Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Lemon Balm- Calming, Sweet, Honeybee Herb

מליסה – Lemon Balm – Melissa Officinalis
Printable Version

Calming, Sweet, Honeybee Herb
Two kinds of lemon balm grow in my garden – a tall aggressive kind that keeps competing with the roses, and a delicate, smaller one, mild enough to give to babies and use in salads and smoothies. Although for most herbs, I use the English rather than Latin name, ‘Melissa’ – which is also a name for a girl – seems to flow better than, ‘lemon balm.’ Perhaps, it is because melissa is a derivation of the Greek word for honeybee. The sweet fragrance of the leaves and its tiny whitish flowers attract bees. Therefore, growing melissa is an invitation for more bees, pollination and flowers. Melissa is known to be a calming herb that reduces stress and anxiety, promotes sleep, calms the stomach and alleviates colic. Since lemon balm is one of the best herbs for treating most acute children’s diseases, I used it for my baby. After the students complained that teaching while bouncing a baby in the backpack was distracting, I had to leave my six-month-old with a babysitter. My poor attachment-baby had separation anxiety and wouldn’t stop crying, so I made a mixture of apple-juice and melissa tea to calm him. I’m sorry to admit that it proved ineffective. Not to depreciate from melissa’s medicinal value, which includes strong antibacterial and antiviral qualities, I have also had good results using the leaves of the hardier kind for polishing our wooden coffee table. With all of lemon balm’s versatile properties, are there any Torah teachings that relate to lemon balm? 

Variant Blessings for Two Types of the Same Herb
When I showed my husband, the Rabbi, the two different types of melissa growing in our garden, he agreed with me that the blessing on their scent is different for each type. The stronger, tougher, bushy kind, which can grow to the height of a 2-year-old boy (2 ½ feet), is a hardy perennial. Despite my efforts to cut it down to keep it from taking over, it remains in our garden year after year. In addition, it has a hard woody stem.

Therefore, before enjoying its scent, the blessing is the same as the blessing for rosemary,
 בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה הָשֵׁם אֱלֹקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא עֲצֵי בְשָׂמִים
Baruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam boreh atzei besamim
‘Blessed are You Hashem… Creator of fragrant trees.’

Yet, the smaller, delicate lemon balm has a soft stem, grows close to the grown like grass and usually does not make it through our tough winters. The blessing on its sweet lemony fragrance is therefore,
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה הָשֵׁם אֱלֹקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא עִשְּבֵּי בְּשָֹמִים
Baruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam boreh isvei besamim
‘Blessed are You Hashem… Creator of fragrant herbs.’

I found it quite interesting that different types of the same herb could have different blessings. Although both have similar leaves and their fragrance strongly resembles the uplifting scent of lemon, the tougher type is more tart and acrid, while the milder type is sweeter. I enjoy smelling both kinds of lemon balm as I brush by them in my garden.

Emotional Healer, Mood Balancer and Mental Strengthener
Lemon balm has been cultivated in the Mediterranean region for about 2000 years. For centuries, herbal writers have praised this calmative herb for its ability to balance feelings, and help resolve moodiness and melancholia. The Greek physician, Dioscorides, would apply lemon balm to scorpion or animal bites for its antibacterial properties, and then give the patients wine infused with lemon balm to calm their nerves. Lemon balm steeped in wine was used to lift the spirits since ancient times. It is still used today in aromatherapy to combat depression. It is associated with the energies of the moon and therefore helps balance emotions. It allows us to perceive our feelings without getting lost and wrapped up in them. The Muslim herbalist, Avicenna, recommended lemon balm “to make the heart merry.” “...[Lemon Balm] causeth the mind and heart to be Merry...and driveth away all troublesome cares” (Culpeper, mid-17th Century). Lemon balm tea soothes emotional pains after a relationship ends. It also helps heal people suffering from mental or nervous disorders. Moreover, melissa is useful for individuals with a sound mind who need to keep their mental abilities in superior condition. Its sedative properties and pleasing scent make it a popular ingredient in herbal pillows to promote relaxation and sound sleep. Lemon balm may also be used as a bathing herb, by scattering its delightfully scented leaves over the water, or by pouring an infusion to mix with the bath. Today, lemon balm is often combined with other calming, soothing herbs, such as valerian, to enhance the overall relaxing effect.

Healing Herpes
Lemon balm is very effective for treating herpes simplex virus (HSV) both because of its antiviral properties as well as its ability to reduce the stress associated with herpes outbreaks. Essential oils made from lemon balm leaves contain plant chemicals called terpenes, which contribute to the herb’s relaxing and antiviral effects. Studies suggest that topical applications containing lemon balm may help heal lip sores associated with herpes (Schnitzler P1, Schuhmacher A, Astani A, Reichling J.). In one study of 116 people with HSV, those who applied lemon balm cream to their lip sores experienced significant improvement in redness and swelling after only two days. Lemon balm “reduces the time needed to heal cold sores by roughly half,” according to certified nutritional consultant Phyllis Balch in her book Prescription for Herbal Healing. For cold or herpes sores, steep 2 to 4 tsp. of crushed leaves in 1 cup of boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. Cool. Apply tea with cotton balls to the sores throughout the day. I have treated my cold soars by sticking bruised melissa leaves to my lips.

