Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Jerusalem Sage - Year-round, Resilient, Reliable Friend

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills
מַרְוַת יְרוּשָׁלַיִם – Jerusalem Sage – Salvia Hierosolymitana Boiss
Printable Version

Year-round, Resilient, Reliable Friend
My garden teaches me that I’m not in control. From all the flowers, herbs and bushes I purchase, and all the seeds I plant, only some decide to make my garden their home. One such plant is ‘Jerusalem Sage.’ I wish that this referred to King David or to King Solomon, yet I have to accept that Jerusalem sage is an edible perennial herb with long, hairy stems covered with fuzzy, velvet-like, gray-green leaves. In mid-to-late-summer, the stalks yield beautiful, pale burgundy flowers that give off a strong pungent aroma. What now dots every nook and cranny of both my front and backyard, was, more than a decade ago, a gift from America – a small package of Organic Heirloom seeds. Whereas, the Echinacea seeds, from the same gift package, only made it for one season, the Jerusalem sage decided that it had returned from exile to its rightful home. As Dave Ehrlinger, the chief horticulturalist, notes, “True sage has been grown in Israel for thousands of years.” Not as glamorous as Echinacea flowers or as useful as kale – another plant I have not succeeded in making feel welcome – Jerusalem sage is a reliable friend, who is always there for me. It grows year round, even when no other green leaves are to be found anywhere. Although its leaves have a strong, herbaceous flavor, the entire plant is edible and can be used in smoothies, soups, stir-fries, meat dishes or stews. The leaves can be eaten cooked and also filled with rice or used as a garnish on meat, vegetable or egg dishes. Its strong flavor and fuzziness require that you use it sparingly, especially when raw like in a green smoothie.

Menorah-Shaped Sage for Delighting in Hashem’s Healing Light
Jerusalem sage, with its textured, large green leaves, burgundy-red and white flowers, branches out into the shape of a Menorah, similar to the instructions Hashem gave Moshe, regarding the construction of the Temple candelabra:

ספר שמות פרק כה פסוק לב וְשִׁשָּׁה קָנִים יֹצְאִים מִצִּדֶּיהָ שְׁלשָׁה קְנֵי מְנֹרָה מִצִּדָּהּ הָאֶחָד וּשְׁלשָׁה קְנֵי מְנֹרָה מִצִּדָּהּ הַשֵּׁנִי: לג שְׁלשָׁה גְבִעִים מְשֻׁקָּדִים בַּקָּנֶה הָאֶחָד כַּפְתֹּר וָפֶרַח וּשְׁלשָׁה גְבִעִים מְשֻׁקָּדִים בַּקָּנֶה הָאֶחָד כַּפְתֹּר וָפָרַח כֵּן לְשֵׁשֶׁת הַקָּנִים הַיֹּצְאִים מִן הַמְּנֹרָה:
“Six branches coming out of its sides: three menorah branches from its one side and three menorah branches from its second side. Three decorated goblets on one branch, a knob and a flower, and three decorated goblets on one branch, a knob and a flower; so for the six branches that come out of the menorah” (Shemot 25:32-33).

Various Biblical botanists claim that a plant like this served as a model for the Menorah of the Beit Hamikdash. From the Torah perspective, it goes the other way.. Hashem instructed Moshe regarding the Menorah according to the Divine vision. That same Divine vision created several sage varieties with a similar Menorah-like shape. I recently gave Chanukah gifts of various garden seeds and wrote on the adjoining card, “Seeds are Light!” Just as the Menorah in the Temple reflects the Divine light and diffuses it into the world and into our souls, these plants transform the Divine radiance into nutrients, remedies and ornaments for us to delight in Hashem’s healing light.

Respiratory Healer with Astringent and Wound Healing Properties
Jerusalem Sage includes three species:
Phlomis Fruticosa, Pulmonaria Officinalis and Salvia Hierosolymitana
Pulmonaria is so named because it looks like lung tissue and is also known as lungwort. It is an expectorant and anti-inflammatory and thus alleviates coughs, bronchitis and its related symptoms such as coughing and sore throat. Lungwort, distinguished by its yellow flowers, is known to contain small amounts of tannins, which may exert a drying effect on respiratory tissue and upper respiratory catarrh. It also has a high percentage of mucilage, which helps to soothe irritated tissue. Tannins have a slight astringent effect when applied to the skin. Astringents shrink and tighten the top layers of skin, thereby reducing secretions, relieving irritation, and improving tissue firmness. Due to this effect, it treats diarrhea, hemorrhoids and minor skin injuries such as scrapes and sunburn. Externally, this plant may be used to heal cuts and wounds due to its vulnerary property. The leaves of Salvia Hierosolymitana have valuable topical anti-inflammatory properties. You can soak a soft cloth in strong Jerusalem Sage tea and apply it to an aching or injured area of the skin. 

