Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Helpful Herbs before Fasting

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills
צמחי מרפא לפני הצום – Helpful Herbs before Fasting
Printable Version

Keep Yourself Moisturized in Anticipation of a Summer Fast
As the scorching sun is at its zenith, the fast of the Ninth of Av is before us. In Israel, this is the hardest of all the fasts, as it starts at sundown on one of the longest and hottest days of the year. I recall my first years in the Torah world. During most of the fast of Tisha b’Av, I was thinking about watermelon rather than crying over the loss of our dear Temple. Now, as a seasoned faster, the long summer fasts pass easily. The hardest part is usually breaking the fast in a healthy, non-gluttonous way. In Israel today, you can buy special herbal pills to take before the fast, but if you prepare for the fast sensibly through diet and herbs, these pills are unnecessary. Preparing for a summer fast entails keeping your system as moisturized as possible to avoid excess thirst. First of all, start the day before fasting by drinking a lot of water. Supplement with moisturizing and demulcent herbal teas, listed further on, and possibly with a cup or two of grape-juice.

Consume Slow Digesting Wholesome Foods Prior to the Fast
The Temple Institute - Student Trip
In view of the long hours of the upcoming fast, it is beneficial to consume slow digesting, fiber-containing foods rather than fast-digesting foods. The satisfaction from slow digesting foods lasts up to 8 hours, whereas fast-digesting foods leave you hungry already 3 to 4 hours after the meal. Slow-digesting foods include grains and seeds like wheat, spelt, barley, whole oats, wild rice, millet, buckwheat, beans, lentils, whole wheat or rye bread etc. (These are also called complex carbohydrates). Fast-burning foods are foods that contain sugar, white flour, etc. (These are also called refined carbohydrates). Fiber-containing foods include whole wheat, bran, whole grains, seeds and vegetables such as green beans, peas, beets, carrots, spinach, beet-leaves (iron-rich) and fruits with their skin, especially dried apricots, figs, prunes, almonds, etc. Eat a well-balanced meal containing foods from each food group, i.e. fruits, vegetables, proteins and grains. Make sure to include complex carbohydrates during the pre-fast meal, so that the food lasts longer, making you less hungry. From the fruit group, dates are an excellent source of natural sugar, fiber, carbohydrates, potassium and magnesium. Almonds are rich in protein and fiber with less fat. Bananas are a good source of potassium, magnesium and carbohydrates. Limit unhealthy fried, fatty and sugary foods. They cause indigestion, heartburn, and weight gain. Do not over-eat during the meal before fasting. Too much water or tea during the meal before fasting causes more urination, which loses valuable mineral salts that your body needs during the upcoming fast day. 

Licorice – The Sweet Demulcent Fasters’ Friend
Personally, the main herb I take before fasting is licorice root. Among its many medicinal properties, licorice helps keep your body liquefied. For that reason, it is contra-indicated for people who suffer from edema. (Pregnant women and people with heart, liver or kidney issues should also avoid licorice). Licorice root is a potent anti-inflammatory, mild, natural laxative, expectorant, demulcent (soothing), mild sedative and chi (energy) tonic. In Chinese medicine, it has been used for centuries to improve energy, alleviate coughs and colds, strengthen digestion, treat gastro-intestinal problems, and female reproductive issues. As an anti-inflammatory and demulcent herb, licorice root brings fast relief for sore throat, cough and colds. It is an effective expectorant that alleviates dryness of the lungs, while helping to loosen and expel mucus through coughing. In the medical journal Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, licorice was found to help the body more efficiently regulate cortisol – the stress hormone – thus improving the response to stress while giving the adrenal glands a break. One study published in Food Chemistry, described licorice as having “antioxidant, free-radical scavenging, immune-stimulating” properties. It clears heat, detoxifies poisons, and relieves abdominal pains and spasms. Licorice root also works as a natural remedy for ulcers and can be beneficial for a leaky gut. Due to its estrogen-like effect, licorice is a natural remedy in the treatment of menstrual- and fertility-related syndromes, including PMS. For treatment of menopause, licorice was shown in a Health Care for Women International study to be more effective than hormone replacement therapy for reducing the duration of hot flashes. I make a licorice root decoction by simmering the threaded roots in a large pot for 20 minutes. Then, I drink the delicious sweet licorice tea throughout the day prior to fasting. This drink helps me retain body fluids while preventing the loss of mineral salts in the urine.

Herbs to Use Before Fasting
Fasting is actually healthy for both body and soul when done properly, by eating and drinking before and after in a sensible, self-disciplined way. Periodic fasting allows the digestive system to rest and clear itself. A fast can have numerous health benefits, including reduction of pain, relief from digestive upset, clearer thought processes, weight loss, and general health improvement. In excess conditions, fasting and the taking of bitter, eliminative and detoxifying herbs beforehand helps your body cleanse itself and eliminate intestinal parasites. Some cleansing herbs that enhance elimination include dandelion root, with its bitter, sweet and cool energetics. It is used for all heated liver conditions, breast tumors, abscesses, boils, fluid retention, stomach disorders, and constipation. Dandelion root is one of the best remedies for treating hepatitis and a possible preventative for breast cancer. Honeysuckle, with the same energetics as dandelion is used for infections and inflammations with its broad spectrum anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties. It is very effective against fevers, colds and flues and is regarded as a reliable antibiotic herb, similar to Echinacea. Recent studies in China have found it to be effective in the treatment of certain cancers, especially of the breast. It is useful for sore throat and conjunctivitis, as well as inflammations of the intestines, urinary tract and reproductive organs.