Culinary, Cosmetic & Curative
Lemon balm, with its delicate lemon scent and flavor is true to its name: citrusy and fresh. Londoners of Elizabethan times would carry small bouquets, called ‘Tussie Mussies,’ filled with aromatic herbs and flowers, including lemon balm, which they would frequently sniff to disguise the horrible stench of their unsanitary conditions. Due to citronellal, lemon balm is also a mild mosquito repellant. As an excellent carminative herb, that relieves spasms in the digestive tract, lemon balm improves digestion. If you occasionally succumb to overeating, go straight to the garden and pluck a handful of the tender young leaves for tea. You can use fresh sprigs to top drinks and as a garnish on salads and main dishes. Fresh or dried leaves make a refreshing tea, either iced or hot. The taste of the leaves adds the perfect tangy note to fruit salads. For an eye-catching garnish, freeze small melissa leaves into ice cubes to serve in lemonade. Due to melissa’s versatile properties, it is not surprising that French King Charles V of the 14th century drank lemon balm tea every day to keep his health and Paracelsus of the 16th century claimed lemon balm completely revitalizes the body and called it the “elixir of life.”

Hands On:
Lemon balm can be enjoyed in a variety of ways – used in place of lemons to flavor meats, added to salads, and even included in baked goods. These lemon balm cookies are sweet with a touch of lemon flavor.

Lemon Balm Cookies
½ cup olive oil
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 Tbs. chopped fresh lemon balm (or 1 tsp. dried)
½ tsp. lemon essential oil
1½ cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Cream the oil and sugar together
3. Add the eggs, chopped lemon balm, and lemon oil. Mix well.
4. Slowly add in flour, baking powder, and sea salt.
5. Drop by the teaspoon onto a lightly greased cookie sheet.
6. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Rosemary- Symbol of Faithfulness & Love

רוזמרין - Rosemary – Rosmarinus Officinalis
Printable Version

Rosemary – Symbol of Faithfulness & Love
The botanical name Rosmarinus is derived from the old Latin for ‘dew of the sea,’ a reference to its pale blue, dew-like flowers and the fact that it is often grown near the sea. In Israel, rosemary grows everywhere and not just by the sea. Since it is so prolific in the Holy Land, it is hard to believe that there is no mention of rosemary in the Torah. Possibly, it is mentioned with a different name, but which? It is hard to know. When googling ‘rosemary in the Torah’ the closest I get is, ‘Torah scroll dedicated in Rosemary Hall!’ Yet, ‘rosemary in the Bible’ generates a list of 11 Torah verses, which have nothing to do with rosemary. The closest is, “Hashem is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures” (Tehillim 23:1-2). Rashi explains that since David begins to compare his sustenance to the pasture of a flock by saying, “Hashem is my shepherd,” he describes his nourishment, as green pastures. David recited this psalm in the dry forest, which Hashem, moistened with the good of the World-to-Come. So perhaps, the evergreen, low maintenance rosemary was part of David’s “green pastures” that strengthen his love of G-d. As a symbol of faithfulness, love and friendship, wedding couples used to carry rosemary to celebrate their love and fidelity. I like the ancient custom of entwining a wreath of rosemary or at least a few sprigs in the hair of the bride on her wedding day. Rosemary represents feminine love because it is a very tough and strong herb that grows very slowly.

The Blessing for the Scent of Rosemary
Rosemary is an attractive evergreen shrub with pine needle-like leaves. Its pleasant fragrance is pungently aromatic and somewhat camphoraceous. If we want to enjoy its scent, the correct blessing is,
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה הָשֵׁם אֱלֹקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא עֲצֵי בְשָׂמִים
Baruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam boreh atzei besamim – ‘Blessed are You Hashem… Creator of fragrant trees.’  

Since rosemary grows above the ground, has a hard woody stem and remains from year to year, it is considered a tree in Jewish law. This is reflected in the blessing on its fragrance. If you are not sure whether a plant is considered an herb or a tree, you can always say the general blessing, “…boreh minei b’samim – ‘Creator of different types of aromatics.’ This is the blessing that Ashkenazim recite for Havdalah. Since Havdalah is recited universally by Jews, who may not be so well versed in plant botany, the Ashkenazi halacha requires the general blessing on fragrance for Havdalah. This prevents someone from inadvertently saying the wrong blessing.

Rosemary for Remembrance
From time immemorial rosemary was known to strengthen the brain and memory.
“Rosemary comforteth the cold, weak and feeble brain in a most wonderful manner” (Botanist and herbalist John Gerard c. 1545-1612). According to scientists at the University of Cincinnati, the scent of rosemary is an effective memory stimulant (https://cals.arizona.edu/yavapai/anr/hort/byg/archive/growingrosemary.html).
A 2012 human study concluded that the aroma of rosemary may boost cognitive performance. Healthy volunteers performed better on mental arithmetic tasks when exposed to cineole, one of the main chemical components of rosemary essential oil. The study suggests that the presence of 1,8-cineole in the blood can potentially enhance some aspects of cognition according to Mark Moss, PhD, The Brain, Performance and Nutrition Research Centre at Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3736918/).
Commenting on the study for Medscape Medical News, Ilkay Orhan, PhD, said that essential oils stimulate cognition. Cineole exists in many essential oils. The compound has the ability to inhibit acetylcholinesterase, which is the key enzyme in the pathogenesis of Alzheimers disease. Thus, we may consider taking the preventative measure of adding a rosemary-potted plant for our desk in the office or study.

