Thursday, August 16, 2018

Soothing, Relaxing, Mood-lifting Lavender

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills 
(אֲזוֹבְיוֹן רְפוּאִי (לָבֶנְדֶר – Lavender – Lavandula Angustifolia
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Soothing, Relaxing, Mood-lifting Lavender
On the right side of the walkway to our home, three lavender plants emanate their sweet fragrance as I walk by. Every Motzei Shabbat my husband picks a spike or two, which we use together with lemon geranium and myrtle for havdalah. Afterward, I put the fragrant herbs in a vase, which graces the guest bathroom sink. Lavender makes me reminisce about my dear grandmother ob”m. Her gorgeous garden was replete with fragrant flowers, and I recall how she once told me to plant many lavender plants to enjoy their beautiful fragrance when you walked by. It is a hardy perennial that survives harsh Gush Etzion winters.  Lavender seems to bring back memories in general, although the conclusions of scientific studies regarding lavender’s effect on short-term memory are contradictory. When it comes to lavender’s calming effect, everyone agrees that lavender is calming and soothing. Lavender relaxes your mind and body. Lavender essential oil is often used to promote rest, bring on sleep and a feeling of happiness. If you suffer from insomnia, try sprinkling a few drops of lavender essential oil on your pillow before going to sleep. I always look forward to the final relaxation at the end of our weekly Meditative Movement (Yoga) class, when our teacher places an eye-pillow saturated with lavender essential oils on our eyes and forehead. As I breathe in the relaxing fragrance, after a long day of hard work, I may drift off a bit during the guided meditation.

Is Lavender Mentioned in the Torah?
Lavender is native to the Mediterranean, where the winters are cool and moist and the summers are hot and dry. Therefore, it is hard to believe that this lovely aromatic plant would not be mentioned in the Torah. Perhaps, the Biblical נֵרְדְּ/nerd could be referring to lavender? This herb is one of the 11 aromatics of the Ketoret (Temple incense), (Babylonian Talmud, Kritut 6a). According to Arizal, נֵרְדְּ/nerd corresponds to the sefirah of Tiferet – beauty (Sha’ar Hakavanot, Drushei Tefilat Hashachar 3). It exudes a beautiful fragrance, fit for a king, as we learn from Song of Songs:

ספר שיר השירים פרק א פסוק יב עַד שֶׁהַמֶּלֶךְ בִּמְסִבּוֹ נִרְדִּי נָתַן רֵיחוֹ:
“While the king sat at his table, my spikenard sent forth its fragrance” (Song of Songs 1:12).

ספר שיר השירים פרק ד פסוק יג שְׁלָחַיִךְ פַּרְדֵּס רִמּוֹנִים עִם פְּרִי מְגָדִים כְּפָרִים עִם נְרָדִים:
(יד) נֵרְדְּ וְכַרְכֹּם קָנֶה וְקִנָּמוֹן עִם כָּל עֲצֵי לְבוֹנָה מֹר וַאֲהָלוֹת עִם כָּל רָאשֵׁי בְשָׂמִים:
“Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates, with precious fruits; henna with spikenard plants. (14) Spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices (Song of Songs 4:13-14).

The Spiky Nard Confusion
The Torah commentaries or translations do not identify נֵרְדְּ/nerd with lavender, but rather with spikenard. There are various species of lavender, and spike lavender (Lavandula Latifolia) may be confused with spikenard. It is a small, aromatic herb or shrub; belonging to the Lamiaceae plant family and is closely related to true lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia). However, spikenard (Nardostachys Jatamansi) is a flowering plant of the Valerian family that grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, China and India. It was the more valuable of the two because it had to be imported from a great distance. It is distinguished by its many hairy spikes shooting out from one root. Spikenard is used as an aromatic ingredient in perfumes due to its sweet and earthy scent. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is famous for its cognitive and neurological benefits. Although lavender and spikenard are two completely unrelated herbs, they both have a calming effect that facilitate sound sleep. Interestingly, the Hebrew word ‘nerd’ from the root נ-ר-ד/nun-reish-dalet also means to fall asleep. The lavender shrub is named from the Latin ‘lavare,’ to wash because the ancient Romans used lavender in their bath water as a perfume as well as for its therapeutic properties. The Greeks called lavender ‘nardus,’ referring to a city in Syria called ‘Naarda,’ where lavender was often sold. Many simply called the plant ‘nard.’ This explains why some people confused the Biblical נֵרְדְּ/nerd with lavender.

The Lavender Cleanse Connection
Lavender has been used for over 2,500 years, starting with the ancient Egyptians who used it in their mummification process and as a perfume. It was also popular among Arabs, Romans and Greeks. In the North of England, during the middle ages, washerwomen were called ‘Lavenders’ due to the custom of scenting newly washed linen with lavender, to keep them moth and insect-free. Adding a few drops on a cotton cloth in the dryer will help repel insects and prevent moths. You can also make an all-purpose cleaner with a few drops of lavender essential oil, white vinegar and baking soda. For personal purification, soak in a lavender bath (with five to seven drops of lavender oil) for twenty to thirty minutes. A few drops of lavender with witch hazel is a great facial cleanser. You may also use lavender to help ‘wash’ away negative energies. Turner, in his work, A New Herball from the mid-1500s, explains that the name ‘lavender’ originated from the word ‘lavare’ because it would cleanse the head and mind. Perhaps he was referring to lavender’s ability to alleviate migraine headaches, or for treating mental disease. In either case, I recommend using a drop of lavender in a carrier oil for a headache and to add lavender to your massage oil for a calming, healing experience. I was inspired to read about a hospice that bathes its dying patients with lavender-scented water. It relaxes the patient as well as their family! 