Demulcent Herbs/Yin Tonics for Retaining Moisture and Alleviating Thirst
In addition to licorice, marshmallow root is also a bitter, sweet, and cooling yin tonic that helps to moisturize the body prior to a fast. It has nutritive, alterative, diuretic, demulcent, emollient, vulnary and laxative properties. It treats wasting and thirsting diseases, tuberculosis, diabetes, cough, dryness and inflammation of the lungs, gangrene, septicemia, ulcers, kidney stones, difficult or painful urination and vomiting. Similarly, Solomon’s seal is a sweet cooling yin and chi tonic, beneficial before a fast due to its nutritive, expectorant, and mild diaphoretic properties. In addition to being a heart tonic, it treats chronic wasting and consumptive diseases, tuberculosis, diabetes, and dry cough. It also heals broken bones and builds reproductive secretions. Slippery elm is one of the most mucilaginous herbs, and good before a fast. This sweet, neutral herb is also a yin tonic, with nutritive, demulcent, expectorant, emollient, astringent, and vulnerary properties. It treats sore throat, coughs, bleeding from the lungs and other lung problems, dryness of the throat, wasting diseases, digestive problems and nausea.

Reconnecting with the Temple of Our Soul
Once we have prepared properly for the fast of Tisha b’Av, our mind and heart can be clear from thinking about food during the fast. This allows us to focus on mourning for the Temple. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler writes that the purpose of mourning and suffering is to turn our heart away from mundane affairs and cause us to abandon the idea that our salvation lies in that direction. Then, it is possible to ignite the spark of truth in our heart. When we get in touch with the true spark of our soul, it opens the way to repentance, which is the greatest consolation. As long as we are unable to rebuild the Temple in our soul, by reconnecting with our Divine spark, the Temple in Jerusalem likewise lies in ruins. Until we are able to build a permanent home for the Shechinah (Feminine Divine Indwelling Presence), we experience both personal and cosmic exile, as the essence of exile is the exile of the Shechinah. It follows that repentance, which ends the exile of the Shechinah in the individual, is identical with redemption for that person.

Practical Tips for Breaking the Fast
Once the fast comes to an end, we hope that the strengthening of our soul we experienced on Tisha b’Av will illuminate the rest of our summer. Breaking the fast properly gives us the ability to take its spiritual message with us into our mundane activities. It is important to make a gradual transition back into eating, rather than stuffing ourselves or going out to a sumptuous dinner. Breaking a fast must be planned and done carefully and slowly to prevent overburdening the digestive system which has been at rest. Therefore, it is especially important to eat slowly and chew our foods very well. The first thing after a fast is to drink water. I drink about ¾ liter after the fast and every morning. I recommend drinking at least several cups of water, and then waiting half an hour or at least 15 minutes before eating. The first thing to eat after a fast and every morning is fresh fruit, such as melon, grapes, peaches or plums. Then again, wait about 15 minutes before eating the rest of your meal. Eat a nice light meal with veggies, grains, and protein. Don’t forget to eat everything slowly and chew well. If you follow these guidelines, you will G-d willing feel healthy and energized after the fast rather than tired out.

Hands On
During a fast, our body does not take in sufficient energy but instead breaks down skeletal muscle and converts it into energy. The first foods to consume upon breaking a fast are critical to nourish the body, and should not expend much energy to digest and assimilate. Raw fruit juices, smoothies and fruit contain much water content and are therefore easily digested. You could break your fast by drinking a cup of freshly squeezed fruit juice, followed by 2 cups of mixed fruit. Minimize citrus fruits at first since they may feel too acidic in your stomach. Organic vegetables free of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics are also ideal after a fast. A small salad of fresh dark green leafy vegetables, tomatoes and cucumbers are easy on the stomach and packed with nutrients. Make sure to add some mixed sprouts, which digest easily and contain an abundance of concentrated nutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Herbal Formula to Aid Fasting, Neutralize Acids and Alleviate Hunger
Dandelion root (chief herb)
Black pepper (chief, assistant and conducting)
Cleavers (assisting)
Fennel seed (conducting)
Cardamom seed (conducting)
Licorice Root (harmonizing)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Prickly Burnet -Pot-Shaped, Paradisiac Thorn of Division

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills
סירה קוצנית – Prickly Burnet – Linnaeus, Poterium Spinosum
Printable Version

Pot-Shaped, Paradisiac Thorn of Division
Prickly burnet is considered the main component of middle-eastern terrain. When we first inspected our plot of land in Bat Ayin, we found it overgrown with thorn-bushes. The land was hard and dry and nothing but thorns could grow here. It took years of hard work until we were able to uproot and keep the thorns at bay, to make room for fruit-trees, herbs and greens. When I later discovered that the aggressive thorn was no other than the biblicalסִּרָה קוֹצָנִית /seerah kotzanit – ‘prickly burnet,’ I was happy that traces of this thorn-bush remained at the edges of our plot. Both its Hebrew and Latin names reflect the resemblance of its flower-seed to a mini cooking-pot. Each of its multiple flowers is surrounded by four or five sepals joined together to form a small pot. This little pot is green when young, reddish at maturity, and rusty brown in its last stages, when the color is similar to a fired clay pot. The tips of the sepals cover the top of the pot, in the shape of a tiny pot cover. This structure gives the plant its name: סִּרָה/seerah – ‘pot.’ Dr. Ephraim Hareuveni concluded that the seerah in the Bible and Talmud is a name for the thorny plant named by Linnaeus, Poterium Spinosum from the Greek ‘poterion’ – drinking cup. The short branches of the prickly burnet divide into two, which in return continue to divide several times. Observing its dichotomic branching structure reminds me of the consequence of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This original sin caused the division of the unified Divine reality. Since then we experience a gap in the inherent harmony between Humanity & G-d, Man & Woman, Israel & the Nations, Body & Soul etc. When Adam was cursed with “thorns and thistles” (Bereishit 3:18) – the prickly burnet with its multiple dichotomic branching structure, representing the ensuing dichotomy of the world – is very likely the original thorn that sprouted forth as a consequence of eating from the Tree.  

