Thursday, February 22, 2018

Myrtle: Fresh, Upright, Evergreen Symbol of Success

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills
הֲדַס – Myrtle – Myrtus Communis
Printable Version

Myrtle: Fresh, Upright, Evergreen Symbol of Success
The humble hadas (myrtle), so common in the Mediterranean region, has great significance in the Torah. It is selected as one of the arba minim (four kinds of plants) that we shake in prayer on the Festival of Sukkot. It also appears in the Scroll of Esther, since the heroine of Purim – Queen Esther is called הֲדַסָּה/Hadassah after the name of the הֲדַס/hadas – myrtle. This fragrant, evergreen shrub can grow to become two meters tall. Its branches are thick and its roots are deep. In the Torah, myrtle is associated with success and prosperity:
תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף נז/א
הרואה הדס בחלום נכסיו מצליחין לו ואם אין לו נכסים ירושה נופלת לו ממקום אחר:
“He who sees a myrtle in a dream, his property will succeed. If he has no property, an inheritance will come to him from another place” (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 57a).

Not every myrtle is kosher for shaking on Sukkot. When the Torah commands us regarding this -ritual, myrtle is called עֵץ עָבֹת /etz avot –“boughs of thick leaved trees” (Vayikra 23:40).
This indicates that the myrtle must form a plait of three leaves that issue from one point and cover the base of the next three leaves, and so on, in this way the leaves cover the entire branch. After being burnt, the myrtle not only grows anew but also produces many triple leaves from each joint. It therefore makes sense that these triple leaves were considered especially appropriate on Sukkot, because they symbolized the myrtle’s ability to withstand damage – even fire. The resilient myrtle expresses the hope of strength and uprightness. Long after being cut, myrtle branches remain upright and fresh even without water. It is not surprising that the thick-leaved myrtle has even become a symbol of immortality.

The Righteousness of Esther and the Myrtle
The myrtle represents life, righteousness and prosperity in the Torah, the Prophets and Talmud. It is mentioned three times in the prophet Zechariyah as a parable and metaphor for the righteous Jewish people. “The myrtle bushes that were in the glen” (Zechariyah 1:8), refers to those righteous Jews who guard and preserve the hidden glory of the Shechinah even as she resides in the foreign kingdoms of exile (Yechezkel Anis). Likewise, the name Hadassah teaches us about Esther’s ability to glow in the dark and remain righteous in Achasverush’s decadent palace. Even though she was in a most susceptible position, through her virtue of tzniut (modesty) Esther was able to withstand the negative influence of the Persian culture. Just as the myrtle’s leaves cover its stem and protect the stem from the elements and parasites, likewise our exterior tzniut protects the innate purity of our soul. The sense of smell is the most spiritual among the senses. Therefore, the fragrant myrtle is associated with righteousness.  וַיְהִי אֹמֵן אֶת הֲדַסָּה הִיא אֶסְתֵּר... – He would raise Hadassah – that is Esther (Megillat Esther 2:7). The name Hadassah indicates her great righteousness. Immediately when she was born her great righteousness was known (The Vilna Gaon). Perhaps, just as three kosher myrtle-leaves emerge from one point, the righteousness of tzaddikim is threefold: in the realm of thought, speech and action.

Myrtle’s Mystical Shabbat Connection
Myrtle’s mystical connection to the Shabbat is illustrated by the well-known story about Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Elazar, who hid in a cave in Pekiin during the Roman occupation. At the end of twelve years, the Prophet Eliyahu brought them the good tidings of a change in the government, which made it safe for them to come out of hiding. Father and son now left the cave. Passing a field, where they saw Jewish farmers toiling on the land, they said, “Imagine people giving up the sacred study of the Torah for worldly matters!” No sooner did they utter these words, than the farmer and all the produce of the field went up in smoke. Then they heard a heavenly voice saying, “Have you come out to destroy My world? Go back to your cave!” They returned to the cave for another twelve months, until they heard the same heavenly voice calling them to leave. Seeing a Jewish farmer carrying two bunches of myrtle, Friday afternoon, they asked him what he was going to do with the myrtle. “It is to adorn my house in honor of the Shabbat,” the farmer replied. “Would one bunch of myrtle not be sufficient to fill your house with fragrance?” they asked. The stranger replied, “I am taking two bunches, one for zachor –‘Remember the Shabbat day’ and the other for shamor ‘Keep the Shabbat Day holy.” Then Rabbi Shimon said to his son, “See how precious the mitzvot are to our brothers!” How exactly did the Jewish farmer plan to honor Shabbat with the bundles of myrtle? Arizal teaches us a special Friday night myrtle meditation ritual that involves encircling the Shabbat table while holding two bundles of myrtle and reciting certain Torah verses. Many Sephardi Kabbalists continue this tradition to honor the Shabbat with the myrtle. Even today, according to Arizal’s custom, we inhale the scent of the myrtle before Kiddush. Whoever does not prepare three myrtle branches before Shabbat, when the three angels come to escort the soul they do not find a place to rest. Then they go away, and the soul remains alone and miserable (Rabbi Avraham Azulai, Chesed l’Avraham, wellspring 2, river 49).