Lavender for Mental Health
Lavender has an outstanding balancing and healing effect on the nervous system. Since so many illnesses are stress related, lavender is helpful both in preventative health care and for treating tension-related illnesses. The relaxing scent of lavender makes it a great aromatherapy for people suffering from depression. Research shows that the essential oil of lavender may be useful for treating anxiety, depression, insomnia, and restlessness. Lavender oil reduces emotional tension and encourages feelings of tranquility and peace. It allows us to remain calm during times of stress. Researchers found that lavender scent might help anxious dental patients.  A few drops of lavender relaxes and calms body, mind and spirit.

Promotes Meditation & Spiritual Connection
Lavender oil provides spiritual healing. The gentleness of lavender encourages compassion while helping to soothe deep sadness. Lavender conjures feelings of balance and emotional wellbeing. It releases energy blocks and helps reach a deeper spiritual connection through meditative work. Incorporating lavender into meditative practice heightens intuition and spiritual understanding. Rubbing a few drops of lavender oil into the arches of the feet can clear the energetic field while, massaging a few drops of lavender oil on the outer ear balances the energetic field. Lavender resonates with the sefira of keter (crown) relating to our connection with Hashem. When anointing the top of the forehead using a downward motion, it helps bring the spirit into the body. Placing 8-10 drops of lavender oil into a diffuser and allowing the aroma to fill the room helps clear the mind of distractions, while exhaling negative thoughts and breathing in the fragrant scent.

Heals the Skin
Lavender essential oil has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, which help heal minor burns, bug bites, wounds, bee stings, rashes, acne, and skin irritations or infections. A study published in the journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine  suggests that lavender accelerates wound healing. It may even be effective in treating fungal infections.  Put a drop of lavender on a bug bite, cut, burn, or scratch. Add a drop of lavender to your Band-Aid when you cut yourself for a speedy healing boost. Lavender is a superb herb to add to any homemade skin products due to its skin nourishing properties and pleasant scent. Use a few drops of lavender in any blend – from body lotion to face cream.

Hands On
Lavender is an all-purpose healer. I use it in my shampoo, natural deodorant and homemade face cream. Lavender also has culinary uses. The French are known for their lavender syrup, made from an extract of lavender. In the United States, both French lavender syrup and dried lavender buds make lavender scones and marshmallows. You can make a calming cup of tea from lavender flowers – just add hot water and let steep for 5 minutes. Lavender oil is gentle enough to use with children. Diffusing lavender when the kids are getting crazy is amazing. Rubbing it on the wrists, temples and/or feet can help calm mind and body to prepare for sleep. You may want to try cleaning your bathrooms with lavender and lemon oil. This calming scent kills all the nastiness. Here is a recipe for natural toilet bowl cleaner provided by my sister, Chava Kruger.

Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner
1 Cup distilled water
1 Cup baking soda
1 Cup liquid castile soap
¼ Cup distilled white vinegar
½ teaspoon tea tree essential oil
½ teaspoon lavender essential oil

1. Mix the last 5 ingredients together.
2. Add the water and shake all ingredients well.
3. Pour into a spray bottle

A beautiful and tasty addition to iced tea, lemonade, punch or other favorite cold beverages.

Pick enough sprigs of fresh lavender florets to fill your ice cube tray with at least one floret per cube.
1.Gently rinse fresh lavender florets.
2. Snip off the stem and leaves (reserve for another use).
3. Place at least one whole floret in each cube of your ice cube tray.
4. Cover with water.
5. Freeze until solid.
6. Remove from tray and store in a plastic bag or container.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Calamint: Inconspicuous, Sorrow Soothing, Sweet Smelling Herb


Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills
כַּלָמִינְתָּה אֲפוֹרָה – Lesser Calamint – Calamintha Incana