Thorns of Ruin
The Book of Hoshea compares Israel to an unfaithful wife who profanes her exclusive covenant with Hashem. The prophet describes how the prickly burnet is instrumental in curbing the daughter of Israel when she wanders off into side-paths and goes astray:

ספר הושע פרק ב  פסוק ח לָכֵן הִנְנִי שָׂךְ אֶת דַּרְכֵּךְ בַּסִּירִים וְגָדַרְתִּי אֶת גְּדֵרָהּ וּנְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ לֹא תִמְצָא:
“I will hedge up your way with prickly burnet, and raise fences, and she shall not find her paths” (Hoshea 2:8).

In the Torah, this conspicuous thorn is described both as a deterrent to sin and as a means of punishing the sinner. Tehillim 58 deals with the evil of the wicked who spreads wrongdoing and injustice throughout the land. The following verse describes his punishment:

ספר תהילים פרק נח פרק י בְּטֶרֶם יָבִינוּ סִּירֹתֵכֶם אָטָד כְּמוֹ חַי כְּמוֹ חָרוֹן יִשְׂעָרֶנּוּ:
“Before your prickly burnet will feel thorny, while they are still green, [Hashem] shall sweep them away in a burning whirl-wind” (Tehillim 59:10 Dr. Reuveni’s translation).

The burning whirlwind will catch the wicked while they are still in the fullness of power. Similarly, the prickly burnet shrubs catch fire and are destroyed even while they are still green, and before they have turned to thorns. The great fire will consume them quickly and utterly, like tangles of prickly burnet that burns in minutes like dry straw as the prophet testifies:

ספר נחום פרק א פסוק י כִּי עַד סִירִים סְבֻכִים וּכְסָבְאָם סְבוּאִים אֻכְּלוּ כְּקַשׁ יָבֵשׁ מָלֵא:
“For they are entangled with prickly burnet thorns, drunken as with their drink; they are devoured as stubble fully dry” (Nachum 1:10).

Yesha’yahu uses the imagery of prickly burnet to underscore how the palaces of the Edomites will be utterly destroyed. In his vision, the prickly burnet shrubs slowly spread from the uncultivated fields outside the walls into the destroyed city, taking root in the palaces and mansions, where they will flourish forever:

ספר ישעיה פרק לד פסוק יג  וְעָלְתָה אַרְמְנֹתֶיהָ סִירִים קִמּוֹשׂ וָחוֹחַ בְּמִבְצָרֶיהָ וְהָיְתָה נְוֵה תַנִּים חָצִיר לִבְנוֹת יַעֲנָה:
“The prickly burnet thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in her fortresses: and it shall be a habitation of wild dogs, and a court for owls” (Yesha’yahu 34:13).

The fact that the prickly burnet is a symbol of ruin and destruction lends additional support to it being the original thorn sprouting forth as a result of primordial sin.

Crackling Thorns
King Salomon makes a pun with the word for cooking pot הַסִּיר/haseer and הַסִּירִים/haseerim –the prickly burnets:

ספר קהלת פרק ז פסוק ז כִּי כְקוֹל הַסִּירִים תַּחַת הַסִּיר כֵּן שְׂחֹק הַכְּסִיל וְגַם זֶה הָבֶל:
“For as the crackling of the prickly burnet (seerim) under the pot (seer), so is laughter of the fool; and this too is futility” (Kohelet 7:5).

The laughter of the fool is like the crackling sound of the burning prickly burnet, which burns up quickly, for the laughter of the fool brings no lasting joy. True enduring happiness is found only when connecting with the unity of Hashem’s oneness beyond the divisions of the world, represented by the dichotomic branching structure of the prickly burnet. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: All trees, when they burn do not produce loud noises, but the seerim do, as though they are saying “we too are trees!” (Midrash Kohelet Zuta 7:5). From the days of Kohelet to the days of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, some 1,100 years went by. More than 1,800 years have passed from Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi to our day. Yet, we can still go out to the fields of Israel, gather the seerim shrubs and listen to their burning crackle (Noga Reuveini).

Caught by the Prickly Burnet
The divisive prickly burnet also played a role in the rift between Shaul and David. Although Shaul repeatedly attempted to kill him, David spared Shaul’s life on several occasions. Once, when he found Shaul and his bodyguard, Avner, off-guard, he cut the corner of Shaul’s robe. David later pleaded with Shaul to stop pursuing him,Look, my father, at what I have in my hand. It is a piece of the hem of your robe! I cut it off, but I didn’t kill you. This proves that I am not trying to harm you and that I have not sinned against you, even though you have been hunting to kill me” (I Shemuel 24:11). Yet, Avner rebutted David’s claim and thus prevented Shaul from being reconciled with David by telling Shaul, “Your cloak was caught by a seerim shrub and it became ripped, without your noticing it” (Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 19:2). Eventually Avner met his death for using the seerah bush pretext to prevent mending the rift between Shaul and David.
ספר שמואל ב פרק ג פסוק כו
וַיֵּצֵא יוֹאָב מֵעִם דָּוִד וַיִּשְׁלַח מַלְאָכִים אַחֲרֵי אַבְנֵר וַיָּשִׁבוּ אֹתוֹ מִבּוֹר הַסִּרָה וְדָוִד לֹא יָדָע:
“Yoav left David and sent messengers after Avner, and they brought him back from the cistern of the seerah, and David didn’t know” (II Shemuel 3:26).