The Myrtle and Havdalah: Infusing Darkness with Light
According to the Zohar, one should use a myrtle twig when making the blessing for besamim during havdalah. (Cf. Otz Hat, vol. 2, Seder Havdalah, Zohar part 1, 17b). The fact that the myrtle symbolizes the ability to bring light into the darkness explains why the myrtle is traditionally used in the havdalah ritual – bringing the light of Shabbat into the darkness of the week. On the night following Shabbat, during Havdalah, when we bless on the myrtle, the additional soul goes out with this scent, and immediately the three angels that dwell on the myrtle go with it and escort it to its place. At the time of departure, the additional soul blesses the owner of the house because of the satisfied spirit it received (Chesed l’Avraham).
שו"ע אורח חיים - סימן רצז הלכה ד דיני בשמים הבדלה
נהגו לברך על ההדס כל היכא דאפשר: הגה - וי"א דאין לברך על הדס היבש דאינו מריח, רק על שאר בשמים (טור בשם הר"ר אפרים והר"א מפראג), וכן נהגו במדינות אלו. ונ"ל דיש להניח גם הדס עם הבשמים, דאז עושין ככ"ע:
It is customary to bless on the myrtle whenever possible. There are those who say, do not bless on dry myrtle for it has no smell, only on other spices. This is the custom in these lands [of the Ashkenazi]. It seems to me that one should use myrtle together with other spices; this would be acceptable according to all the opinions (Rabbi Yosef Karo with the inline commentary by Rabbi Moshe Isserless), Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 297:4).

Our sages teach that a woman, who smells myrtle often, especially for Havdalah, will merit wise sons.

The Role of Myrtle in Celebrating Transitions 
The myrtle is a symbol of teshuvah (repentance) because although its scent is good, its taste is bitter. This alludes to the pain experienced as part of the teshuvah process. Through the pain of feeling remorse for taking forbidden pleasure, the scent of teshuvah rises to Heaven (Rabbeinu Bachaya, Vayikra 23:40). Myrtle, being a symbol of teshuvah and transformation, explains the custom to use hadas at weddings, when the couple are transformed into a new existence. They used to decorate the bride and bridegroom with a crown of myrtle” (Tosefta, Sota 49b). Due to its warming evergreen properties and pleasant fragrance, myrtle became a sign of successful married life, symbolizing freshness and true love between the couple. “They say about Rabbi Yehudah, son of Elai, that he would take a myrtle branch and dance before the bride and say ‘The bride is beautiful and kind’” (Babylonian Talmud, Ketuvot 17a). Based on these teachings, I like to introduce a new wedding custom: to sprinkle myrtle leaves on the bride and groom when they exit the chuppah (canopy) as an alternative to commercial confetti. The Sephardim are accustomed to inhale the scent of myrtle during brit mila and pidyon haben, which are also celebrations of transitional high points. Myrtle is also mentioned in the vision of the transformation of the redemption process, and as a sign for the good and the perfect. “Instead of the thorn shall the Cypress come up, and instead of the nettle shall the myrtle rise; and it shall be to Hashem for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off (Yesha’yahu 55:13).

Myrtle – The Gateway to the Garden of Eden
Arabic legend tells that when Adam and Chava were expelled from the Garden, Adam took with him a myrtle-branch to remind him of his former happy days with Chava. Indeed, the mystical myrtle is linked to the Garden of Eden. When Hashem originally commanded the earth to sprout forth fruit trees bearing fruit (and not just trees bearing fruit), only the myrtle and the etrog kept Hashem’s command to produce trees that shared the taste of its fruit. “Our Rabbis taught – a tree whose taste of its wood and fruit is identical – this is the myrtle…” (Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 32b). Since the fruit symbolizes the product, while the tree is the process, the tree which shares the taste of its fruit teaches us about the importance of the process itself, not only the desired end product. Within the exile, we can find redeeming sparks. It is precisely by gathering the sparks of light within the darkness – discovering Hashem within His concealment – that brings about the final redemption. Within the illusionary split reality, which we experience in our everyday consciousness, we have the opportunity to recover the original pure organic wholeness. Myrtle teaches us the secret of the inner unity behind the veil of duality. Its ability to grow lush, fresh, green leaves in dark and shaded places is a perfect metaphor for Jewish survival during the darkness of exile. For this reason, Esther is likened to the myrtle, as she also maintained total holiness and integrity within the darkness of the decadent Persian castle. Esther’s secret legacy is to connect with the inner light concealed within the worldly reality in order to perceive the Oneness of G-d beyond the veil of division. In this way, she becomes a portent for returning to the consciousness of the Garden of Eden. The myrtle, by means of its exceedingly pleasant fragrance, also has the ability to carry with it the memory of the Garden of Eden. This explains why myrtle is traditionally picked in honor of Shabbat, which is also the gateway to the Garden of Eden.