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Inconspicuous, Sorrow Soothing, Sweet Smelling Herb
When foraging for hyssop with my students, it is easy to mistake calamintha for hyssop. These two plants look almost identical in the spring, before the tiny pinkish, light purple or mauve flowers clearly distinguish calamintha from hyssop. Calamintha, more commonly known as calamint or gray calamint – a direct translation from the Hebrew – is smaller, low-climbing, with square stems and bears pairs of opposite leaves in the shape of small hearts. I would say that calamintha is more humble than hyssop. It droops inconspicuously, yet gracefully before spreading out. It needs very little room to grow, as it finds its way to spread out between rocks of the terrace and crevices and between steps and walls. In better conditions than my garden, it may be an erect, bushy plant reaching up to 30 cm (a foot) high. The main way to distinguish calamintha from hyssop is through its scent. The whole herb has a sweet and aromatic fragrance, and makes a pleasant tea. It grows by the wayside, in hedges, especially in dry places and may be cultivated as a hardy perennial. I was planning to uproot calamintha from my flower bed on the side of our driveway, since it seemed to have crowded out the presence of more desirable, vividly, colorful flowers. Yet, when I went to take some calamintha photos, I discovered how beautiful its delicate flowers actually are, if you only look closely. Calamintha’s flowering season is quite long: from the month of Tamuz (June/July) until Chanukah. Moreover, Calamintha soothes sorrows, helps in recovery from emotional pain, increases joy and restores a bright outlook on life. Therefore, I decided to add some better soil and compost rather than uprooting my soothing companion, who chose my garden as its home.

One of the Disputed Plants Qualifying for Bitter Herbs on Pesach
Calamintha belonging to the family Lamiaceae, is native to the northern temperate regions of Europe, Asia and America. It thrives in the Middle East including in Israel, where it favors the Galilee, the Judean Wilderness, as well as the mountains of Judea and Samaria. In the Talmudic discussion about the plants that qualify for bitter herbs on the Seder night, ethno-botanist and folklore researcher, Nissim Krispil identified Calamintha as one of the bitter herbs in debate:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סוכה דף יג/א ואמר רב חסדא אמר רבינא בר שילא הני מרריתא דאגמא אדם יוצא בהן ידי חובתו בפסח מיתיביה אזוב ולא אזוב יון ולא אזוב כוחלי ולא אזוב מדברי ולא אזוב רומי ולא אזוב שיש לו שם לווי אמר אביי כל שנשתנה שמו קודם מתן תורה ובאתה תורה והקפידה עליה בידוע שיש לו שם לווי והני לא נשתנה שמייהו קודם מתן תורה כלל:
Rav Chisda stated in the name of Rabina ben Shilo, A person fulfills his obligation on Pesach with bitter herbs of the marsh. It was objected: Hyssop but not Greek hyssop, or stibium-hyssop, or wild hyssop, or Roman hyssop or any kind of hyssop which has a special name. Abaye answered: Whatever had different names prior to the Giving of the Torah, the Torah makes specific mention of the general name to exclude the species with special names. However, the former [bitter herbs] did not have different names before the Giving of the Law at all. [All its varieties, therefore, are eligible]. (Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 13a)

The word אזוב יון/ezov yavan – translated as ‘Greek Hyssop’ may also be written in one word as אזוביון/ezovion meaning ‘lesser hyssop.’ Due to the similarity between hyssop and calamintha, with the latter being smaller, it makes sense to identify אזוביון/ezovion with calamintha incana. In Arabic as well, calamintha is called ‘small hyssop’ (Nissim Krispil, Yalkut Hatzemachim).

Medicinal Properties of Calaminta
Calamint has been consumed as a medicinal herb since medieval times. The Israeli Arabs traditionally use it for eating and for healing. Tea from dried calamint leaves treats the digestive system and cures intestinal worms. Due to its expectorant properties, it is very beneficial for the respiratory system. Being aromatic, it also acts as a nerve tonic. Calamint leaves have a high content of menthol, making them effective for treating bruises and cuts. Most important of all, calamint strengthens the uterus, relieves menstrual cramps and greatly alleviates female ailments and difficulties in childbirth.

Remedy for Respiratory Problems
Calamint heals respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia, asthma, chest congestion and cough. Inhaling calamint vapor is the best way to treat respiratory ailments. Using it as a rub also alleviates bronchial problems.

Treats Colds and Fever
As a diaphoretic – increasing perspiration – calamint may be used to treat colds and fevers.

Soothes the Stomach
Calamint strengthens the stomach, relieves indigestion, flatulence, colic and strong stomach pains. Culpepper recommends calamint for relieving pain in the stomach and bowels, convulsions and cramps from cholera.

Kills Intestinal Worms
Culpepper recommends taking calamint with salt and honey for killing intestinal worms.

May Cure Snake Bites
The name of the genus, calamintha, is derived from the Greek ‘Kalos’ – ‘excellent,’ because of the ancient belief in its power to drive away serpents and the dreaded basilisk – the fabled king of the serpents, whose very glance was fatal. Diyoskorides writes: “One root of calamintha in wine helps against snake bites.”

Heals Gall and Spleen
Calamint is also helpful in all disorders of the gall and spleen, and cures yellow jaundice (Culpepper).

Heals Nervous Disorders
Drinking calamint tea treats depression, insomnia and other nervous disorders. Consuming calamint seeds may also be helpful to cure depression: “Calamint cureth the infirmities of the hart, taketh away sorrowfulnesse which commeth of melancholie, and maketh a man merrie and glad” (Gerard). Conserve made of the young fresh tops is useful in hysterical complaints.

Stimulates Mental Alertness 
Calamint is very effective on afflictions of the brain, and can also make you more alert (Culpepper).