What is the cistern of the seerah? Rabbi Abba bar Kahana said: “The cistern and the seerah caused Avner’s death” (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 49a).

Bedouin Diabetes Remedy
The Bedouins use the roots of prickly burnet as a remedy for diabetes. A delegation of German and Syrian researchers who were finding new medicinal herbs in the mountains of Syria in 1926 reported the effect of the thorny pot on the sugar level in the blood. The research showed that the Bedouins were able to cure their diabetes by drinking the essence of prickly burnet several times a day. After drinking this brew for several months, they improved substantially. In some instances, they were completely healed of diabetes. During the 60ties, the department of pharmacy from Hebrew University, Jerusalem investigated the effect of the thorny pot on the sugar level in the blood. They discovered an interesting fact. The active ingredient is not present in the thorny pot during the entire year, but only during the months from May-August. The researchers also discovered that the active ingredient of the plant was specifically in the peal of the roots.

Hands On
Here is how the Bedouins used the prickly burnet to cure diabetes. I do not vouch for the taste. Remember it is medicine!

Bedouin Diabetes Remedy
1. Uproot four prickly burnet thorns.
2. Cut off all the parts of the thorns above the roots.
3. Wash the prickly burnet roots well.
4. Hang the roots up to dry.
5. Crush the root with a mortar (Bedouin style), or in an electric grinder (Western style).
6. Boil the roots for half an hour.
7. Leave the roots on a small fire for 10-20 hours (a crock-pot on the lowest setting will do).

Shortcut: If you are unable to dry and crush the roots, you could make the brew with the fresh roots in a crock-pot half an hour on the high setting and 10-20 hours on the lowest setting.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Capers and a Rebbetzin’s Shabbat Confession

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills
צָלָף קוֹצָנִי – Caper – Capparis Spinosa
Printable Version

A Rebbetzin’s Shabbat Confession
I must confess!  Although Shabbat is the centerpiece of my blessings – after 37 years of living a Torah observant life – I’m still struggling to keep Shabbat fully. Don’t get me wrong. Every week I look forward to the serene Shabbat experience: enjoying tranquil Torah learning in my garden, relaxed gourmet health-food meals with family and guests, intimate nature walks, or just lying on the couch, nibbling dried pineapple, while allowing myself to read to my heart’s desire. Shabbat is central to my life: On Shabbat in the Old City of Jerusalem, many years ago, when I lit the candles for the very first time, I returned home to my spiritual heritage. A few months afterwards – on Shabbat – at a meal in the home of friends, I met my husband. On Shabbat, he proposed, and we have been happily married for more than 36 years. Apparently, my spiritual destiny and Shabbat is closely intertwined. This may be why Shabbat is also such a challenge for me. What could be so hard about enjoying one day a week by relaxing from work? If you are used to living intensively, always multitasking, cleaning and organizing your home while socializing, then, shifting gears and abstaining from certain work can be quite trying. It is not that I would turn on the computer, grab my guitar, or write an SMS on Shabbat, G-d forbid. However, the gray areas are challenging. For example, I can easily sing Shabbat zemirot while folding laundry in the hallway (so no-one sees!). Being careful to avoid folding laundry on its original creases, I leave the pants for Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night). As a perfectionist who hates seeing dishes pile up in the sink, I am compelled to ensure that they are all cleared away, even if there is only the slightest possibility that we need to use these dishes again on Shabbat, and so on. I think you get the picture.

My Shabbat Observance Measuring Rod
What does my Shabbat observance challenge have to do with the exquisite caper bush?
Capparis spinosa is native to the Mediterranean. Capers grow wild in Israel. In Jerusalem, they grow everywhere, yet they specifically love to nestle in between rocks on stonewalls. Many years ago, we had the most prolific volunteer caper bushes growing smack in the middle of where we were trying to plant a lawn. In the week of Parashat Pinchas, where the Shabbat breaker, Tzelafchad (whose name means sharp caper) is mentioned, I would proudly take my students, during herbal workshop, to pick capers in my backyard. Since moving the caper plants to the edge of our garden, it was never the same. I could sadly only gather a handful of capers, hardly enough to pickle. Every year since then, when we approach Parashat Pinchas, I’ve been watching my caper plants disappointedly. Having learned about the inherent link between Shabbat observance and the caper plant, and being endowed with a generous measure of Jewish guilt, I naturally made the connection. The more careful I would become in keeping the gray areas of Shabbat observance, the more my caper plant would grow and yield its desired, heavenly flowers.  Learn about the Mystical Connection between the Cryptic Caper Bush and Shabbat Observance and more.
I pray, struggle and hope that one day, soon, I will be able to refine my Shabbat observance and be able to prepare pickled capers with my students from the capers growing in my own garden!