Medicinal Properties of Rosemary
Due to its salicylic acid (aspirin), rosemary tea or tincture is a natural alternative to synthetic aspirin for alleviating headaches, especially those related to indigestion. Rosemary helps to relax muscles, including the smooth muscles of the digestive tract and uterus. Therefore, it soothes indigestion and relieves menstrual cramps. I once heard an old wise woman of Jerusalem say that a sitz bath of strong rosemary tea is helpful to overcome infertility, since it relaxes the muscles of the uterus and opens the womb. Due to its tonic and stimulant properties, rosemary when added to a bath strengthens and refreshes, especially when used following an illness. Drinking rosemary tea is also an invigorating tonic and astringent. Warm rosemary tea is diaphoretic (sweats out the toxins). Therefore, it is a good remedy for colds. As a nervine, it also benefits the nervous system and relieves nervous depression. Rosemary is good for hair and scalp. An infusion of its leaves and flowers combined with borax makes one of the best hair-washes known. It is often added to shampoos and hair-lotions, because of its scent and stimulating effect on the hair-bulbs, which prevents premature baldness. It is also an effective remedy for the prevention of dandruff. As a rinse to lighten blond hair, and to condition, strengthen and tone all hair, try mixing rosemary infusion half-and-half with shampoo. In Israel, mothers put rosemary oil behind the ears of their young children to prevent lice.

Cancer Prevention Properties
Numerous studies done over the last several years show that rosemary oil helps prevent the development of cancerous tumors. One study, led by Chi-Tang Ho, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Food Science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, showed that applying rosemary oil to the skin of experimental animals reduced their risk of cancer to half of those that did not receive the rosemary oil application. In other studies, animals whose diets contained some rosemary oil had about half the incidence of colon cancer or lung cancer compared with animals who did not ingest rosemary. Researchers at the University of Illinois in Urbana found that rosemary cut by half the incidence of breast cancer in animals at high risk for developing the disease. Future studies will demonstrate whether these properties extend to humans as well. See also 195 research studies listed in US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health

Spiritual Properties of Rosemary
Rosemary is one of the major spiritually purifying herbs. It can be used in herbal baths, inside cheesecloth or a coffee filter, tied with string and placed under the running bath water. Rosemary is also considered a protective herb. Place rosemary in a dream pillow or pillowcase to ward off bad dreams. Rosemary has an affinity for the head area. It clears away unwanted thoughts, lifts negative thinking in favor of a positive attitude, and assists with concentration. As an essential oil or in potpourris and sachets, the fragrance lifts the emotional spirit, grants a youthful outlook, and pleasant memories. Rosemary releases pressure surrounding your spiritual path, making it a great spiritual herb to keep on hand.

Hands On:
We have a ritual slaughterer in Bat Ayin who delivers organic, grass-fed meat.
Here is my simple way of preparing this meat for our Friday night dinner. The fresh rosemary sprigs that I pick from my garden add a most savory flavor.

Organic Rosemary Rib Steak
1 kg (approximately 2 lbs.) organic rib steaks
1 large onion
3 minced garlic cloves
1 cup of red wine (dry or semisweet)
¼ cup Tamari soy sauce
5 Tbs. Fresh rosemary (3 Tbs. if dried)

1. Chop the onion and mince the garlic in a garlic squeezer.
2. Add the rosemary, wine and soy sauce.
3. Mix all the ingredients together – This is your marinade sauce.
4. Arrange the meat in stainless steel or glass baking pan.
5. Pour the marinade sauce over the meat; make sure to cover all the meat.
6. Place in fridge and let it marinade overnight if possible.
7. Cover the baking pan and place in the oven, bake in medium heat for about 2 hours.
8. Uncover the meat and broil on high heat for 5-15 minutes, turning it to brown on all sides. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thyme - Courage to Cleanse

קורנית – Thyme – Thymus Vulgaris 
Printable Version

 Courage to Cleanse
Being a sixties’ girl, the refrain of the famous Simon & Garfunkel song: “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” often rings in my mind, when thinking about herbs. Thyme is the final herb mentioned in the song; it symbolizes courage to stand up for true love. This concurs with the meaning of the name ‘Thyme,’ which derives from the Greek ‘thymus’ – ‘courage.’ In ancient and mediaeval days, thyme was believed to be a great source of invigoration, inspiring courage. It was an emblem of bravery, and in the days of chivalry, it was the custom for ladies to embroider a bee hovering over a sprig of thyme on the scarves they presented to their knights. If you need courage to speak your truth, thyme tea could open up your communication centers. It resonates with the throat energy-center to help you speak and write with passion and purpose. If you’re finding it difficult to express yourself, try thyme tea. Thyme’s name also derives from the Greek thymos, ‘to smoke’ or ‘fumigate.’ Burning thyme or diffusing its essential oil so that its aroma permeates an area, has a cleansing effect for both protection against infectious diseases, and for spiritual purification. Rambam mentions wild thyme together with water mint and hyssop as cleansing herbs that may be cooked with honey (Maimonides Medical Writings, Vol. 5, p. 103).