Heals the Skin and External Injuries
Calamint has been used extensively for skin ailments. Its leaves have a high menthol content, making them an effective remedy for bruises and cuts. “Calamint relieves those who have leprosy, taken inwardly, drinking whey after it, or the green herb outwardly applied, and that it taketh away black and blue marks in the face, and maketh black scars become well coloured, if the green herb (not the dry) be boiled in wine and laid to the place or the place washed therewith”  (Culpepper).

Female Ailments
Calamint is a woman’s friend. Drinking it in tea provides substantial relief of menstrual pains, and supports the uterus. Massaging with calmint oil helps women who suffer from female ailments such as period problems. Calamint aids the birthing woman and significantly alleviates labor pains. A woman who has difficult labor should chew calamint leaves steeped in olive oil.


Hands On
The leaves are the most useful part of calamint. The whole herb has a sweet, aromatic scent and makes a pleasant, cordial tea. For maximum effect, use infusion from the dried leaves collected at the peak of summer, when they are in their best condition. Crushed calamint leaves can also be rubbed on muscle cramps for providing subsequent relief. Traditionally, calamint has been used as a flavoring additive for wild game and other meats and to add a new taste to various foods.

Calamint Tea
1. Pick calamint stalks with leaves.
2. Simmer 2 handfuls of green stalks and leaves in a liter of water for 3 minutes.
3. Strain with a fine strainer or a cotton cloth to ensure a bug-free tea.
4. Drink 4-5 cups a day.

Calamint Vapor
1. Boil 4 heaping handfuls of green stalks and leaves in a liter of water.
2. When the vapor rises from the pot, creates a ‘tent’ with a towel above the head in order to draw the vapor.
3. This treatment lasts for up to 5 min.

Calamint Simple Syrup
4-5 Calamint sprigs
1 cup honey or granulated Brown Sugar
1 cup Water

1. Add the water and sweetener to a medium sauce pot and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar (about 2 minutes).
2. Add the calamint, stir, and remove from the heat.
3. Allow the calamint to steep in the syrup for 2 hours as it cools to room temperature on the counter top.
4. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a clean glass bottle. Store in the refrigerator for up 6 weeks. Yields about 1 cup.


Monday, July 30, 2018

Purselane: Omega 3 Rich, Welcome Volunteer, Summer Latecomer


Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills
רְגֵלַת הַגִּנָּה, פּוֹרְטוּלָקָה – Purselane – Portulaca Oleracea 

Printable Version


Omega 3 Rich, Welcome Volunteer, Summer Latecomer
The good thing about purslane is that it is a nutritious green plant that pops up during the heat of summer usually in the month of Av when most other greens have dried out. It emerges in the middle of my wilted vegetable garden and all around the edges of my flowerless flowerbeds. Purslane needs very little water and spreads like a creeping mat, carpeting the soil between other plants. Many people consider purslane to be a weed. I prefer the term ‘volunteer.’ It is a wonderfully crisp vegetable with a full, green flavor that wakes up any salad. Purslane is a welcome latecomer to include in all kinds of salads, smoothies and stir-fries. It has tiny, inconspicuous flowers, appearing at the ends of each branch, open only for 2-3 hours. It originates from India, where it has been eaten for thousands of years as a high ranking succulent green. It is mentioned in a Talmudic section discussing meanings of Hebrew words that were forgotten. A group of Rebbe Yehuda’s disciples came to ask him about the meaning of two seemingly obscure words – serugim and chaloglogot. When a disciple entered with an armful of purslane, they learned the meaning of these two obscure words from Rebbe’s maidservant admonished the disciple for littering the clean floor with chalaglogot i.e. purslane. Purslane later immigrated to Europe where it was favored and cultivated as a common garden vegetable. In Israel, I’ve found wild purslane on the list of vegetables to order from organic farm distributers. The lowly and humble purslane is one of the few plant sources of Omega 3 fatty acids growing wild all over neglected gardens and fields free for the taking. If you currently take fish oil capsules, omega-3 oil capsules, or anti-depressants, a switch to purslane could improve your health and save you lots of money. I let the purslane in my garden grow to a decent size, then snip off branches into my basket, rather than pulling up the roots, so it can develop new growth and supply the table for weeks. In the kitchen, I pluck off the leaves and pickle the stems. I harvest purslane even after it flowers and goes into seed. I simply pluck the flowering tips right along with the leaves, all are perfectly edible. Purslane is a succulent, meaning juicy and moist. Each of its little teardrop-shaped leaves are thick and fleshy, with a waxy surface. Inside, they are what is called in the herb-world ‘mucilaginous.’ This means it has a slippery, gelatinous texture, much like aloe vera or okra. These mucilaginous properties are very useful in herbal medicine for all manner of ailments, both internal and external.