Myrtle’s Medicinal Properties
Because of its astringent properties, myrtle counteracts diarrhea, strengthens the teeth and gums, and stops profuse sweating and bleeding. It also prevents the womb and hair from falling. According to Assaf the healer, myrtle helps heal hemorrhoids and strengthen the hair. Myrtle fruits are very astringent and are good against diarrhea. Wash the body with its leaves in order to remove bad smell, and diminish sweating (Tuvia the Healer 1652-1729). Due to its disinfectant properties, myrtle is an excellent agent for purification that heals infections and wounds, soothes the skin, alleviates eczema, and drives away odor. Drink myrtle infusion to strengthen the stomach, cure ulcers and infections of the intestines, as well as to alleviate urinary tract infections. Rambam recommends making a plaster from myrtle extracted by wine and placing it on a spider bite to suck out the venom. In the Talmud, myrtle is described as a remedy against high blood pressure (Babylonian Talmud, Gitin 68b). A woman, whose births are difficult, should bruise the leaves of myrtle and mix them with a cup of warmed wine, to help her give birth easily. 

Hands On:
Myrtle Oil is prepared from the leaves and flowers. This oil was commonly used by our grandmothers and grandmothers’ grandmothers as a facial cleanser. Myrtle oil cleanses and moisturizes the skin, while giving off its gentle fragrance.

Medicated Myrtle Oil
1. Find a large, clear, clean glass jar or bottle with a tight lid.
2. Pack fresh, clean, bruised whole herbs loosely into the jar.
3. Cover the herbs with oil. Olive oil or any good-quality vegetable oil will work.
4. Put the lid on as tightly as you can. Set the jar on a sunny windowsill – this is best done in the summertime, but can be done in winter in a windowsill that gets a maximum amount of light.
5. Leave the jar on the windowsill for 14-30 days, shaking it gently once a day.
6. Find another large, clear, clean glass jar or bottle with a tight lid, a large funnel, and some cheesecloth.
7. Pack the cheesecloth tightly in the funnel.
8. Set the funnel in the empty jar, and wrap the cheesecloth around the mouth of the jar where it meets the funnel, to prevent spillage.
9. Slowly pour the oil into the clean jar through the funnel. The cheesecloth will strain the herbs, letting the oil filter into the jar.
10. To preserve the oil, add a drop of vitamin E or a little wheat-germ oil. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

סִּרְפָּד – Stinging Nettle – Urtica Dioica

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills
סִּרְפָּד – Stinging Nettle – Urtica Dioica
Printable Version

Benefitting from Burning Nettle
My strongest memory of stinging nettle, with its deeply toothed, dark green leaves, is as a child in the Danish forest. While picking wild raspberries or just hiking, I would often be attacked by these aggressive stinging plants that caused little, white itching blisters. You can understand why I don’t really mind not having stinging nettle in my garden today. Nettles prefer rich, moist, soil and especially favor the edge of streams or nutrient-dense pastures. No wonder, I haven’t seen much of them in the dry area of southern Israel where we live.
They grow in the lush, moist pastures of northern Israel and even in my friend’s greener garden here in Bat Ayin. All over cold rainy Europe and America, nettle grows in wastelands, woodlands and by the roadside. I have no experience harvesting nettle but I have learned that if you grasp a nettle firmly, it won’t sting– it is the light touch that causes the itching discomfort of a nettle sting. Nettle’s Latin name comes from the word ‘uro,’ meaning ‘I burn.’ Interestingly, this word is similar to the use of the Hebrew word אוּר/Uhr as in אוּר כָּשְׁדִים/Uhr Kashdim – ‘the fires of the Chaldeans,’ which Avraham survived. The Danish name ‘brændenælde’ literally means ‘burning nettle,’ an appropriate name, considering the burning discomfort induced by thethe nettle-sting.   Some think that the common name for the nettle comes from the Anglo Saxon word ‘noedl,’ or needle, possibly referring to the tiny hairs that pierce the skin and inject the acid that causes a nettle sting. It could also refer to the plant’s long use in making fabric. The Hebrew name סִּרְפָּד/sirpad is also related to burning, as the root ש-ר-ף/sin-reish-peh means ‘burn,’ the letter ס/samech being interchangeable with ש/sin since they both share the ‘s’ sound. In spite of the temporary burning discomfort, stinging nettle is actually a valuable perennial, with a wealth of health benefits. I have personally used it as a tea to alleviate hay fever, for which nettle is most popular. Throughout history, nettle has been used for treating painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. Today, it is used primarily to treat urinary symptoms, eczema, allergies and joint pain.

The Burning Nettle Transforming into a Sweet Smelling Myrtle
Although in English Bible translations, you may find the word nettle several times, for example in Ezekiel 2:6, Hosea 9:6 and Zephaniah 2:9, the Hebrew word סִּרְפָּד/sirpad only appears once:

תַּחַת הַנַּעֲצוּץ יַעֲלֶה בְרוֹשׁ, תַחַת \{וְתַחַת\} הַסִּרְפָּד יַעֲלֶה הֲדַס וְהָיָה לַהָשֵׁם לְשֵׁם לְאוֹת עוֹלָם לֹא יִכָּרֵת:
(ספר ישעיה פרק נה פסוק יג)
“Instead of the thorn shall the Cypress come up, and instead of the nettle shall the myrtle rise; and it shall be to Hashem for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off
(Yesha’yahu 55:13).