Health Benefits of Capers
Capers made from unopened caper flower buds are rich in flavonoid compounds including rutin and quercetin. Both these compounds are potent sources of antioxidants. Capers contain minerals like iron, calcium, copper and high levels of sodium. They are also abundant in vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin K, niacin, and riboflavin (vitamin B2).

Capers have been used as a treatment for rheumatic pain from the time of ancient Greece.

Capers improve digestion, maintain the health of the digestive tract and help us prevent flatulence.

Capers reduce phlegm, and relieve chest congestion.

Capers help to keep diabetes in check. They contain chemicals that lower blood sugar.

Capers are good for dry skin. They also treat skin disorders such as skin redness, irritation and pimples. Capers are widely used in hair care products since they are rich in vitamin B and iron, which are known for promoting hair growth. Vitamin B helps blood circulation in our body. Iron helps to prevent hair loss.

Hands On
Pickled capers is a delicacy that adds relish to your Shabbat meal. They are a distinctive ingredient in Italian cuisine, especially in Sicilian cooking. Capers are often served with cold smoked salmon or cured salmon dishes. Capers and caper berries are sometimes substituted for olives. Caper leaves and fruit enhance fish and chicken, as a relish. You can also add them into salads. The Greeks occasionally put caper leaves and stems in mixed salads.

Pickled Capers
Choose only tightly closed flower buds. Even a little opening in the husk will make a bud go mushy in the pickling. Rinse the dust off and throw out anything with wormholes. Soak your crop for three days, changing water daily, to get rid of bitterness. Even caper leaves are pickle-able. Don’t bother picking individual leaves. Just cut the tips off some shoots. You’ll have to scissor away any thorns at home. For pickling the shoots, cut them into finger-sized lengths. Pick only the smaller, green, oval fruit. The more mature seeds are bitter and spoil the flavor.

Basic Ingredients
½ Cup clean, fresh capers
½ Cup natural vinegar
½ Cup water
1 Tablespoon salt

Optional Ingredients According to Taste and Availability
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
½ Lemon, thinly sliced
1 Teaspoon pickling spice
1 Clove garlic, mashed
4 to 6 peppercorns
A handful of bay-leaves
½ Teaspoon celery seed

1. Have ready ½ cup of soaked and drained caper buds, leaves or stems.
2. Make a brine of ½ cup apple cider vinegar, ½ cup water and 1 tablespoon salt.
3. Put your caper products in a glass jar and cover with the brine. Leave for 3 days, then taste. If you like it, start using.
4. You may choose to continue pickling for one week. Either way, once you’re satisfied with the taste, store in the refrigerator.

Notes: for pickled caper fruits, proceed as above, but start tasting only after a week.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Noble, Verdant Bay Leaf Tree

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills
עלי דפנה –Bay leaf – Bay laurel – Laurus Nobilis, Lauraceae

Printable Version

Noble, Verdant Bay Leaf Tree
Dafna or Daphna is a well-known Hebrew girl’s-name, although it is less popular in the USA and Europe. Several favorite people in my life carry this name. They are idealistic, pleasant and affectionate women who are quite extroverted, altruistic and extremely sensitive. The name stems from both the Hebrew and Greek name for the ‘laurel’ (bay leaf) tree. I hope that Daphna has a parallel Hebrew root, rather than deriving from the Greek, because according to Greek mythology, Daphna is a nymph – the daughter of a great river god, with whom Appolo, the sun god, fell madly in love. According to the myth, when Apollo chased her, Daphna called her father for help and he transformed her into the lovely laurel tree. Since then, the Greeks considered the bay leaf tree sacred and used it for various temple rituals. Therefore, I would think twice before choosing the name ‘Daphna.’ Bay leaf’s scientific name stems from the Latin ‘laurus’ meaning ‘verdant’ and ‘nobilis’ meaning ‘noble,’ or ‘of high rank.’ The bay leaf tree is indeed known as a symbol of esteem, glory, love and honor. Great men and women were crowned with it to signify their importance in both ancient Greece and Rome. Garlands of bay laurel were traditionally bestowed upon the winners of the Pythian games in Greece and later of the Olympic games. Today, grand prix winners are given wreathes of laurel, and ‘laureate’ as in poet laureate and baccalaureate (lit. ‘laurel berry’) is a title of honor. The expression, ‘to rest on one’s laurels’ which means ‘to rest after victory and success,’ further demonstrates the high status of the laurel tree.

Between Healing and Witchcraft
The bay leaf tree is an evergreen tree with green, smooth leaves, native to the southern Mediterranean region. It flourishes in most parts of Israel, including my garden. I have a huge bay leaf tree which provides enough leaves to spice our entire neighborhood. I also have found several self-planted baby bay leaf trees in nooks and corners of my garden. We used some of the bay leaf branches to decorate my home in honor of Shavuot. With bay leaf in abundance, I will try to burn them as incense since I just learned that bay leaf fumes have many health benefits. However, I certainly will not be swayed by the superstitious belief – stemming from the Greeks – to write wishes on bay leaves and then burn them to make them come true. We can determine which herbal practices are not forbidden as witchcraft in the Torah based on the following two criteria: 1. If the practice is mentioned in the Torah, or by respected Rabbis, such as planting a rue in front of your house for spiritual protection. (See my article about the protective rue.) 2. If there is biochemical evidence or probability that the particular herbal procedure has health benefits. Based on the last principle, I list a number of health benefits of burning bay leaves after having weeded out the superstitious, forbidden practices.