Purslane Power
Purslane is a very nutritious weed that grows where you didn’t plant it and if you are lucky it shows up in your garden or yard. This lemony flavored plant is a powerhouse of nutrition. It’s Omega 3 helps prevent inflammation, supports brain health, and strengthens the immune and cardiovascular systems. Eating purslane is tastier, safer, and more effective than taking omega-3 supplements. Think of this plant as brain food and eat it! To increase the effect, add cold pressed walnut oil to your purslane. Purslane-fed chickens lay eggs that have twenty times more omega-3’s than regular eggs. Besides containing high levels of beneficial Omega 3 fatty acids, this invasive weed is unusually high in vitamin A, with good amounts of vitamins C, B complex as well as proteins, and nutrients including iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and nitrate. Furthermore, purslane is loaded with antioxidants (beta-carotene, C, and vitamin E). A single one-cup serving contains all the vitamin E you need in a day, as well as significant amounts of vitamins C and A. One cup of fresh purslane also gives you over 2000 mg of calcium and 8000 mg of potassium. Moreover, purslane is one of the very best sources of magnesium. One-cup supplies your minimum daily need of 450 mg. Magnesium deficiency has become very prevalent, and plays a role in many heart diseases. The magnesium in purslane helps lower elevated blood fat values and hence reduce the risk of heart attacks and blood clots. For people suffering from high blood pressure (hypertension), it is recommended to eat plenty of vegetables that contain magnesium such as purslane, spinach and green beans. Food containing high levels of magnesium and potassium have an anti-depressant effect as well. Thus, purslane is one of the five herbs – together with lettuce, amaranth greens, lamb’s quarters greens and watercress – richest in antidepressant substances. Purslane is also a superior source of herbs known to moderate the effects of depressive brain chemicals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, phenylalanine, tryptophan and lithium. In Chinese medicine, purslane is used as a remedy for diarrhea, bacterial dysentery, fever and urinary tract infections.

Medicinal Properties of Purslane
According to Oriental Medicine, the energetics of purslane is sour and cold, hence it is a good cooling food for the summer. It affects the colon, liver, spleen Meridians.

Skin Purslane has a cooling, anti-inflammatory affect along with soothing and healing mucilaginous constituents, which can be used topically to cool, soothe and heal the skin. The leaves of purslane are full of sap that can be applied fresh to the skin in order to relieve inflammation, insect bites, bee stings, snakebites, inflamed skin, skin sores and burns. It may also be helpful as a relief for boils and eczema. The plant contains many valuable antioxidants, including carotenoids and may be used as a facemask to cleanse, refresh and tighten the skin. In addition, the freshly crushed leaves can be used in the form of a poultice for headaches, sore eyes, and gout.

Digestive system Purslane helps to reduce inflammation and speed the healing of the gastrointestinal tract. Due to the plant’s high content of mucilage, it has soothing properties that can be used for gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea, dysentery, acute enteritis (inflammation of the small intestine), appendicitis and hemorrhoids. Adding it to your diet helps to reduce ulcers, colitis and any inflamed area of the intestines. The seeds have been used against intestinal worms.

Detoxifies Purslane has diuretic properties and can be used to cleanse the body of toxins and as a cooling and fever-lowering agent. It may also be helpful as an herbal remedy for ailments related to the urinary tract.

Female Ailments The herb has also been used to treat mastitis (inflammation of the mammary gland), postpartum bleeding. Yet, purslane is contraindicated during pregnancy, as it may have a contracting effect on the uterus.

Cough & Tuberculosis The fresh squeezed sap may be used to counteract cough.
Mix fresh purslane juice with honey (made into a sticky paste by heating) to expel phlegm, add garlic and drink as tea to treat tuberculosis.
Due to its high vitamin C content purslane treats scurvy. In addition, it is used to treat various other ailments such as fever and inflammation, hemorrhages, foot tineas, and edema. 

Side effects Since purslane is a cooling herb, excessive ingestion of purslane is contraindicated for individuals with cold and weak digestion and spleens.

Culinary Uses
Purslane has a great taste and is replete with nutritional virtues, vitamins and minerals. It is mentioned in the Talmud as one of the edible plants that qualifies for making an eruv tavshilin that permits cooking for Shabbat on the holidays (Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 28a). It ripens around the same time as cucumbers, zucchinis and green beans, and it is available right through tomato season as well. During these hot summer days, it is simple to add a handful of purslane to any cooling summer salad, such as cucumber and tomato salads or mix chopped purslane with yogurt and garlic according to the Middle Eastern tradition. I usually eat my purslane raw; though there are recipes that call for sautéing, or using its mucilaginous properties to thicken soups and stews. The young, crispy leaves, stems and flower buds have a crisp and slightly salty flavor and can be used fresh in salads, boiled or steamed just as other vegetables or served in marinades with meat and fish dishes. The older, tougher leaves can be used to spice up soups and casseroles. When using purslane in cooking, chop the leaves finely and add at the end of the cooking to preserve the delicate flavor and the content of vitamins. You may also add some raw sprigs for a nutritious garnish.

Hands On
Purslane is easy to cultivate. The plant grows best in a nutritious well-drained soil in sunny areas. It is important to keep the soil evenly moist to ensure that the plant becomes fertile. The seed is sown directly into final growing places in the spring, and often multiple times throughout the summer in order to have a steady supply of healthy plants over a longer period. The leaves can be picked from the plants six to eight weeks after sowing. This is a valuable and easily grown extra salad plant.