Most commentaries on this Torah verse describe the nettle as an annoying thorn that grows in the dessert (Radak, Abarbanel, Torat Moshe). Therefore, it is hard to believe that סִּרְפָּד/sirpad refers to the stinging nettle, which requires moist, nitrogen-rich soil. Our prophetic verse refers to the ‘nettle’ as an allegory for the wicked who will perish while the righteous will take their place. Whereas the myrtle is a symbol for good, the ‘sirpad’ is described as an incarnation of ‘evil.’ According to Metzudat David, the latter refers to the nations, whereas the former refers to Israel, who will ultimately rule in their place. The Talmud explains, “instead of the nettle” – Instead of Vashti, the wicked, the daughter of the son of Nebuchadnezer, the wicked, who burned the house of Hashem… “shall the myrtle come up” – This is Esther, the righteous who was called Hadassah… (Babylonian Talmud, Megilah 10b). There are several parallels between Vashti and the stinging nettle. The fact that Vashti is the granddaughter of the evil Nebuchadnezer, who burned our holy Temple, is certainly congruent with the burning associations of the stinging nettle. The word סִּרְפָּד/sirpad is also related to רְפִידָתוֹ זָהָב/refidato zahav – “its couch of gold” (Song of Songs 3:10), a reference to the Temple that Vashti vehemently opposed rebuilding (Midrash Esther Rabbah 5:2). Interestingly, the letters of סִּרְפָּד/sirpad include the letters of הֲדַס/hadas – ‘myrtle,’ while the remaining letters פ-ר/peh-reish refers to the 280 harsh judgments. These judgements need to be sweetened in order that the סִּרְפָּד/sirpad can be transformed to הֲדַס/hadas, which has the numerical value of חֶסֶד/chesed – when adding the three letters of its word (Parparaot l’Chachma, Likutim).
We can also understand myrtle, taking the place of the nettle, as a metaphor for the kind of Torah that is acceptable to Hashem. The myrtle exudes a pleasant aroma (is acceptable) on condition that our Torah is integrated with its four levels, which are alluded to in the word סִּרְפָּד/sirpad – sod (secret/kabbalah), remez (allusion/numerology etc.), peshat (simple meaning) and drush (homiletic level) (Imrei Noam, Shut 3).

Spiritual Transformative and Assertive Inner Warrior Plant 
Nettle teaches us to transform painful life experiences into personal growth, just as the stinging nettle itself produces a beneficial tonic. Although nettle is an energetically sharp, spiky plant, if we take the time to approach it properly we find it full of wisdom and goodness. Nettle may protect the inner selves of those who are easily overwhelmed, to help them define structure and boundaries. Conversely, this plant may also help those who hide behind a spiky facade, to realize their own value and worth. Nettle can strengthen our emotions, supporting them and allowing us to use them to grow and manifest change. We may use nettle to contact our inner warrior and fan the flames of courage and assertiveness. It can help us contact our own fiery emotions and empower ourselves to break free from negative patterns and the victim mentality.
Nettle reminds us of our resilience and power, allowing us to cope with challenging situations and to find a way out of problems, while making our emotions less overpowering. Nettle is the herb to bring out the qualities required in a leader – enthusiasm, commitment and strength of purpose, as well as the ability to seize the initiative. Nettle can strengthen those who constantly spread themselves too thin and are low in energy as a result. It can also bring clarity to help decide which things to hold on to and which to let go. Nettle, being connected to the Earth, teaches perseverance and the ability to transmute dark into light. Nettle is certainly a useful herb to give perspective and clarity as well as helping you last through such trials.

Medicinal Properties of Nettle
It is best to use nettles fresh as a tonic vegetable or in a fresh-plant-tincture because it loses many of its benefits when dried. Nonetheless, dried nettle is still a valuable health ally.
The above ground parts treat allergy and breathing- problems. The roots provide relief for urinary disorders and enlarged prostates as well. Due to their astringent, properties, nettle alleviates hemorrhages, and helps stop bleeding from a wound when applied topically.
When taken internally, they relieve excessive menstrual bleeding. They can also be used to treat simple diarrhea. Nettles contain vast amounts of trace minerals, making them an important addition to any prescription aimed at improving mineral balance. They also improve resistance to allergies, asthma, eczema and hay fever. Stinging nettles’ anti-inflammatory qualities affect a number of key receptors and enzymes in allergic reactions, thereby preventing hay fever symptoms, if taken when they first appear. They also encourage the removal of phlegm from the respiratory tract, in cases of bronchitis. The antihistamine and anti-inflammatory qualities, of nettles can be used as a natural treatment for eczema. Due to their high iron levels, nettles treat low hemoglobin and are a fantastic iron tonic for pregnant women or anyone with anemia.
Their diuretic properties clean the body from waste and help urine flow as well. The high calcium content of nettles can prevent osteoporosis and promote healthy hair, skin and nails. Topically, a poultice of nettle leaves can soothe the heat and inflammation associated with burns, especially when mixed with aloe and lavender. Nettles are a great addition to an herbal first aid kit – they are easy to find, gather and make into medicine, and have no contra indications.