Burning Bay Leaves
Although ancient temples routinely burned bay leaves to clear the space and heighten intuitive powers, today there is reason for the resurfacing practice of burning bay leaves in our homes. The fumes from burned bay leaves release certain natural components that are a potent remedy for anxiety and stress, tension and fatigue, as well as for respiratory relief. With no toxic components, burning bay leaves is a safe and natural way to relieve all manner of conditions. Properly burned bay leaves will release their healing benefits quickly.
1. Place one dried bay leaf in an ashtray or appropriate holder.
2. Set the leaf on fire and leave the room while it burns.
3. Close the door to allow the aroma to fill the space.
4. When you return, gently blow on the embers and inhale deeply.

Burning Bay Leaves for Anxiety
Bay leaves also contain a significant amount of linalool, widely known for its stress-relieving qualities. Burning bay leaves releases their medicinal nerve-soothing effect into the air, which when inhaled has a relaxing affect. A recent study conducted through the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists found linalool to greatly reduce stress. The study showed that the desired effects could be felt in less than 10 minutes after inhaling fumes from the burning bay leaves. Due to its ability to lower stress hormones, bay leaf essential oils can be used in aromatherapy to treat mental health issues.

Burning Bay Leaf for an Energy Boost
Bay leaves contain powerful compounds such as pinene, cineol, and elemicin. These simultaneously alleviate fatigue and produce a pleasant energy boost. The best way to activate these energizing compounds is through burning bay leaves. Freshly dried bay leaves will produce more beneficial results.

Bay Leaf Steam for Respiratory Relief
Bay leaves help break up and remove mucus and phlegm. Soak fresh leaves in clean water or pick up a small vial of bay leaf oil and use it in a humidifier to create a steamy vapor that you then breathe in. You can also simply boil the treated water on the stovetop or rub the oil on your chest area to alleviate respiratory problems, allergies, and asthma.

Bay Leaves for Pest Control  
Bay leaves are a safe and effective way to get rid of annoying pests. You can scatter them in a pantry to repel meal moths, flies, cockroaches, mice, and silverfish. While the leaves discourage the growth of molds, they are not effective for killing large beetles and the like. The fumes of burning bay leaves are highly unpleasant to many insects, and routine practice will drive them out of infested spaces for good. The vapors they release kill insects slowly but effectively.

Spiritual Spice
In addition to its medicinal and culinary uses, bay leaves also remove unpleasant energy. In the Mishna, the word דָפְנָה/dafna means ‘an outer wall,’ which provides protection. This concurs with the tradition of using bay leaves to cleanse a space and provide spiritual protection. Bay leaves were worn as amulets to ward off negativity and kept in a sachet for protection. People also used to soak leaves for three days in water, then strain and sprinkle the water around the house for protection. Additional spiritual qualities attributed to bay leaves, such as bringing success, increasing strength and psychic awareness may be due to their stress releasing properties. Stress, anxiety and tension block our natural ability to be successful. When we use bay leaf to reduce stress and anxiety, we are empowered to tune into our innate spiritual intuition and activate our psychic sixth sense.

Medicinal Properties
Bay leaves have long been a common addition to various dishes due to their ability to aid in digestion and regulate metabolism. They can be used in cooking, taken in tea, or herbal baths, and infused in oil. Bay leaves are very detoxifying and relieve anti-inflammatory ailments by stimulating the body to release toxins through the skin by inducing perspiration. Bay leaves have antiseptic, antioxidant, digestive, diuretic and probable anti-cancer activity. They contain Vitamin A and are especially rich in Vitamin C, which has wound healing and antiviral properties that boost the immune system. Recent research found that bay leaves protect the heart because they contain both caffeic acid and rutin. Caffeic acid removes bad cholesterol from the cardiovascular system. Rutin is vital for strengthening capillaries in the walls of the heart and limbs. Bay leaves also regulate blood pressure, and contain folic acid, which aids in DNA synthesis. Bay leaf oil, used in cosmetics, soaps, and detergents, treats arthritic pains, lower back pain, earaches, sore muscles, and sprains. When used in ointment the antibacterial properties of bay leaves help keep wounds clean and encourage healing. They also stimulate healthy skin growth for clear, youthful skin. Some rub bay leaf oil into the scalp for dandruff, and apply it to the skin for pain, especially muscle and joint pain (rheumatism). Others steep bay leaves in water and then rub them on the scalp while washing the hair.

Culinary Uses
Fresh or dried bay leaves are great flavor enhancements in soup, cholent, and stew due to their distinctive flavor and fragrance. Remove the leaves from the cooked food before eating. The fresh leaves are very mild and do not develop their full flavor until several weeks after picking and drying. Therefore, when using fresh leaves add double or triple the amount. 

Hands On
Bay leaves can be so much more than mere garnish. They offer various health benefits, when we add them in dishes, use them in teas, or grind them into powder for salves and oils. Essential bay leaf oil is also very beneficial in aromatherapy. The easiest way for people like me – who want a no-fuss method – is to make bay leaf tea. All you have to do is steep some leaves in water for a little while and drink it just as you would any herbal tea. My husband noticed that bay leaf and mint tea is a good combination.

Hearty Barley Soup

A big pot of barley soup simmering on the stove warms the heart during stormy, rainy weather.