Purslane Cucumber Salad
6 Medium sized cucumbers, sliced
2 Cups Purslane leaves
1 Cup yogurt
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Teaspoons natural vinegar
2 Tablespoons chopped mint
½ Teaspoon coarse black pepper

1. Slice cucumbers and mix together with purslane in a salad bowl.
2. In a blender, mix together the rest of the ingredients for your dressing.
3. Coat the cucumber-purslane mixture well with the dressing. Serve chilled.

Purslane and cucumbers are a match made in heaven.  Don't hesitate to add purslane to any good cucumber recipe. It is best to put the dressing on just before serving. The salad becomes watery if prepared too much in advance.

Purslane Pickles
1 Glass jar for pickling
4 Cups purslane or enough to fill the jar
Apple cider vinegar to fill the jar

1. Fill your jar with freshly harvested chopped purslane.
2. Leave a little space at the top.
3. Fill the jar with room temperature apple cider vinegar. Make sure to completely cover the plant material.
4. Cover with a glass or plastic lid. (Do not use metal lids as they will corrode).
5. Label your purslane pickle jars include the date.
6. Refrigerate. The pickles will be ready after six weeks but will stay good for up to a year.

Using a tablespoon of purslane vinegar on cooked greens, beans, and salads adds wonderful flavor along with lots of minerals. You can also eat the pickled purslane right out of the bottle or add it to salads or beans.

Purslane Gazpacho
2 Cups tomato juice
4 Cups diced tomatoes
1 Cucumber, peeled and finely minced
1-2 Cups Purslane leaves (no need to chop unless they are exceptionally large)
½ Cup finely minced onion or green scallions
1 Clove garlic, minced fine
3 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoons natural vinegar
1 Teaspoon minced basil
¼ Cup minced parsley
A generous handful of fresh basil leaves
1 Teaspoon tarragon and ¼ to ½ tsp cumin (optionally)
2 to 3 Tablespoons olive oil
Sea-salt and pepper to taste

1.  Combine all the above ingredients except half of the diced cucumber and tomatoes, and a few of the purslane and fresh herb sprigs.
2.  Puree the mixture in a blender or food processor.
3. Add the unprocessed vegetables and herbs for a nice chunky consistency.
4.  Chill until very cold.  Serve with an extra sprig of purslane for a garnish.

Gazpacho is a cold summer soup, made with fresh raw late summer garden vegetables. Since purslane likes to grow when all these are ripe, it is a natural addition to any gazpacho. You can add it quite liberally, as it is mild and sweet and boosts the nutritional value tremendously.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Lemongrass: Cleansing, Energy Transforming, Mind-Clearing Herb

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills
לִימוֹנִית – Lemongrass – Cymbopogon Citratus
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Cleansing, Energy Transforming, Mind-Clearing Herb
Lemongrass makes a rich flavored lemony herbal tea, which lends itself to a delicious ice-tea on a hot summer day. Known for its cleansing properties, lemongrass needs lots of water. My lemongrass really thrived when we had a leak in our water faucet that dripped onto its sheaths. Before I even knew that lemongrass serves as an all-purpose cleaner, I added some drops of essential lemongrass oil to my natural laundry soap. As a powerful energy cleanser, lemongrass makes a nice addition to floor wash that clears energy from a home, room or office space. It also facilitates people, who feel stuck, heavy or low, in letting go of negative energy. It helps us enter a cleansing, healing mode ready to release old, limiting beliefs, toxic energies and negativity. The scent of lemongrass encourages those of us, who hoard stuff, to let go of everything we no longer need, while clearing up any obstacles standing in our way. It allows us to move forward and helps us to commit to an emotionally, physically and spiritually healing path ready for necessary life changes. Lemongrass has a pungent, earthy aroma that heightens awareness and purifies the mind. It is good for meditation as it opens psychic channels and aids concentration. It awakens the senses and clears mental congestion and headaches. It protects our own energetic fields from electromagnetic energy (TV, computers, smartphones). I pack lemongrass in my bag when we go away to a hotel where there are lots of people bombarding us with their energies. It helps transform them into positive energies. It encourages optimism, bitachon (trust) and hope, once the negative energies are released. Lemongrass is a cheerful, lighthearted herb that serves as a reminder to keep things in perspective and not take them too seriously. It energizes any celebration with a gentle lift rather than a punch and is effective for increasing, clarifying, and sweetening communication between people. Lemongrass also helps us get in touch with our inner child.

Tropical, Warm, Romance Enhancer
Lemongrass is a tropical grass native to India and Southeast Asia where it has long been appreciated, not just as a spice, but also as medicine, to treat feverish conditions and to keep bugs at bay. It has ornamental, culinary, cosmetic and medicinal value. It looks like a tall clump of grass with several narrow, pale greenish stalks growing away from the bulbous base. Inside the stalk is citralan oil also found in the skin of lemons. When pruning your lemongrass you may want to wear gloves or at least use a scissor rather than your hands to cut the blades. The blades are very sharp, as with many grasses, that’s why they are called blades! Lemongrass grows everywhere in Israel, except in the high mountains. It doesn’t like the cold winters in Gush Etzion and struggles to survive frost and snow. Most years the tops freeze back and new shoots emerge from the root base when the soil warms up sufficiently, but not always. I have replaced my lemongrass a few times over the years. If you live in a colder region with winter frost, you may want to grow your lemongrass in a pot and protect it during the winter. In Central Africa and other parts of the world, lemongrass is used as a stimulating aphrodisiac. In the Caribbean it is the main ingredient in an aphrodisiac elixir for stimulating a dormant sensual drive in both men and women. It is still used in many places to flavor food for enhancing romance and intimate pleasure.