Red-Rooted Sage in Chinese Medicine
In Chinese Medicine, a related variation of Jerusalem sage, ‘Salvia Miltiorrhiza,’ known as ‘Tan Shen;’ ‘Chinese Sage’ or ‘Red-Rooted Sage,’ is a most important herb. It is traditionally used to stabilize the heart and calm the nerves, and to lighten or remove stagnant blood. Clinical experience shows that the roots reduce blood pressure, improve circulation by dilating the blood vessels, and reduce blood cholesterol. It is also useful for palpitations, irritability and insomnia. It treats hepatitis, infections, and many skin diseases such as shingles, dermatitis and psoriasis.

Hands On:
Wild, edible Salvia Hierosolymitana has dark-pink or reddish flowers and is not the same as the inedible Phlomis Fruticosa. The most delicious way to eat Salvia Hierosolymitana is stuffed with rice and vegetables, enriched with a tomato sauce. Preparing Stuffed Jerusalem Sage is a creative way to spend productive time with a dear one.

Stuffed Jerusalem Sage
500 grams – 1 Ib. fresh Jerusalem Sage leaves
1 ½ cups rice
½ cup pine nuts – may substitute sunflower seeds
¼ cup olive oil
½ green bell pepper, finely chopped
½ cup onions, finely chopped
1 cup seeded, chopped tomatoes
½ cup chopped parsley
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
Another ¼ cup olive oil
½ cup lemon juice
½ cup water and more if needed
1 large tomato, thickly sliced
Cloves from 1 head of garlic, separated and peeled 

1. Rinse the rice and set it to drain.
2. Blanch the leaves by placing each in boiling water for 30 seconds, then putting into a bowl with cold water.
3. Mix the rice and pine nuts in a medium bowl.
4. Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a frying pan and cook the bell pepper, onions, parsley and chopped tomatoes over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring a few times. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 
5. When the vegetables are soft, reserve 3 tablespoons and set aside. Pour the rest into the rice/pine nuts mixture. Mix well.
6. Spoon one tablespoon of filling onto the center of each leaf and make a square bundle, securing it with a toothpick. Alternately, place the filling on the broad end of the leaf and roll it into a fat cigar. Secure with a toothpick.
7. Pour ¼ cup olive oil into a large pot. Cover the bottom of the pot with sliced tomato and peeled garlic cloves. Place the stuffed leaves on top, making layers if needed.
8. Sprinkle salt and lemon juice over all. Add water to barely cover the leaves. Scatter the reserved cooked vegetables over the top.
9. Bring to a simmer then cook covered over low heat for ½ hour or until the sauce thickens. Check to ensure that the bottom layer isn’t drying out or scorching. If so, add more water.
10. Serve hot.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Aloe Vera - A Superior Skin Healer and Emergency Burn Treater

אֲהָלִים – Aloe Vera – Aloe Arborescens or Barbadensis Miller
Printable Version

Aloe: A Superior Skin Healer and Emergency Burn Treater
During Chanukah time, the fiery bright orange flower stalks of my aloe vera come into flower. How fitting that this kind of aloe is also called ‘candelabra aloe.’ Whenever I, anyone in my family or students burn ourselves, I only have to take a few steps out my front door with a household scissor and cut off a few of the outermost aloe leaves at the base of the plant. I then carefully cut away the little spikes, removing the hard, spiny edges on both side of each leaf, making sure to cut as close to the spines as possible, to avoid losing a lot of gel in the process. Then I slice the leaf in half on the long side and scrape up the gel from both sides of the skin with a spoon. Applying the gel to cuts and burns really helps them heal faster. If anyone gets a sunburn, I find it easiest to just rub half an aloe leaf with the spines removed on the affected area, squeezing the gel from the leaves directly into the sunburn. The aloe vera plant is well known for its healing effect on the skin. It treats sunburns and protects the skin from skin cancer. Aloe is dramatically effective on burns of all types. I recommend keeping aloe in your kitchen or nearby, just in case you burn yourself while cooking. Aloe is also excellent for dermatitis, eczema, frostbite, cold sores, acne, cuts, inflammation, insect stings, poison oak, skin ulcers, psoriasis and genital herpes.Recently, the eczema I had suffered on my feet, for several years, flared up and became so severe that my mother sat me down and forced me to make an appointment with the dermatologist. Although, supposedly a medical expert on skin ailments, all the dermatologist could offer was a prescription for steroids, which I naturally tossed in the garbage. Instead, I made my own healing ointment from a base of shea-butter and coconut oil, with a generous amount of aloe vera gel. Together with prayers to Hashem, the eczema gradually healed. Now, after three months, it is almost completely gone. Below, I will share my ‘Anti Itch Eczema Ointment’ recipe with you.