Half a diced onion
2 diced carrot
2 diced celery stalks
Additional vegetables of your choice such as leeks, kohlrabi, parsley and celery root
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 cups water or vegetable broth
½ cup hulled uncooked barley
½ cup presoaked beans of your choice
1⁄3 cup crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce
2 large bay leaves
½ teaspoon of each basil, oregano and thyme
½ teaspoon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon onion powder (optional)
¼ teaspoon celery-salt (optional)

1. In a large soup pot, sauté the onions for five minutes or more until translucent.
2. Add celery, carrots and any other vegetables and continue to sauté for three to five minutes.
3. Add the remaining ingredients including the liquids and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low.
4. Allow soup to simmer for at least one hour, stirring occasionally, until the barley is soft and somewhat fluffy.
5. Adjust the spices according to taste and enjoy!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Refreshing, Sweet, Uplifting Mint

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills
נענע – Peppermint – Mentha Piperita 

Printable Version

Refreshing, Sweet, Uplifting Mint
I was feeling a bit lethargic after my weekly six-am swim, when I sat myself down at the computer to write about peppermint. Learning how the essential oil of peppermint has a wonderful ability to refresh our minds and spirit, I put a few drops into my diffuser and placed it on my desk. As my mind became uplifted by the vapor, I was in a better spirit to share some peppermint insights. Known as ‘נענע/nana,’ steaming fresh mint sprigs are served as tea throughout the Middle East with or without a generous helping of sugar. Perhaps mint’s Hebrew name, from the word  נע/na – ‘moving,’ indicates mint’s ability to quickly spread and multiply by dividing its roots, as in, “You shall be a wanderer (נָע/na) and an exile in the land” (Bereishit 4:12). Out of hundreds of kinds throughout the world, Wikipedia lists four mints that grow wild in Israel:  נענת הכדורים (Mentha pulegium); נענת המים (M. aquatica); נענע ריחנית (M. suaveolens); נענע משובלת (M. longifolia). In English, they are pennyroyal, water mint, apple mint, and horse mint respectively. I have never come across apple mint, but for many years we have a persistent kind of mint in our garden which came back this spring – even after being completely uprooted from the rose bed. It has a spicier taste than regular peppermint and its leaves are a shade darker and more purple. I suspect it is either spearmint or water mint. Peppermint is actually a hybrid of these two kinds of mints. Spearmint and peppermint have similar medicinal qualities, but spearmint is supposed to be milder, so perhaps my spicy mint is water mint. Interestingly, the numerical value of נענע/nana – ‘mint’ is 240 which equals that of עמלק/Amalek the arch enemy of Israel. Also, the words מר/mar – ‘bitter’ and רם/ram – ‘elevated’ share the numerical value of 240. We could say that just as the sweet taste and scent of mint counteracts any bitterness, so too, does the spiritual attribute of mint work as an antidote to the spiritual bitterness of Amalek.

Peppermint Spirit
The numerical value of Amalek is also ספק/safek – ‘doubt.’ This negative energy is the cause of self-doubt, indecision and uncertainty. Energetically, peppermint essential oil with the identical numerology clears away this kind of doubt and mental chatter, while  clearing our perspective and clearing the way. It counteracts bad odors and tunes up how we see ourselves and how we see the world. It assists us in moving out that which no longer serves us and enhances our receptivity for all that is new and fresh on the mental, emotional and spiritual levels. Just as peppermint is widely known to strengthen our physical digestive system, energetically it also helps us to better ‘digest’ new ideas. Due to its cooling nature, a few drops of peppermint on a wet bandana placed around the neck or head can help alleviate feeling overheated while hiking in the heat. Mint’s cooling property can also help to relieve anger. Since ancient times, mint was thrown on dirt floors and hung in houses to create a clean, welcoming smell. Also today, we can use mint in similar ways to give a welcoming feeling to our guests. Peppermint is an essential oil that we would not be without. It is definitely one of the most vital essential oils because of its versatile uses.

Mint in Historical Israel and Rabbinic Literature
The mint growing in biblical time was probably spearmint, since it is an older mint than peppermint. Mint is believed to have derived from Egypt and then to have spread to Israel. Horsemint grows wild in Israel, but unfortunately does not have the pleasant aromatic smell of spearmint or peppermint. It does still have the beneficial medicinal qualities. I’m not sure how horsemint merited the nickname ‘biblical mint.’ Mint is not found in the Tanach (bible) but it is discussed in the Talmud, which even gives recipes that include mint. A mixture of cumin, soap, mint, wormwood, cedar-blossom, and hyssop is recommended to be used as an ointment. It can also be infused in wine, water, or beer. This was recommended for the heart, for flatulence, and uterine pains:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת עבודה זרה דף כט/א אָמַר רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן לֵוִי, מַעֲלִין אוּנְקְלִי בְשַׁבָּת. מַאי אוּנְקְלֵי? אָמַר רַבִּי אַבָּא, אִיסְטוֹמְכָּא דְּלִיבָּא. מַאי אָסוּתָא? מַיְיתִי כַּמּוֹנָא כַּרַוְיא, וְנִינַיָא, וְאַגַדָּנָא, וְצִיתְרִי, וַאֲבַדְתָּא. לְלִיבָּא - בְּחַמְרָא, וְסִימָנֵיךָ, (תהלים קד) "וְיַיִן יְשַּמַּח לְבַב אֶנוֹשׁ". לְרוּחָא - בְּמַיָא, וְסִימָנֵיךָ, (בראשית א) וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם". לְכּוּדָא - בְּשִׁיכְרָא, וְסִימָנֵיךָ, (שם כּד) "וְכַדָּהּ עַל שִׁכְמָהּ"
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: It is allowed to lift the ‘onkly’ on Sabbath. What is ‘onkly?’ Rabbi Abba said: It is the sternum of the heart. And how is this disease cured? By an ointment prepared of cumin, soap, mint, wormwood, cedar-blossom and hyssop. For the benefit of the heart, dissolve these in wine. The sign [by which you remember it] is, “Wine gladdens the heart” (Tehillim 104:15). Against flatulence, dissolve in water. The sign is, “the wind of G-d hovers over the water” (Bereishit 1:3). Against pains in the uterus (kuda), dissolve in beer; the sign is, “She had her pitcher (kadah) on her shoulder…” (ibid. 24:15); (Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah 29a). 

