Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Bitter, Detoxifying, Amalek-Eliminating Myrrh

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills 
מוֹר – Myrrh – Commiphora Myrrha
Printable Version


The Bitter, Detoxifying, Amalek-Eliminating Myrrh
Sweet smelling trees play an important role in the Scroll of Esther. In fact, the two main heroes of the Purim story are compared respectively to myrrh and myrtle. Arizal teaches that the organ of the month of Adar is the nostril (Arizal, Etz Chaim, Rosh Hashana 4). Indeed, it is the sense of smell that saved the Jewish people in the time of Mordechai and Esther, who are called Mor v’Hadas – ‘Myrrh and Myrtle’ – two primary sources of fragrance. Myrrh is a resin, or sap-like substance, from a tree – common in Africa and the Middle East – distinctive for its white flowers and knotted trunk. The Hebrew word מָר/mor – ‘myrrh’ is from the word מַר/mar – bitter. Myrrh is one of the bitterest herbs I’ve ever tasted. In Chinese medicine, we learn that each kind of taste has a particular medicinal property. The bitter flavor has the ability to expel toxins and cleanse the body through its anti-biotic, anti-viral and detoxifying properties. This explains why the queen candidates for Achasverush’s harem had to soak in myrrh-baths before coming before the king. “When each maiden’s turn came to go to king Achasverush at the end of the 12 months’ treatment prescribed for the women: six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with perfumes and women’s cosmetics” (Megillat Esther 2:12). Malbim explains that the oil of myrrh removes unnecessary body hair, which implies that we should remove the desire for extras during the six winter months. Moreover, the detoxifying property of myrrh corresponds to Mordechai who had the ability to remove the wicked Haman from the Amalekite people.

The Eleven Holy Aromatics Overcoming the Eleven Unholy Husks
Mordechai is associated with the myrrh – one of the eleven spices of the ketoret (incense), which had the power to counteract the plague of death, “Aharon took [the fire-pan]... He put the incense in it, and it atoned for the people. He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was checked” (Bamidbar 17:12-13). Mordechai together with Esther likewise had the power to overcome Haman’s evil death-decree. 

תלמוד בבלי מסכת חולין דף קלט/ב מרדכי מן התורה מנין דכתיב מר דרור ומתרגמינן מירא דכיא:
Where is Mordechai mentioned in the Torah? “Pure myrrh” translates as “mira dechaya” [which sounds similar to Mor dechai] (Shemot 30:23); (Babylonian Talmud, Chulin 139b).

Why is Mordechai associated specifically with the incense? Whereas there are ten dimensions of holiness, there are eleven dimensions of un-holiness from the other side, corresponding to Haman and his ten sons. Therefore, the incense contained eleven aromatics, in order to counteract the eleven impure forces in the world. The eleven aromatics of the incense had the power to purify and expel the eleven unholy husks of the other side. The reason why there are eleven powers of impurity while only ten powers of holiness, is that everything has a life-sustaining holy light that keeps it in existence. Regarding the dimension of holiness, this light is absorbed into the ten sefirot and so does not count as an element unto itself. In contrast regarding the dimension of unholiness (the sitra achra), the life-sustaining holy light does not absorb into the ten impure sefirot, and so constitute a presence unto itself – the eleventh (Maor V’Shemesh, Remzei Purim based on Arizal, Sha’ar Hapesukim, Parashat Ki Tavo).

Transforming the Blessing of Haman
Myrrh is the first spice mentioned in the anointing oil:
ספר שמות פרק ל (כג) וְאַתָּה קַח לְךָ בְּשָׂמִים רֹאשׁ מָר דְּרוֹר חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת...
“And you, take for yourself spices of the finest sort: of pure myrrh five hundred [shekel weights]” (Shemot 30:23).

Why is myrrh called מָר דְּרוֹר/mor dror – ‘pure or free myrrh’? When the blood of the body turns into breast milk, it represents the transformation of din (judgment) to chesed (loving-kindness). Likewise, myrrh, which means bitter corresponds to judgment yet when it is transformed to become purified chesed, it is called דְּרוֹר/dror – ‘pure.’ Mordechai is compared specifically to mor dror – ‘pure myrrh’ because he was able to transform and sweeten the holy spark of Haman with which he troubled Israel. Although the belongings of the Amalekite people generally is forbidden for a Jew because their holy sparks are tied up and unavailable, “Esther placed Mordechai in charge of Haman’s estate” (Megillat Esther 8:2), because of Mordechai had the power to extract and transform the spark of Haman buried deeply within the depths of impurity (Sefer Panim Yafot, Shemot 30:23).

Mystical Divine Recipe Connecting Heaven & Earth
Although, according to the halacha to Moshe from Sinai, myrrh is one of the eleven spices in the Temple incense, it is not mentioned directly in the Torah verse describing the incense:
ספר שמות פרק ל (לד) וַיֹּאמֶר הָשֵׁם אֶל משֶׁה קַח לְךָ סַמִּים נָטָף וּשְׁחֵלֶת וְחֶלְבְּנָה סַמִּים וּלְבֹנָה זַכָּה בַּד בְּבַד יִהְיֶה:
“G-d said to Moshe: Take for yourself aromatics such as balsam, onycha and galbanum, aromatics and pure frankincense they shall be of equal weight” (Shemot 30:34).