Culinary uses of Nettle
You can use stinging nettles in various dishes. They make a wonderful soup, stew or a steamed greens dish with a flavor similar to spinach. Some people describe the flavor of cooked nettles as similar to spinach mixed with cucumber. Others think they taste like seaweed. Native American people know how to eat nettles safely in salads (by boiling the leaves in water). Nettle can also be pureed and used in recipes like polenta, green smoothies, salads and pesto. Cooked nettle is a great source of vitamins A, C, protein and iron.

Hands On:  
Nettles have been eaten by people for hundreds of years, because of their dense nutritional content. They provide a tonic boost to our diet and can be added to most spinach dishes.

Crust-less Spinach & Nettle Pie
4 cups spinach leaves
4 cups Swiss chard leaves
4 cups fresh nettles
3 cups water
¼ cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 ½ tsp dried dill
1 tsp sea salt
30 grinds of pepper
1 ½ cup crumbled feta (optional)
2 eggs

1. Soak the fresh greens in veggie wash for 3 minutes. Rinse and check the greens for bugs.
Bring the water to boil in a large pot and add all the greens to it. 
2. Simmer the greens (be sure to stir them well so the nettles get immersed) until tender
(about five minutes). 
3. Drain the greens in a colander (and save the boiling water for use as soup stock for later). 
4. When the greens are cool enough to handle, squeeze as much water as possible out of them. Chop and set aside.
5. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan.  Add the onions and sauté until translucent.
6. In a medium sized bowl, whisk the eggs, dill, salt, and pepper with a fork until well mixed. 
Add the greens, onion, and feta and stir again until completely mixed. 
7. Spoon into an oiled pie dish and bake for about 40 minutes at 175 C, 350 F degrees.  

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Plantain - Accessible, Edible, Effective, Bug-Bite and Skin Healer

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills
Plantain – Plantago Lanceolata (Ribwort Plantain) – לחך מצוי
Printable Version

Accessible, Edible, Effective, Bug-Bite and Skin Healer
Even before the blessed winter rains filled my garden with weeds, plantain has been a perpetual year-round guest. I have used it to make a poultice to treat beestings successfully. Just macerate it in the food processor together with a little honey and baking soda. The Native Americans also used plantain to draw out toxins from stings and bites, including snakebites, as well as to heal wounds and cure fever. There are two main types of plantains: the ones with broad leaves called Plantago Major is found in Europe and America.The narrow-leaved type grows everywhere here in Israel. They have similar healing properties, however, the broadleaf plantain has larger, softer, edible leaves. It was only in the last year or so, that, I began to use plantain as a food by adding it to my green smoothie. Although, I’ve read that tender leaves can be eaten fresh in salads, while the older leaves have to be cooked, I find that the leaves of the narrow leaved plantain available in our region a bit tough and chewy. Yet, in smoothies, the blender takes care of that. Adding plantain to our diet is a wise choice, since it contains minerals, such as calcium, iron and zinc, as well as vitamins A, C and especially K. Vitamin K helps stop bleeding from cuts and wounds. Plantain is one of the medicinal herbs, which is easy to find, as it grows everywhere! Therefore, it received the nickname, ‘Englishman’s Foot’ (or the White Man’s Foot), for wherever Europeans have taken possession of the soil, plantain springs up. Plantain is known for being extremely effective in treating skin rashes, cuts, sores, burns and any kind of bug bite. It rapidly draws out infection, pain and venom. What, most people don’t know is that plantain has an equally powerful effect on the human spirit.

Plantain Draws out Worries and Soothes the Soul
Just as plantain soothes the skin, it also works to soothe our soul. The plantain personality is a reliable ally. Always there for us, whenever we need it, it never fails to work in any task we ask of it. It is a straight, upright, resilient, faithful friend through thick and thin. Part of plantain’s spiritual medicine is that it brings a quality of acceptance, with its reassuring message of ‘No Worries!’ Just as plantain draws out venom from a sting or bite, it draws out our sense of compassion and of vulnerability until we no longer feel so vulnerable, or at least not frightened. It is part of the plantain personality to be consistent and clear. If you break a leaf, the central veins that run through the leaf, will take more effort to break than the rest of the leaf, teaching us that healthy boundaries can bend, because there’s no need to react to things that are not actually threatening. Plantain’s humility is expressed by the fact that it is a very low growing plant, thriving where no other plant can manage, particularly in earth that has been trampled by many people. The leaves themselves are juicy but tough, imparting the message of robust strength, yet flexible, and able to be soft and soothing when needed. At the onset of summer, plantain flowers appear on long, slim, tough, pretty flower stems, with flowering heads in pale pink color, surprisingly eye-catching against the roadsides. Resembling miniature ballerinas, they add a delicateness to plantain’s stout, tough leaves. Thus, plantain potency is strong and versatile. This often over-looked, common lawn weed can truly touch our soul and provide healing to our body, mind and spirit.