Fighting Germs and Promoting Sound Sleep
Most people know thyme as a powerful bactericide with antiseptic properties which combat germs of colds, viruses and infections. Thyme is an active ingredient in natural alcohol-free hand sanitizers and in various commercially produced mouthwashes such as Listerine. Thyme is also one of the top herbs to alleviate athlete’s foot and other fungal infections due to its anti-fungal properties. Moreover, if you have ever bought a natural cough syrup, thyme is one of the main ingredients due to its expectorant and antispasmodic properties. (See recipe below). Thyme is less known for its ability to promote balanced sleep and ward off nightmares. Conversely, Rambam turned to thyme for the treatment of lethargy (Ibid. p. 162). Since the sense of the month of Kislev is sleep (Sefer Yetzirah 5:9), at this time we work on balancing and rectifying our sleep, for which thyme may be helpful. You can make a small dream pillow to place on top of your regular pillow for peaceful sleep and dreams. Stuffing your dream pillow with thyme also is supposed to alleviate melancholia. For relaxation and insomnia, I would add chamomile flowers, lavender sprigs and essential oils of both thyme and lavender. You can also add other calming herbs such as hops, lemon balm (melissa), rosemary and bay-leaves.

A Native Plant in Israel for More than Two Millennia
The fact that thyme is mentioned in three different places in the Mishnah testifies that it has been a well-known herb used by Jews in Israel for more than two millennia. We also learn from the following Mishnah that thyme was among the plants that grew naturally wild in Israel while also being cultivated by Jews.

משנה מסכת מעשרות פרק ג:ט   הַסִּיאָה וְהָאֵזוֹב וְהַקּוּרְנִית שֶׁבְּחָצֵר, אִם הָיוּ נִשְׁמָרִים, חַיָּבִים.
“Savory, hyssop, and thyme in the courtyard, if they were cultivated are obligated in ma’aser” (Mishnah, Ma’asarot 3:9).

The Mishnah makes clear that only the thyme that is cultivated and tended to by a Jew – such as in his courtyard – needs to be tithed. Otherwise, as is the case with all native wild plants that we call ‘volunteer,’ they do not warrant tithing. Rambam verifies that thyme, which, was purposely sown to be used as food for people, needs tithing (Rambam, Hilchot Terumah 2:2). Indeed, I have in my garden both cultivated thyme with a mild lemony flavor, which I planted myself, and many native wild hardy thymes that planted themselves and have a fierce flavor. In my experience, the cultivated thyme is more suited for culinary purposes such as in stews, soups, and with fish, whereas, the medicinal properties of native thyme are much stronger. I once cured my sinusitis infection by inhaling the steam of native thyme. According to the instructions of nurse, Rivkah Horowitz, I picked several good bunches, simmered them in water in a medium size pot, and then wrapped a towel to confine the vapor as I inhaled. The next day the infection had cleared without any antibiotic.

Hands On:
Natural Thyme Cough Syrup will soothe yours and your children’s cough, as thyme calms down cough spasms. You can make it quickly with a few simple ingredients that most people have at hand.

Natural Thyme Cough Syrup (Great for young children)
A good handful of fresh thyme sprigs (or buy organic, dry leaves)
2 cups water
½ cup honey (if possible use raw honey)
½ chopped lemon

1. Place the lemon in a jar and cover with the honey. (The honey will macerate the lemons and draw out delicious liquids)
2. Place the thyme leaves into a saucepan and cover them with the water.
3. Bring the water to a gentle simmer until it is reduced to half, about one cup.
4. After the tea has cooled a bit, strain off the sprigs and leaves, add it into the jar and stir it well.
5. Store your homemade cough syrup in the refrigerator for about a month, shaking it occasionally.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Spiny Hawthorn

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills
The Months of Tishrei/Cheshvan

עוּזְרָר קוֹצָנִי – Spiny Hawthorn – Crateagus Monogyna

A Thorny Heart Healer
Thorns are all that met our eyes when we chose a piece of land in the Judean hills, Israel. Yet, they could be dealt with a pickax and hoe. A thorny scrub, however, stubbornly kept growing back, threatening the plum trees and grapevines. I knew it was a native tree called עוּזרַר/Uzrar in Hebrew. It had tiny, dirty-yellow, apple-like berries which tasted sour and acrid. It seemed like a useless thorn which had to be gotten rid of. I later learned that most of the various kinds of thorny plants gracing our beloved land are replete with medicinal properties. At one point, it dawned on me that the unwelcome scrubby weed in my garden was none other than the renowned hawthorn bush, which has recently enjoyed an herbal renaissance. It has been crowned as one of the prime cardiac tonics, much needed in our time when heart attacks run rampant. Usually, Western herbology relies upon Chinese medicine but when it comes to the hawthorn, the Chinese learned from the West the value of hawthorn as a heart healer. It treats the following heart conditions:
·         Coronary artery disease
·         Valvular heart disease
·         Congestive Heart Failure
·         Post-Heart Attacks
·         Elevated blood lipids (cholesterol, triglycerides)