Only four of the incense aromatics are mentioned directly. Yet the word “aromatics” is mentioned twice in the Torah verse. Since it is in the plural form, the first “aromatics” must refer to a minimum of two spices. Thus, there are five spices including the three first spices mentioned by name. The word “aromatics” mentioned a second time refers to a similar number of spices as those already mentioned, making it ten. When we include the frankincense mentioned in the end, it adds up to eleven spices (Rashi, Shemot 30:34).
Perhaps myrrh was not mentioned directly in the incense because it increases the power of the other incense ingredients. Thus, the unifying quality of myrrh reflects the inter-connectivity and harmony of the incense. The Hebrew word for incense, ketoret, is related to the word kesher, meaning a ‘bind’ or ‘knot.’ Myrrh helps imbue the incense with its ethereal unified essence that connect heaven and earth.

Myrrh & Frankincense – Elevating the Vital and Vegetative Soul
The Jewish people in the dessert is compared to a woman perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, “Who is se that comes up from the desert like columns of smoke, in clouds of myrrh and frankincense?” (Shir Hashirim 3:6). Often myrrh and frankincense go hand in hand (Shir Hashirim 3:6, 4:6, 4:14). Perhaps, because they correspond to awe and love respectively. Myrrh with its purifying property corresponds to awe, whereas Levona with its connotation of white purity corresponds to love. According to Malbim, myrrh represents the vital soul, whereas myrrh represents the vegetative soul. By means of Israel’s burning love the incense of myrrh and frankincense emerged. When we ascend in spirituality (frankincense) and character development (myrrh), we have the ability to purify and elevate the hidden spiritual elements inherent in the lower vital and vegetative soul and include them in holiness. 

Torah Dripping with Flowing Myrrh
When we develop true awe, we will be able to integrate the Torah in the deepest way. Any Torah student who sits before his teacher but his lips do not drip with myrrh [due to fear of his teacher], those lips shall be burnt, as it is written: “His lips are like roses, dripping with flowing myrrh” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 30b). Perhaps the student’s lips are compare to myrrh because the myrrh flows extremely slowly from the tree. Likewise, we must realize that the sweetness of Torah is not acquired hastily. Rather it drips, in an almost imperceptible way into the student. The Rebbe is like a tree and the Torah that he teaches can be likened to myrrh. If the student tries to speed up the process he can get burned as it states, “be careful of their coals in order that you should not get burnt” (Pirkei Avot 2:10). On the other hand the burning of the lips can be understood in a positive light. When the Rabbi learns Torah with his student, he enters into his heart the holy fire of the letters of the Torah. This way the excitement of the Creator burns within him like fire. With this fire, the student can keep going on his own and receive new Torah insights (Toldot Aharon Likutim). In order to retain and build on the Torah of his master  the student needs both ‘love’ – corresponding to “His lips are like roses…” and ‘awe’ corresponding to “…dripping with flowing myrrh.”

Consoling Grief for the Dead
Myrrh was most commonly used in preparation for burial and for embalming to keep the body from decomposing. The smell of myrrh has traditionally been a symbol of suffering, burned at funerals or other occasions of mourning. There are few herbs so useful in working through personal sorrows and tragedies. Myrrh will help ease the troubled soul in its grieving. It brings comfort to those who have lost a loved one, whose troubled hearts need the healing strength of understanding the mystery of death. Burned as an incense myrrh purifies the area, lifts the vibrations and creates peace. Burning myrrh oil releases a mysterious, spiritual presence into any room, and is therefore renown in aromatherapy for its meditative quality and for prayer. Myrrh is rarely burned alone; usually in conjunction with frankincense or other resins.

Healing Properties of Myrrh
Among the numerous healing properties of myrrh, I found the following qualities most remarkable:
Myrrh has been found to inhibit the growth in eight different types of cancer cells, specifically gynecological cancers (http://academicjournals.org/article/article1380545334_Su%20et%20al.pdf). Myrrh is an expectorant that helps relieve congestion, coughs and colds, while reducing phlegm. Due to its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, myrrh treats inflammation of the mouth and gums such as gingivitis and mouth ulcers. As a mouth rinse, it prevents gum disease and freshens the breath. Therefore, it is commonly used as an ingredient in mouthwash and toothpaste. Myrrh oil also helps maintain healthy skin by treating scrapes and wounds to prevent infection and soothing chapped or cracked skin. It likewise helps reduce fungal infections such as athlete’s foot or ringworm. Apply a few drops on a clean cloth before rubbing it gently on the skin.

Hands On:
By making your own lotions and creams you can prevent your skin from absorbing the harmful chemicals of commercial skin products. This homemade lotion with frankincense and myrrh essential oils promotes regeneration of cells, hydrates the skin, is anti-septic, anti-aging, protects and treats skin against wounds, acne and other skin ailments and heals scars.

Homemade Frankincense and Myrrh Lotion
¼ Cup olive oil
¼ Cup coconut oil
¼ Cup bees wax
¼ Cup shea butter
2 Tbs. vitamin E
20 drops frankincense essential oil
20 drops myrrh essential oil
BPA free plastic lotion dispenser bottles

1. Put olive oil, coconut oil, beeswax and shea butter in glass bowl then place that bowl in saucepan with water.
2. Heat stove to medium and mix ingredients together.
3. Once mixed put in refrigerator for an hour until solid.
4. With a regular mixer or hand mixer beat the mixture until it is whipped and fluffy. Then add essential oils and vitamin E and mix.
5. Fill container and store in cool place.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

סִּרְפָּד – Stinging Nettle – Urtica Dioica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 8, 2018

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Nourishing, Mild, Mucilaginous Mallow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serve with chopped parsley, or simply on its own.