinegar has been said to cure everything from inflammation to cancer. While it's not that potent, it does do some things we can all agree are wonderful. It has been said to help pH balance and inflammatory diseases and to help regulate stomach acids. Drinking it while eating is supposed to squash your hunger reflex, so it's good for dieting. Adding small amounts to foods lowers the glycemic index of carbohydrates, so it's good for diabetics.

Very little of this is backed up by hard science. But folk medicines exist for a reason, and vinegar has had a place in folk remedies for millennia. In ancient Rome and Greece people drank posca, vinegar with water and herbs. The main reason to create such a concoction was to make poor-quality water taste better and to kill the bacteria in it. These watered-down vinegar-based drinks have come to be known as shrubs. My favorite has always been the version called switchel, or haymaker's punch, which has recently had a bit of a resurgence in popularity.

Switchel has cloudy origins. It's rumored to have come from the Caribbean, but there are also claims it originated in New England. Whatever the origins, it entered into mainstream usage in America in the late 1700s and was served to farmhands during harvest time as a refresher. Switchel varies from other versions of shrub in its addition of ginger to make it taste "warm." Farmhands were unable to drink alcohol while working, and the ginger gave a burn that resembled the sensation of drinking booze. Ginger also has the benefit of being a strong natural anti-inflammatory.

It's not worth buying expensive ready-made; the drink is pretty easy to prepare. Chances are you have most of the ingredients in your pantry. All you need is water, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup and ginger. The version here is also a great base for cocktails. Whiskey goes great with it, as does rum. And who knows, it might make you feel better too.

Ingredients:

Makes 2 quarts

  • 1 5-inch piece of fresh ginger
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Pinch of salt
  • 5 cups sparkling water
  • Fresh ginger, mint and blueberries to garnish (though any berry will work)
Directions:
Peel and juice the ginger; you should end up with ⅓ cup. You can use a garlic press for this. If you don’t have a juicer or press, you can chop the ginger and boil it in 3 cups of water. Let the ginger steep for 30 minutes. If you use this method, cut the amount of water added later by however much you end up with steeping. The boiling method will produce a lighter taste.
In a pitcher, add the ginger and apple cider vinegar. Stir in the maple syrup until it has fully dissolved. Add the lime and salt.
At this point you can refrigerate or serve. It’s better if it sits for a bit so that the flavors combine. When ready to serve, add sparkling water and give the pitcher a good stir.
I like to use clear serving glasses since this is a pretty drink. Muddle mint and blueberries in the bottom. Add a few slices of fresh-cut ginger. Drop in a few ice cubes and pour the switchel over top. Add a mint sprig or lime slice for garnish, and you are ready for summer.