Medicinal Properties of Lemongrass
Lemongrass is a good source of vitamins A and C, folate, folic acid, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and manganese. It also contains traces of B vitamins. Lemongrass is traditionally used in various parts of the world as a natural antiseptic and insect repellant. As a tea, lemongrass can help relieve aches, pains and may even aid indigestion due to its carminative properties. The antibacterial, diaphoretic, detoxifying, expectorant, pectoral (relating to the breast or chest), preventative (cold), and sudorific (sweat-inducing) properties of lemongrass oil are useful in treating various infections of the upper respiratory tract, lungs, and stomach such as consumption, common cold, cough, pneumonia, fever and flue. A decoction prepared from the stalk can effectively fight intestinal parasites such as Entamoeba histolytica, which cause dysentery. Malaria is a parasitic disease, caused by the genus Plasmodium, characterized by recurrent high fever, headache, vomiting, and fatigue and is commonly transmitted by mosquitos. The essential oils of lemongrass were found to produce 86.6 percent suppression in the growth of Plasmodium when compared with the popularly used drug chloroquine. Lemongrass is also an effective herbal anti-fungal medicine. Being an antispasmodic, it treats hypertension, rheumatism, headaches, sprains and muscle cramps. Its essential oil is often mixed with coconut oil and rubbed on arthritic joints and sore muscles. A bath with the essential oil of lemongrass added can ease sore muscles. If you don’t have the essential oil handy, a strong lemongrass tea added to a bath will achieve similar results. The tea can also be used as a compress for bruises and soreness. It is not only psychologically refreshing, but also serves as a tonic for tightening weak connective tissue. With its emmenagogue properties, essential oil of lemongrass strengthens blood vessels and helps prevent varicose veins. Being a dentifrice it treats toothache and is beneficial in mouthwashes, mouth sores, gum disease and inflammation (gingivitis). In Puerto Rico people use the fibrous stalks as a natural toothbrush! Clean and tingling fresh! (Try it!)

Israel’s Cancer Killer Discoveries
There is evidence that lemongrass can be used in cancer treatments. A study by Israeli researchers, led by Dr. Rivka Ofir and Prof. Yakov Weinstein at Ben Gurion University, found that a drink with as little as one gram of lemongrass contains enough of its active ingredient, citral, to prompt cancer cells to commit suicide in the test tube without harming any of the normal cells. The success of their research led them to the conclusion that herbs containing citral, the key component that gives the lemony aroma and taste in several herbal plants, may be consumed as a preventative measure against certain cancerous cells. Cancer patients from around the country swamped Benny Zabidov’s farm in Kfar Yedidya in the Sharon region, asking for fresh lemongrass. They were told to drink eight glasses of hot water with fresh lemongrass steeped in it on the days that they went for their radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

Lemongrass – The #1 Insect Repellent
Lemongrass is best known for its efficiency to repel insects such as mosquitoes and fleas. Yet, it is hard to tell which is worse, the mosquitoes or the commercial repellents. Mosquitoes can be horrific – they can be highly aggressive, and without protection, it can be impossible to bear. “In the history of the world, more people have died from diseases transmitted by mosquitoes than from all the fighting in all the wars.” Nevertheless, the commercial repellant sprays mostly use diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET), a nasty chemical that can cause rashes, swelling, eye irritation, and worse problems that I won’t even mention. The incense coils, which fill the air with smoke containing insecticides, may keep the mosquitoes away. This is very wise of them, for who wants to inhale the fumes of these coils?  Baruch Hashem, “G-d prepares the cure before the wound” (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 12b), in the form of lemongrass. Its essential oil, citral, like citronella, has shown to be an effective insect repellent, especially against mosquitos. It is a safe and natural insect repellent that’s just as effective as the commercial chemical products, especially when it’s fresh. In fact, lemongrass contains more than just citronella oil and is more effective than true citronella. One study conducted in 2013 with lemongrass essential oils proved that it also repels ants. While applying lemongrass extract to the skin and clothes is most effective, growing the plants  in the garden and in pots around a patio or deck where people are hanging out, can help keep mosquitoes away. It is good to brush its stalks occasionally in order to release more of the lemongrass scent into the air.

Cosmetics and Skincare
Lemongrass is one of the 10 most produced essential oils worldwide. It is used in many scents, soaps, lotions and other skin and hair preparations. It is very refreshing as a footbath for tired feet and treats excessive perspiration. In aromatherapy skin care, it can be used to tone and tighten the skin, especially where open pores call for an astringent. Use with caution; as people with sensitive skin may experience skin reactions.