The Rare Red Kind
Still, I felt resistance to this irritating thorn, with its muddled, drab looking berries, which isn’t exactly a feast for the eyes. This was, until, I walked through my neighbor’s garden (with permission) on my way to teach my Shabbat class. There, I saw the most beautiful, graceful hawthorn tree with bright red berries. These red berries intrigued me, since, I thought that hawthorn berries are only yellow brown. When I returned to my own back garden to compare, indeed, there were no red berries on my hawthorn. Oh well, the neighbor’s berries are always redder… After doing a bit of research, it turns out that although the hawthorn genus Crataegus contains 200 species, only four species grow in Israel: Spiny Hawthorn, which is common and has yellow fruits, and three rare species whose fruits are red. One such species is called Crataegus azarolus. Perhaps, this is the kind that met my eyes at the neighbors.’

Native to Israel since Ancient Times
I’m not sure which of these four species is the one mentioned in four different tractates of the Mishnah. In Tractate Demai 1:1, hawthorn is one of the eight kinds of fruit that are treated leniently regarding demai [when we cannot trust whether the person, who took tithes, set aside all of the different kinds of tithes properly].  From Tractate Kelayim 1:4, we learn that the quince and the hawthorn do not constitute kilayim [forbidden grafting]. Yet, the apple and the hawthorn, although similar, nevertheless constitute kilayim [in respect to grafting]. In Tractate Ma’aserot 1:3, the hawthorn is liable for tithes after their fuzzy surface fades – a sign that they are one third ripe.  In Tractate Uktzin 1:6, the hawthorn is mentioned among the fruits whose stem transfers impurity. Since hawthorn is mentioned repeatedly in the Mishnah, we see how it has been native to Israel from ancient times.

Synthesizing Eastern and Western Medicinal Properties
In the West, the hawthorn is considered one of the most reliable herbs for heart problems. In Chinese medicine, the berries are used to aid digestion. Middle Eastern folk medicine synthesizes these two. Since ancient times, the fruits of the spiny hawthorn, rich in vitamin C, are used for healing diarrhea, sore throat, internal hemorrhage, dizziness, convulsions, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis and heart disease. An alcoholic beverage, made from the flowers, is used to treat insomnia, menopausal symptoms, anxiety and nervousness. A boiled drink of the bark or roots is used against high blood pressure. The flowers strengthen the heart and improve overall heart function. For a mild heart tonic and preventative treatment against arthrosclerosis, make an infusion of the buds as they just begin to open. Use two table spoons of the buds to one cup of boiling water. Drink twice a day. You can also make a tincture by steeping bruised berries in 40-50% alcohol for two weeks, then strain out the berries. The recommended amount is 5-12 drops three times a day. Hawthorn preparations are also used as a wash for sores, boils, ulcers, itching, and frostbite.

Humble and Kind Personality
The hawthorn has a persistent, yet humble and kind personality that readily gives of its goodness. It is versatile and supports more than 300 species of wildlife. Its flowers provide nectar and pollen for both bees and butterflies. The hawthorn berries are rich in antioxidants and are eaten by many migrating birds such as redwings, fieldfares and thrushes, as well as small mammals. The dense thorny foliage serves as a preferred hiding and nesting shelter for many bird species, including small song birds. 

The Spiritual Heart Opening Qualities of Hawthorn
Hawthorn testifies to the main principle of Judaism: infusing the physical with the spiritual, and bringing the purity of Divine awareness into the most passionate parts of our physical life. Its white flowers represent spiritual purity, while the bright red berries represent passion that extends into the physical realm. The fact that hawthorn grows on poor soil, teaches us how to adapt to any situation, employing unforeseen hardiness and strength. This energy helps those of us who steadfastly keep going, while burying pain and bitterness deep within the heart. We often protect our hearts with thorns, when we have felt deep pain. The hawthorn’s sharp thorns reflect this pain, which may be due to ancestral stories of famine and persecution, loss of land and loved ones, and even the trauma of being a holocaust survivor, be it second or third generation. As a flower essence, hawthorn can help in healing heartache. It encourages self-love and self-acceptance and helps open the heart to giving and receiving love. The fact that hawthorn is not always the most attractive plant teaches us that true love is not about appearance. Rather, we need to look below the surface to what lies underneath. Hawthorn helps us to develop courage. The word ‘courage’ is associated with the heart, as ‘cor’ is Latin for heart. Having courage and being willing to take risks is truly an open-hearted state. Thus, hawthorn helps us to forgive, while letting go of pain and past traumas. It opens our heart to trust and bestow unconditional love and compassion. I understand, now, why it was the red hawthorn that caught my eye and triggered this research. The redness represents the blood and its organ – the heart. Thus, especially the red hawthorn promotes a healthy heart both on a physical, emotional and spiritual level.

Hands On:
Here is a simple hawthorn jelly recipe that you can relish with your morning cereal and as a sweet heart-healthy afternoon treat. Enjoy this autumnal hawthorn jelly recipe!