Plantain – A Wild Weed Free for the Taking
Another benefit of plantain is that it is hefker – free for the taking. When we are in a rush and don’t have time to tithe the produce, picking plantain is a quick solution, since it doesn’t require tithing. Plants, fruits, berries etc. that grow wild in nature do not need ma’aser (tithes) taken from them, since the Levite and the Kohen, can pick for themselves. Edible weeds that grow by themselves, even in a private garden do not need to be ma’asered. Cultivated herbs such as mint, sage, lemongrass etc. do require ma’aser. However, if we don’t consume the herb itself but only the water that has absorbed its taste ma’aser is taken without a blessing. When eating cultivated herbs as a spice in soups, casseroles, salads and stir-fries etc. then we need to take ma’aser with a blessing.

Medicinal Properties of Plantain
Plantain has wide-ranging antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that prevent infection and accelerate healing. Plantain is also astringent with a cleansing effect on the body. It helps dry up excess secretions in the respiratory tract and the digestive system, thus being useful in treating colds and diarrhea. Its astringency is moderated by the demulcent effect of the mucilage in the herb, so this herbal remedy is much gentler than other commonly used astringents. Due to its astringent properties, Plantain leaves stop hemorrhage, in minor wounds. The fresh leaves are applied whole or bruised in the form of a poultice. Rambam writes, “I know a woman whose blood was flowing abundantly for four days and did not stop, until on the fourth day, we treated her with juice from the large plantain and the flow stopped altogether. This juice is useful for bleeding caused by a canker in an organ. When using it for this kind of sickness, I usually mix with it some stronger medicines. This I do with consideration of the amount of blood that was lost” (Maimonides’ Medical Writings vol. 5, The Art of Cure p. 61). Rambam also used plantain for treating internal wounds in the uterus, bladder and intestines (ibid. p 63). He includes plantain among the herbs that treat sick organs “by pushing a little while helping to dissolve” (Ibid. p. 173). Rambam also included plantain in a medical rubbing oil for an overweight man (ibid. p 176). Plantain alleviates dysentery and all other stomach and intestinal troubles. “Someone who feels like he has to throw up but can’t, should eat plantain every five days. This will clean his stomach from the balagan (mess) and he won’t need to throw up” (Medicinal Plants from the Rambam p. 144). Shakespeare mentions plantain as a skin healer in three of his plays. For example, “These poore slight sores neede not a Plantin” (Two Noble Kinsmen, I, ii). Other uses of plantain in folk medicine include treatment of urinary infection, sore throat, diarrhea, eye infection and constipation.

How to Use Plantain for Healing Adapted from Natural Living Ideas
Plantain is useful to heal both external and internal ailments. Here are some examples of how we can use this herb for healing.

Burns – Apply a poultice immediately and apply a bandage with leaves. Follow it up with a plantain salve.
Cuts and open sores – Stop bleeding from fresh cuts by applying crushed plantain leaves. Wash with plantain tea or diluted tincture (1 tbsp. to a glass of water) to prevent infections and promote healing.
Hemorrhoids – Steep leaves in tea for 30 min. inject a tablespoon several times a day and after bowel movement.
Boils and acne – Touch with a drop of tincture or apply salve.
Mouth ulcers – Swish 2-3 Tbsp. plantain tea in the mouth 3-4 times a day. You can also use 1 tbsp. of tincture diluted with a cup of water.
Throat pain/infection – Gargle with plantain tea or diluted tincture. Take 5-10 drops of tincture under the tongue and ingest it slowly.
Dandruff and other scalp problems – Apply plantain tea or oil infusion to the scalp and wash off after an hour.
Poison ivy/sumac/oak – Apply a poultice immediately, and then wash the area with plantain tea. Apply plantain sludge (obtained from draining the tea) until the stinging pain is gone.
Sunburn – Apply fresh poultice or plantain sludge liberally. Wash the area with the tea and then apply the salve.
To improve liver and kidney function – Drink 1-2 glasses of plantain tea every day.
For relief from gastrointestinal inflammation – Take the tincture under the tongue or drink plantain tea.
For cold, flu, and respiratory infections – Take the tincture under the tongue or drink freshly brewed warm tea with honey.

Hands On:
There is a very simple way of making a poultice that doesn’t require a food processor. This is the quickest and most effective way to use this healing herb. Keep a mental note of where you can find plantain for emergencies- in case of insect bite, bee sting, or poison ivy exposure.

Plantain Poultice
1. Grab a few plantain leaves.
2. Crush them between the palms, or pound them with a stone.
3. Apply directly to the skin.
If you are using it on yourself, just chew the leaves and use it as a poultice.