I am unable to decipher this obscure Talmudic section and the proof-texts used to recommend these particular herbs for the abovementioned ailments. What piqued my interest is that this passage teaches us that mint was well-known in Talmudic times. The Talmudic word translated ­­to mint is נִינַיָא/ninaya, which Rashi explains as מינט"א/mentha –which clearly refers to a plant in the mint family. Additionally, Rambam lists mountain-mint and water-mint among the few foods and medicines that have cleansing properties (Maimonides, Medical Writings, vol 5. p 103, 158). He also recommends mountain-mint and plain mint together with thyme as a treatment for lethargy (Ibid. p 162).

Health Benefits of Peppermint
The peppermint herb and essential oil, with its pleasant taste and fragrance, have multiple uses and health benefits. The most outstanding is its value as a digestive aid, due to its carminative property. It is also an excellent respiratory aid because of mint’s menthol oils, known for their diaphoretic and antispasmodic properties. Its calmative and sedative properties enable mint to calm the nerves and soothe headaches.

Aids Digestion
Mint alleviates gastro-intestinal disorders; (e.g., upset stomach, cramps, irritable bowel syndrome-IBS). It strengthens the liver, calms indigestion and stomach ache. Peppermint’s menthol causes a mild anesthesia of the gastric mucosal membrane, which is beneficial for the digestive system. Mint can treat diarrhea, gastric fever and toxic infections. It stimulates biliary secretion and helps the digestion of fats. Peppermint essential oil is used not only topically, but also for various internal ailments- especially indigestion.

Respiratory Issues
Peppermint has a superior effect on the respiratory system. It is recommended for asthma, bronchitis and the flu because of its antispasmodic and sedative properties. Mint also treats sinusitis, because menthol is a vasodilator of the nasal mucous membranes. Mint essential oil can be used for inhalation as well as for chest massages. When massage clients lie with their face down and their head in a face cradle, there is a tendency for sinus congestion. Placing a tissue with a few drops of peppermint essential oil under the face cradle assists the client to breathe easier.

Calming the Nerves and Soothing Pains
Peppermint has calming effects and its essential oil is one of the best pain relieving herbal remedies. It is equally effective as any over the counter pain relieving medication (but without the side effects). Just apply a drop or two to each temple and the back of the neck for relief. Research has shown its effectiveness in treating migraine headaches. Mint’s cooling effects also alleviate rheumatic pain, toothaches and ear inflammation.

Oral Hygiene
Mint essential oil freshens the breath, aids in disinfection and maintaining the hygiene of the oral cavity. It adds to oral health by inhibiting harmful bacterial growth inside the mouth and by cleaning the tongue and teeth.

Culinary Uses
Mint leaves have always had many culinary uses such as seasoning meat, sauces, and salads. Mint is also used as a spice in Middle Eastern cuisine. For example, a Lebanese recipe – lebneh (mint yoghurt) – is prepared by adding 2 or 3 chopped mint leaves, 2 pieces of garlic and lemon juice in a cup of yoghurt. Mint leaves can also be used in summer drinks. Boiled vegetables will look better if they are decorated with mint leaves. I like to mix mint tea with apple juice for a refreshing cooling summer drink. 

Hands On
Besides its wide commercial use in ice-creams, chocolates, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, cosmetics, medicines, inhalers, and breath fresheners, mint is also used as a condiment and a decorative item in culinary preparation around the world. Mint may even be used as a food preservative because of its high antioxidant capabilities. In the past, it was placed in milk because it was thought to help preserve it. Drinks and foods containing mint cool you off in the summer and it is often included in summer cocktails for a refreshing burst of flavor. It is also a good relaxant. Add fresh mint to plain or sparkling water, or even freeze whole leaves in ice cubes to add beautiful color to your beverage.

Mint Tea
Use 5-10 big leaves or more depending on how strong you want the tea. Tear the leaves and place in a mug. Then bruise the leaves for a few seconds with the back of a wooden spoon. Pour boiling water over the leaves and let steep 5-10 minutes. You can strain out the leaves with a fine strainer or leave them in if they are bug free.

Mint Bath
Rheumatism can be treated with mint baths. Boil 200g of leaves in 3 liters of water and mix with the bath water at 37 degrees Celsius.
Mint essential oil mixed with hot water is used topically to treat the flu, laryngitis and hoarseness.

Minty Green Salad with Feta Cheese
Use fresh herbs for this delicious salad.
½ cup mint
¼ cup cilantro
¼ cup parsley
¼ cup chopped walnuts
A bunch of spinach
1 medium leak
2 sprigs of thyme
8 ounce Bulgarian goat cheese or feta like Pastures of Eden Israeli sheep feta

1. Chop the herbs very fine.
2. Slice the leak.
3. Add the nuts and crumbled cheese.
4. Mix with cut and washed spinach.
5. Add olive oil and lemon juice to taste or serve with your favorite homemade vinaigrette dressing.