Hawthorn Jelly
1. Find a nice Hawthorn bush filled with ripe red hawthorn berries.
2. Pick about 3 cups of hawthorn berries for 1 jar of hawthorn jelly.
3. Roll a clump of berries (stalks and all) in between your hands, to remove the stalks
4. Wash the fruits and drain them.
5. Place the haws in your fruit processor until mashed
6. Put your mash into a heavy saucepan, and cover with 3 cups of water.
7. Bring to the boil and simmer for 1 hour.
8. Now strain the mixture over night using some muslin, or as I did, a jelly bag.
To keep the jelly clear do not squeeze the jelly bag, just let the juice drip. If you don’t mind if your hawthorn jelly is not clear then squeeze away.
9. For every cup of juice add one cup of brown sugar.
10. Add the juice of one lemon.
11. Mix the sugar and lemon juice into a heavy saucepan along with the hawthorn juice. Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring continuously until the sugar has dissolved.
12. Now rapid boil for 10 minutes until the jelly  has reached setting point.
13. Skim off any foam from the top of the jelly liquid, and pour into sterilized, warm jars and screw on the lids.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

בוצין – Mullein – Verbascum Thapsus

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills
The Months of Tishrei/Cheshvan

Self-Assurance from the Strong, Independent Mullein
Mullein grows in my garden almost all year long. During the summer, it’s long stalks display myriads of delicate, tiny yellow flowers. The flower-spike can attain a height of more than 2 meters (7 feet) and is covered with densely crowded, sulphur-yellow blossoms, blooming during Tamuz and Av (July/August). In the winter, the mullein’s fuzzy leaves grow near the ground, forming a beautiful rosette. We didn’t quite have enough rains yet for the new baby-mullein to sprout forth, but since mullein is a biannual plant, I was able to find a few of last year’s basal rosettes even now during the fall. In the very heart of the old rosettes’ there is new-growth, with the appearance of baby mullein leaves. I harvested several handfuls of these wooly little treasures. Later, when the new rosettes grow large and abundant, I will gather a supply for winter use, but for now, it is a tender little treat to help chase away congestion and renew our lungs. Near the mullein rosettes, I noticed some tall, dried out flower-stalks ready to reseed. I plan to scatter these seeds in my back garden, but not surrounding the trees, since, mullein has a strong independent nature, which makes it intolerant of growing in the shade of other plants. This prevents it from becoming an aggressively invasive weed that would threaten the growth of cultivated plants. The mullein seeds remain in the soil for extended periods of time, and can sprout from apparently bare ground, and even after forest fires.  When you feel muddled or fragmented, the strong independent mullein may give you the self-assurance required to reintegrate your mind and spirit, especially when used as an aromatic oil. Some people take ‘mullein baths’ in order to become brave and gain protection against enemies.

Mullein – The Lung Healer that Looks Like Lungs
The healing importance of mullein cannot be underestimated. Although this versatile herb has multiple medicinal properties, its strongest feature is as a remedy against coughs of any kind. The combination of expectorant, emollient and mucilage properties makes the plant particularly effective for cough. Dioscorides first recommended mullein 2000 years ago, against diseases of the lung. Its primary use is still to heal lung and respiratory ailments such as persistent coughs, asthma, hay fever, bronchitis, and whooping cough. When you look closely at the mature mullein leaves, you may notice that their shape looks very much like human lungs. By making plants look like the organs that they heal, Hashem is teaching us how to best benefit from the abundance of medicinal herbs that He granted us.

A Torch & Candlewick Herb
Mullein may have gotten its name from a Celtic term meaning ‘yellow,’ thanks to the yellow blossoms that crown the stalk, or from the Latin word that means ‘soft,’ because of its downy soft leaves.  Its Latin name ‘Verbascum’ may be a corruption of ‘Barbascum,’ from the Latin ‘Barba’ – ‘beard,’ alluding to its hairy leaves. Among its 40 names in English, I will mention only ‘Beggar’s, blanket,’ ‘Moses’ Blanket,’ and ‘Aaron’s Rod.’ Another name for Mullein is ‘Torch Plant,’ since the dried flower spike was used as a nighttime torch. The flower spike soaked in pine resin and set on fire acts as a huge wick for up to a full hour. Similarly, the name ‘Hig Candlewick,’ resembles its Hebrew name בוצין/Butzin, which means candle in Aramaic. Indeed, when Mullein raises its tall Menorah shaped branches bursting with yellow florets, it resembles the Temple candelabrum even more than the sage plant, due to its illuminating yellow blossoms. Since mullein manages on poor soil and the Common Desert Mullein grows in the Judean desert, Dead Sea valley, Ein Gedi, the Northern Negev and in the Aravah, it is possible that the Desert Wick mentioned in the Mishnah refers to Desert Mullein:

משנה מסכת שבת פרק ב משנה א
בַּמֶּה מַדְלִיקִין וּבַמֶּה אֵין מַדְלִיקִין. אֵין מַדְלִיקִין לֹא בְלֶכֶשׁ, וְלֹא בְחֹסֶן, וְלֹא בְכָלָךְ, וְלֹא בִפְתִילַת הָאִידָן, וְלֹא בִפְתִילַת הַמִּדְבָּר, וְלֹא בִירוֹקָה שֶׁעַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם.
With what may we kindle [the Sabbath lights], and with what may we not kindle [them; i.e., what may the wicks be made of and which oils may be used as fuel]? We may not kindle [them] with lechesh [the inner wool-like bark of a cedar tree], hosen [uncarded flax], chalach [an inferior grade of silk], a wick of edan [the inner wool-like bark of a willow tree], and not with desert wick (Mishnah Shabbat 2:1).