The mucilage from the bruised leaves will immediately soothe the pain, while the anti-inflammatory effect of the herb reduces swelling and redness. The poultice will also draw out the toxins from the sting, so it works best when applied immediately.

Plantain Tea
1. Collect 1 cup fresh plantain leaves.
2. Wash the plantain leaves thoroughly and keep them covered in a bowl with a lid.  
3. Boil 2 cups water and pour over the leaves in the bowl. Cover with the lid and let them steep until the bowl is cold to the touch.
4. Strain the tea and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Drink 1-2 cups of this plantain tea a day to control diarrhea or to get relief from the symptoms of cold and fever. You can drink it plain or add honey for taste. It can bring relief to people who have stomach ulcers or other inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. Plantain tea can be used as a general tonic too.

Use plantain tea topically to wash wounds, boils, and skin damaged by sunburn, rashes, eczema etc.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Nourishing, Mild, Mucilaginous Mallow

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills
חֶלְמִית, לחם ערבית, חוביזה – Mallow – Malva Sylvestris

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Nourishing, Mild, Mucilaginous Mallow
Mallow is one of the favorites in my daily foraging for greens to fill my green smoothie.It’s quite invasive and spreads throughout my vegetable garden, herbs and flowers. I’m so happy to discover that it also grows abundantly at the edge of my back-garden from the compost piles of our chicken coop waste. When learning that mallow contains, Vitamins A,B,C,E; calcium; magnesium; zinc; selenium; potassium and more, I’m not surprised that my neighbor made a special mallow bed in her vegetable garden.  This plant is one of the earliest cited in recorded literature. Horace mentions it in reference to his own diet, which he describes as very simple: “As for me, olives, endives, and mallows provide sustenance” (Horace, Odes 31, verse 15, ca 30 BC). One of the superstitions of the ancient Greeks was to plant mallow on the graves of loved ones. Lord Monboddo translated an ancient epigram, demonstrating that mallow was planted upon the graves of the ancients. This stemmed from the belief that the dead could feed on such perfect plants (Letter from Monboddo to John Hope, April, 1779). However, mallow is indeed quite useful for the living. I use fresh leaves whenever they are available. Sometimes, I harvest extra to dry or freeze for later use. I eat the leaves raw or cooked. They are rather mucilaginous, with a mild pleasant flavor, and blend nicely with soups, where they act as a thickener. Mild tasting young mallow leaves make a very good substitute for lettuce in a salad. Older leaves are better cooked, blended or brewed in tea. The popular sweet known as ‘marshmallow’ was originally cooked from the juice extracted from the root of this herb – unfortunately, that is no longer the practice, and I dread to think exactly what goes into marshmallows these days!

Soothing, Softening, Comforting Mind and Heart Opener
Mallow is a common medicinal plant, famous for its emollient or softening properties, and its dazzling flowers. Its constitution is gently demulcent, expectorant, laxative, softening and moistening. The primary use for mallow and its relatives is as a soothing demulcent, suitable for many inflamed conditions afflicting the mucous membranes of the urinary tract, respiratory and digestive system. Malva alleviates dry coughs and bronchitis. It makes a useful mild antitussive to soothe coughs in general, as well as to ease laryngitis and pneumonia. The root also has a lubricating effect on the joints and skeleton in general and is useful in the treatment of arthritis, related joint conditions, as well as on stiff muscles. The Latin word, ‘Malva’ derives from the Greek word for ‘soft’ – ‘malache’, referring to the emollient properties of the plant. The mallow plant spirit is likewise softening. It can soften up inflexible mental attitudes. It also helps to open the hearts of those who are hard-hearted and unable to feel their own emotions. Some herbalists add it to prescriptions for children undergoing stress and upheaval, to soothe, comfort and provide a stable framework. Mallow may also be useful for those who feel isolated and lonely, enabling them to form better, more trusting relationships and to communicate more freely. Mallow encourages patients to have more tolerance for those around them together with greater mental and emotional flexibility.

Is Mallow Mentioned in the Torah?
Mallow is mentioned once in the Tanach according to the Jerusalem Bible and many other English bible translations. When Iyov (Job) reflects on his current misery and his loss of respect in the community, he describes the low character of the men who now mock him as, “those whose fathers I disdained to put with the dogs of my flock. They are gaunt from want and famine, fleeing late to the wilderness, desolate and waste…” (Iyuv Chapter 30).

ספר איוב פרק ל פסוק ד הַקֹּטְפִים מַלּוּחַ עֲלֵי שִׂיחַ וְשֹׁרֶשׁ רְתָמִים לַחְמָם:
They pluck mallows by the bushes and broom tree roots for their food” (Iyuv 30:4).