Which Kind of Aloe is Most Medicinal?
Although there are hundreds of different aloe vera species, I have only met two kinds in Israel. Aloe Arborescens that grows in my garden, and Aloe Barbadensis Miller, which my neighbor has. Since I have benefited greatly from my aloe plant, I was a bit dismayed when my neighbor informed me, that only her kind of aloe was the medicinal one. So, I ventured into the world-wide-net to discover the true medicinal aloe. Scientifically, ‘aloe vera’ doesn’t exist. ‘vera’ means ‘true’ and this name has been given to the variety Aloe Barbadensis.  Today, however, new research has discovered that this kind of aloe doesn’t deserve this name. Although this variety is most commonly sold around the world, Aloe Arborescens is much richer in medicinal properties. Aloe Barbadensis can be recognized by its larger and flatter leaves with white spots when the plant is young and yellow flowers. Aloe Arborescens is a larger, multi-headed, sprawling succulent with bright orange flowers. Its name indicates that it sometimes reaches tree size. Its leaves are armed with small spikes along its edges and are arranged in rosettes situated at the end of branches. According to phytology technician and herbalist Dr. Aldo Facetti, Aloe Arborescens is richer in medicinal substances and contains more than 70% cell growth regulators needed to fight cancer, compared to Aloe Barbadensis, which contains 40% of these properties (Peuser Michael, The Capillaries Determine Our Destination, Aloe, Empress of Medicinal Plants P.66, St. Hubertus. Sao Paulo/ S.P., 2003æ Father Romano Zago Ofm, Romano Zago, Cancer can be Cured p. 13). In addition, Aloe Arborescens is more resistant to harsh climate conditions.

Below you can see some of the differences in mineral content of the two aloe plants:

Aloe Arborescens
Mg / 100 ml
Barbadensis (vera)
Mg / 100 ml

Compared to Aloe Vera, Aloe Arborescens has at least three times higher concentration of minerals and protein. However, it seems that both plants have comparable amounts of vitamin, A, C, E, B2, B6, and B12.

Is Aloe Mentioned in the Torah?
The Hebrew word אֲהָלִים/ohalim, mentioned in the Torah several times, is translated by most Bible translations – including The Jerusalem Bible and Chabad – as ‘Aloes.’ Bilam mentions it in his blessing:
ספר במדבר פרק כד פסוק ו כִּנְחָלִים נִטָּיוּ כְּגַנֹּת עֲלֵי נָהָר כַּאֲהָלִים נָטַע הָשֵׁם כַּאֲרָזִים עֲלֵי מָיִם:
“They extend like streams, like gardens by the river, like aloes, which Hashem planted, like cedars by the water” (Bamidbar 24:6).

Although Rashi translates the word אֲהָלִים/ohalim as אלויי"ן/alvayin, which is the Hebrew word for aloes (commentary to Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 110b), there are other opinions. According to Targum Yonatan on Iyov 9:30,אהלא /ahala is the same as בּוֹר/bor – ‘lye’ used for soap, which scholars identify as iceplants. They come up in large numbers after the rains, covering the Arava. Thus, according to this theory, Bilam was comparing the tents אֹהָלִים/ohalim of Israel to the אֲהָלִים/ohalim – ‘lye plants’ covering the plain.

ספר משלי פרק ז פסוק יז נַפְתִּי מִשְׁכָּבִי מֹר אֲהָלִים וְקִנָּמוֹן:
“I have perfumed my couch with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon” (Mishlei 7:17).