Rambam explains that the desert wick refers to a plant whose leaves are used for lighting. This characterizes the mullein plant, as its dried leaves are highly flammable and can be used as candlewicks or to ignite a fire quickly. However, mullein was disqualified for use as Shabbat candlewicks, perhaps because it produces too much smoke.  

Happy Hopeful Reintegration of Mind & Spirit
Mullein has traditionally been smoked by the Native Americans to relieve irritation of respiratory mucus membranes, and the hacking cough of congestion. They were made into cigarettes for asthma and spasmodic coughs. In addition, mullein leaves are believed to have sedative and narcotic properties, which can provide a mild, legal high when smoked. (Something neither my herbal workshop students nor myself have tried!). Whether you look to the Far East or European traditions, you’ll find mullein known not only for its health-giving qualities but also as a spiritual protection to ward off curses and evil spirits. The Navajos believed that this herb reduced negative thoughts and offered relief from mental disorders. Light Workers feel that when carried, it safeguards healers from illness and guides their work. What about a mullein necklace?! Mullein represents focus and grounding. The tall masculine mullein stalk together with its feminine flowers balance male and female energies. The cheerful yellow flowers are gentle reminders of youthful joy and laughter that engenders Simcha – happiness. Look to this plant when you’re sad, hopeless or find yourself having creative blockages. Mullein helps reset your energy field to accept healthier, enthusiastic energies. It also gives you the energy necessary to face mental challenges. Some use mullein stalks as an alternative to candles for clearing random psychic energy.

Mullein:  A Remedy for Various Conditions from Ear infection to Hemorrhoids
Mullein tea provides vitamins B2, B5, B12, & D, choline, PABA, sulfur, magnesium, mucilage, saponins, and more. Mullein has very marked demulcent, emollient and astringent properties, which render it useful for chest complaints, bleeding of the lungs and bowels. Mullein oil is a strong antibacterial destroyer of disease germs. The fresh flowers, steeped for 21 days in olive oil, can make an excellent bactericide. Gerarde tells us that “Figs do not putrify at all when wrapped in the leaves of Mullein.” An infusion of the flowers in olive oil is used for earache, or as a local application in the treatment of mucous membrane inflammation, as well as against frostbite, eczema, warts, hemorrhoids and other external conditions. Mullein oil may also be rubbed into the chest to alleviate cough and bronchitis. Woolly mullein leaves can be worn in the stockings to promote circulation and keep the feet warm. An alcoholic tincture from the fresh herb is beneficial for migraine or headache. 

Hands On: Mullein has been a popular medicinal plant since ancient times as a remedy for throat and breathing ailments. As a dried herb, it can alleviate chronic coughs, swollen glands, asthma and earaches. Some of the most brilliant results have been obtained for healing inflammation of the inner ear by a single application of Mullein oil. In acute or chronic cases, two or three drops of this oil should be made to fall in the ear twice or thrice in the day (Dr. William Thomas Fernie, Herbal Simples). Mullein oil may also alleviate eczema and other skin problems.

Dried Mullein Leaves
1. Pick leaves off the mullein plant. The best time to do this is later in the day, when any dew has evaporated.
2. Place the leaves on a mesh cloth or cookie screen, ensuring that they are not piled up on each other.
3. Allow the mullein leaves to dry for several days. You may turn the leaves to ensure they get a free flow of air and are kept away from moisture.
4. Check if the leaf crumbles easily. Then it is ready to be stored.
5. Store dried leaves in an airtight container away from sunlight.

Mullein Tea
1. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1-2 teaspoons of dried mullein flowers and leaves.
2. Cover and steep for 10-15 minutes.
3. Pour the liquid through a fine cloth such as a cheesecloth or a coffee filter to strain out the plant’s tiny hairs, which may irritate the throat, and of course to strain out any possible bugs.
4. You can drink up to 3 cups of mullein tea daily. You may sweeten the tea with honey.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

מרווה רפואי – Sage – Salvia Officinalis

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills - Months of Tishrei/Cheshvan
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Sage – a Salvation Bush Saving Us from All Illness
The rainy season with its change of climate often brings sore throat, coughs and sniffles in its wake. At this time of year, the sage bush in my garden smiles at me with its slim, silvery leaves, begging to be trimmed and consumed both as treatment and as a preventative cure. Sage has a tradition of culinary and medicinal use over 2,000 years. Herbalists from every corner of the earth recommend it for just about every condition: from sore throat, indigestion, PMS, to snakebite and Alzheimer’s disease. In medieval times, the French called the herb ‘toute bonne,’ which means, ‘good for everything.’ The Arabs have the following saying: “He, who has sage in his possession, removes sickness from his home.”  The various names for the plant in almost every European tongue derive from the classical name, ‘salvia,’ from the Latin ‘salvere which means, ‘to save,’ indicating the great medical value of the plant. In ancient Greece and Rome, sage was used for longevity. There is even a tradition that those who eat enough sage will achieve immortality. The old saying goes something like, “How can a man die [or get old] if he has sage growing in his garden?” I’ve also heard the following saying: “Wherever a wise woman lives, sage grows in abundance.” It is certainly wise to plant a sage in your garden or patio.