Rashi explains, “When they were in the deserts, they would pluck for themselves saltwort that grew on the trees of the forests and eat. The Hebrew word translated as mallow is מַלּוּחַ/maluach – ‘salty,’ or ‘saltwort.’ It is the name of an herb. In Aramaic (Pesachim 114a), it is called קַקוּלִין and in the language of the Mishnah מַלוּחִים (‘malves’ in French – ‘mallows,’ as we learned in (Kidushin 66a): ‘They brought up mallows on golden tables.’” The Hebrew word מַלּוּחַ/malûach is from מֶּלַח/melach – ‘salt,’ and properly refers to a marine plant or vegetable. The context of Rashi’s Talmudic quote describes how the sages of Israel ate saltwort to celebrate their military victory by commemorating the builders of the second temple who also ate this weed because they were poor.

It once happened that King Jannai went to Kohalith in the wilderness and conquered sixty towns there. On his return, he rejoiced exceedingly and invited all the Sages of Israel. He said to them, ‘Our forefathers ate mallows when they were engaged on the building of the [second] Temple; let us too eat mallows in memory of our forefathers.’ So, mallows were served on golden tables, and they ate them (Babylonian Talmud, Kidushin 66a).

I’m having a hard time connecting the ‘saltwort’ – מַלּוּחַ/maluach mentioned both in the Book of Iyuv and in the Talmud with the mallow growing in my garden. First of all, I just took a bite of mallow to carefully examine its taste. It is mild and neutral without a trace of saltiness. Secondly, both in Iyuv and in the Talmud, mallow is mentioned as a plant growing in the wilderness/desert, whereas mallow grows in meadows, cultivated, fallow and waste ground, roadsides and only occasionally, on coastal rocks and sand-dunes.

Other commentaries believe that the plant referred to by Iyov was Hallimus, or ‘saltwort’ growing commonly in deserts and poor soil, and eaten as a salad. In any case, both mallow and saltwort constitute free food for the poor. I keep telling my students that if their financial means are limited, there is enough mallow to feed everyone, providing ample vitamins and minerals free of charge. Mallow helps us feel secure in our land as it sustained the inhabitants of Jerusalem throughout the siege during Israel’s independence war.

Green Leafy Vegetables like Mallow Prevents Cognitive Decline
A recent study published online in Neurology reveals that eating one serving of green leafy vegetables per day may help to slow cognitive decline with aging. The rate of decline among those who consumed one to two servings per day was the equivalent of being 11 years younger, compared with those who rarely or never consumed green leafy vegetables. The folate, phylloquinone, and lutein content of green, leafy vegetables accounts for the protective effect of green leafy vegetables against cognitive decline. “Our main take-home message is that leafy greens contain so many good nutrients, several which are linked to better cognitive function, so this is a food that should definitely be a staple in everyone’s diet, particularly older individuals” (Martha Clare Morris, ScD, Rush University, Chicago, Illinois, Medscape Medical News). Not only the leaves, but every part of the mallow is medicinal or edible in some form. The leaf is most often used to treat respiratory and urinary tract ailments. The root is preferred for treating digestive tract disorders. The flowers, which can be eaten raw, or dried for later use, are harvested in the summer. You can add them to salads or use as a garnish. They make a pleasant and pretty addition to the salad bowl, with their nice mild flavor and similar texture to the leaves. Immature seeds can be eaten raw. Nibbled, they have a nice nutty flavor, but are too fiddly for most people to gather in quantity. During the summer, when the beautiful purple mallow flowers are withering, the neighborhood children eagerly pick the unripe seed-fruit, and pop them in their mouth. Hopefully, they are bug-free. The divided mallow capsule, containing a ring of nutlets actually looks like little mini breads, giving the plant its nickname לחם ערבי  – ‘Arabic bread,’ or לחם גמדים – ‘dwarf’s bread.’ 

Hands On:
One of the most popular uses of mallows is as a salad green. Mallows are high in mucilage, a sticky substance that gives them a slightly slimy texture, similar to okra. I prefer not to eat them alone because of this, but they're great mixed with other foods in a salad. Due to their mucilage property they are also excellent in soups.

Mallow Soup (serves 6 - 8) Adapted from Miriam Kresh, Tsfat, Israel
1 large onion
1 large tomato
2 bell peppers, preferable of different colors
½ bunch of celery
4 carrots
3 large potatoes
3 garlic cloves
Olive oil to cover the bottom of your soup pot
6 cups of water or stock enriched with 2 Tbsp. of good-quality soy sauce
2 tsp. salt plus black pepper to taste.
2 large handfuls of clean mallow leaves and/or roots

Wash the mallow thoroughly and soak it in veggie wash for three minutes in a large bowl of water. Rinse out thoroughly and drain well.
Dice the onion; chop tomato, peppers, celery, carrots and potatoes.
Sauté the onions, until golden.
Chop the garlic finely. Add to the sautéed onions when they start smelling cooked. 
Add remaining vegetables including mallow roots finely sliced, and continue to sauté for another few minutes.
Add water and seasonings. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. A nice touch at this point is to blend the cooked vegetables, with some of the soup, and return the blended mass to the pot. Children especially appreciate blended soups.
Chop the mallow into narrow ribbons. Add to the pot, turn off the fire and allow the leaves to steep in the hot liquid without damaging their nutrients by cooking.

Serve with chopped parsley, or simply on its own.