Culinary Uses:
Lemongrass is commonly used in Asian and Thai cuisine, imparting a gentle citrus flavor to spiced and scented dishes, while being refreshingly tart with its hint of a citrus like peppery flavor. Lemongrass combines well with chicken, curries, fish, marinades, noodles, soups, spring rolls, stir-fry’s and Vietnamese salads. It is popular in vegetarian coconut recipes and as an unusual ingredient to flavor syrups for poaching peaches or pears. Delectable dishes from Southeast Asia often use lemongrass. Various chicken and seafood preparations are flavored with its lemony flavor. Mainly, the firm lower part of the stem is used. The whole stem is cut at the soil line, the leafy parts are trimmed off and the rest is used to flavor food. The stem is crushed or pounded and added in large pieces during the cooking process. Then, the pieces are removed so they are not eaten. A 4-8 cm (2- 4 inch) piece of lemongrass will impart a very lemony flavor to a stir-fry. Placing a crushed piece of lemongrass stem in a pot of rice and cooking it as usual will produce a lovely, lemony rice. Add some lemongrass to a chicken soup for an Asian twist on an old favorite. Just don’t forget to remove the thick pieces of the stem before serving!

The leafy parts of the lemongrass stalk can be used to make a delicious and refreshing tea. You can use the leaves fresh or dried. If fresh, use about 2 teaspoons chopped leaf per cup of tea. If dried, use about 1 teaspoon per cup, then steep for 10 minutes in boiling water. Lemongrass blends well with green tea, chamomile, mint, rose hips, hibiscus and holy basil. I find a blend of lemongrass and mint to be a most refreshing iced tea on a hot afternoon. Experiment with blends from your own herb garden. Lemongrass leaves can also enhance traditional lemonade.

Hands On
To bring out the aroma of lemongrass, remove the two outer layers and gently bruise the stalk with a mortar or rolling pin before using. Use the lower 4-6 inches of the stalk and save the more fibrous upper leaves for tea. If you are using the whole lemongrass in cooking, take it out before serving. Lemongrass may be dried and cut up into smaller chunks for use in herbal mixes, baths or anointing oils. It is possible to freeze lemongrass. Although it may lose a little bit of flavor, freezing will soften the stalks.

Homemade Organic Mosquito Repellent (HOMeR)
Lemongrass Mosquito repellent is sustainable, made entirely from locally available renewable resources. It is processed entirely by the end-user as needed. It is eco-friendly and won’t boil the planet or blow a hole in the sky.

Fresh Mosquito Repellant Stalks
This procedure is pleasant on the skin and 98% effective. The effect lasts for about 4-5 hours.
Rubbing the long, grassy leaves on the skin works well, but the stalk is even more effective.

1. Take one stalk of fresh lemongrass (grip it near the ground and give it a sharp sideways tug to break it off from the clump), peel off the outer leaves, snap off the grass blades behind the swollen stem at the base.
2. Bend the stem between your fingers, loosening it, then rub it vigorously between your palms so that it fractures into a kind of fibrous juicy mass, and rub this mess over all exposed skin, covering thoroughly at least once.

Mosquito Repellant Tincture
This spray works just as well as using the stalks directly on the skin. It will last about a week before it loses its effectiveness.

1. Chop up the cores of five or six stalks of lemongrass and put them in a blender
2. Add a cup of alcohol and blend thoroughly.
3. Tincture can be further diluted by adding up to half as much water.
4. Strain it into a sprayer.

Lemongrass and Tofu Stir-fry
2 Lemongrass stalks, cleaned and chopped (discard the dryer outer layers because they will have flavor but will be hard to eat. You can save those for making a flavorful broth.)
500 Gram (1 lb.) tofu, drained, patted dry and sliced into strips or cubes.
2 Tablespoons Tamari soy sauce (depends on how salty you like it, you can add more if needed).
½ Teaspoon dried red chili flakes or 2 teaspoons fresh chili (if possible use Thai bird chilies).
1 Teaspoon ground turmeric
2 Tablespoons sesame or olive oil
½ onion, thinly sliced + 2 shallots, thinly sliced,
Or 1 medium sized onion, thinly sliced, or 1 bunch of green onion, diced.
3 Cloves garlic, minced
4 Tablespoons chopped roasted sunflower or sesame seeds
2/3 cup loosely packed basil leaves

1. Combine the lemongrass, soy sauce, chilies and turmeric in a bowl. Add the tofu and turn to coat them evenly. Marinate for 30 minutes.
2. Heat half of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over moderately high heat. Add the onion(s), and garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the onions are soft, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate and keep warm.
3. Heat the remaining oil over moderate heat. Add the tofu mixture and using a wooden spoon, turn so it cooks evenly, about 4 to 5 minutes (until the lemongrass looks ‘melted.’)
4. Add the onion mixture and cook, uncovered, for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add half the seeds and the basil leaves.
5. Remove from the heat and transfer to a serving plate. Garnish with the remaining seeds and serve with steamed rice, rice noodles, or even in rice wraps!