A Hint of Sage in the Torah
Thirty-nine kinds of sage grow in Israel, such as Jerusalem Sage, Judean Sage, Palestinian Sage and Nazareth Sage. Being a vital ancient herb, so suited to the climate of the Land of Israel, it is hard to believe that sage is not mentioned in our holy books. I was disappointed when I found nothing in the written or oral law about מרווה/Marvah – sage. Yet, one researcher identified sage with מַרְמְהִין/Marmehin, one of the remedies mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 69b.  Perhaps, the Arabs have retained a vestige of the original Talmudic name, as ‘sage’ in Arabic is מרמיה/Marmia to this day. Efraim and Hannah HaReuveini noticed a striking resemblance between  the shape of the seven-branched Menorah and the Israeli sage bush (Palestinian Sage). It has one central branch from which emanate several parallel, paired branches. In addition, sage develops knobs and flowers on its branches during spring. This reflects the description of the Menorah as it states, “He made the menorah of pure gold; of hammered work he made the menorah, its base and its stem, its goblets, its knobs, and its flowers were [all one piece] with it” (Shemot 37:17). The Hebrew word מרווה/Marvah may derive fromמנורה /Menorah or מוריה/Moriah – the name of the Temple Mount. The first part of the word מר/mar means bitter. Indeed, the bitter taste of the sage imbues it with its cleansing power and ability to eliminate germs. The Hebrew word מרווה means ‘to satisfy thirst,’ perhaps, because the plant is very drying and doesn’t need a lot of water.

A Chief Cold & Cough Remedy
Sage is one of the chief herbs in B’erot Bat Ayin Cold & Cough Remedy. Its warming, diaphoretic, antiseptic and antibiotic properties empower it to combat the various germs of colds and coughs, whereas its antispasmodic and expectorant qualities enable it to soothe coughing and clear out phlegm. During the rainy season, especially when people in the vicinity are sniffling and coughing, I recommend gargling with sage tea as a preventive measure, which also helps those who are suffering from hoarseness, laryngitis, sore throat or flu. The antibacterial properties in sage also make it a useful mouthwash for gingivitis. Recent laboratory studies support the use of sage to guard against infection. It has demonstrated an ability to fight against several infection-causing bacteria. Pour boiling vinegar over fresh sage leaves and then lean over to inhale the vapors as an alternative way to heal sore throat.

Wise Women’s Sage Tea
Sage has estrogenic compounds and may help menopausal women find some relief from hot flashes. Drinking sage tea is also beneficial for women who have had a hysterectomy. Sage has traditionally been used to promote menstruation, and there are some studies that indicate it may indeed help stimulate uterine contractions. Modern research has shown that sage is helpful in reducing premenstrual cramps. It stimulates the muscles of the uterus, and therefore pregnant women should not consume highly concentrated forms of sage, although using it as a culinary spice has not been shown to have this effect. Sage is also contra-indicated for breastfeeding mothers, but works perfectly to dry up the milk of mothers who are ready to wean their baby.

Sage for the Brain
Sage has been known to improve memory since ancient times. “Sage is singularly good for the head and quickeneth the nerves and memory” (Herbalist John Gerard, 1597). Half a century later, Nicholas Culpeper, claimed that sage “heals the memory, warming and quickening the senses.” Modern research has begun to prove the inherent connection between brain-health and sage that herbalists have known since olden times. Scientists at the Universities of Newcastle and Northumbria found that people given sage oil tablets performed much better in a word recall test. One of the active ingredients in sage may boost levels of a chemical that helps carry information in the brain that is essential for memory. Sage protects the ‘chemical messengers’ by inhibiting the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChE) which breaks down one of the brain's ‘chemical messengers,’ acetylcholine. These findings were published in a memory study in the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, Volume 75, Issue 3, Pages C02, 497-730 (June 2003). (See also https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12895685). 

Hands On:
Sage is not only a potent medicine but also a choice herb in gourmet cooking. It goes well with cheeses and fatty meats. In addition, it is also a natural salt substitute. You only need a bit of sage to flavor any dish.

Sage Muffins (A favorite with my students)
2 Cups whole-wheat flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
¼ Cup sweetener (brown sugar, molasses, honey)
½ Tablespoon salt
2 Eggs
1 Cup milk fruit-juice or water
7 Tablespoons oil
¼ Cup currants or raisins

1. Mix dry and wet ingredients.
2. Add ¼ cup fresh, finely chopped sage.
3. Pour into a muffin tray, filling each cup ¾ full.
4. Bake about 20 minutes at 180 degrees.