King Solomon mentions אֲהָלִים/ohalim together with myrrh and cinnamon, which are scented plants from which you can make perfume. Likewise, אֲהָלוֹת/ohalot is mentioned in Tehillim 45:9: מֹר וַאֲהָלוֹת קְצִיעוֹת – “myrrh, aloes and cassia,” and in Shir HaShirim 4:14:  מֹר וַאֲהָלוֹת עִם כָּל רָאשֵׁי בְשָׂמִים – “myrrh and aloes – with all the choice perfumes.” The fact that Ahal is mentioned together with myrrh each time signifies that it was a scented plant used for perfume. Thus Ibn Ezra comments that אֲהָלוֹת/ahalot is a kind of perfume (Shir HaShirim 4:14). Since, aloes are not known to have any aromatic fragrance, Rabbi Yonah ibn Ganah (c. 990 – c. 1050 CE), explains אֲהָלִים/ahalim to refer to sandalwood (Sefer Ha-Shorashim, Bamidbar 24:6).  However, Targum Yonatan on Shir HaShirim 4:14 and Tehillim 45:9 translates aholot as אקסיל אלואין – ‘aloes wood’ which very likely refers to the only aromatic aloe known by the ancients as Socotrine aloe (Aloe socotrina), native to the island of Socotra in the Arabian sea. The midrash asks why this plant is called אֲהָלוֹת/ohalot – spelled the same way as אֹהָלִים/ohalim – ‘tents.’ Rabbi Abba son of Yuden in the name of Rabbi Yehuda said, because it grows near tents.  Since ohalot grow best in shade, they spread in the shade of the tents to get protection from direct sun (Midrash Shir HaShirim Rabbah with Mahazav). The fact that aloes grow best in dry sites in full sun, seems to indicate that the identity of the biblical אֲהָלוֹת/ohalot, commonly translated, as ‘aloes,’ remains questionable.

Internal Medicinal Properties of Aloe
Not only is Aloe exceptionally healing to the skin, it is also excellent for treating internal inflammation, specifically of the colon. Taken internally as a juice, Aloe is known to aid in the healing of stomach disorders, ulcers, constipation, hemorrhoids, colitis, and all colon problems. You can make a cocktail of diluted aloe juice with ground flax seeds. This winning combination is amazing for periodically cleansing the colon. Although aloe is about 99% water, the remaining 1% is extremely powerful. This is likely because the close to 100 ingredients work extremely well together (synergistically). Aloe contains many minerals, vital to the growth process and healthy function of all the body’s systems. It is one of the only known natural vegetarian sources of Vitamin B12, however, it appears there are only trace amounts of B12 at best in Aloe Vera. Yet, taking aloe together with Vitamin B12 increases the absorption and bio-availability of the B12 to the body. Due to its zinc and enzymes, aloe boosts the immune system, stimulating the immune defenses against acute infections. It also provides an amazing number of vitamins such as Vitamin A and minerals that help reduce inflammation and fight free radical damage. Vitamin C protects the body from colds and viruses, cardiovascular disease, and even skin wrinkling. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that reduces free radical damage, fights inflammation and helps naturally slow the aging of cells. In addition, Aloe Arborescens has been found to significantly reduce blood glucose and assist the regularization of glucose in the blood, particularly in diabetic patients. Recent studies promote aloe as a natural anti-cancer remedy (Nacci, Giuseppe, M.D. Thousand Plants Against Cancer Without Chemo-Therapy, chapter 9, 2008).

Moisturizes Hair and Scalp
Aloe vera is a great natural treatment for dry hair and itchy scalp. Its nourishing properties, and numerous vitamins and minerals keep your hair strong and healthy. Aloe’s antibacterial and antifungal properties help with dandruff, and the gel’s enzymes rid the scalp of dead cells and promote the regeneration of skin tissue around the hair follicles. Aloe also helps stop the itching associated with dandruff or a dried scalp. Too many shampoos and conditioners are full of chemicals that damage hair and can even cause inflammation and skin irritation. Adding aloe, or applying aloe gel to your hair as an alternative to hair gel, are effective ways to keep your scalp free of bacteria and uncomfortable skin reactions.

Hands On:
Aloe has been used throughout history by many cultures for all kinds of skin conditions, including wound healing, inflammation and fungus. This ‘Anti Itch Eczema Ointment’ soothes rashes and most kinds of skin irritations. It certainly helped heal my severe eczema. For its internal medicinal properties, I’m including a simple smoothie recipe below.

Anti Itch Eczema Ointment
½ cup raw shea butter
½ cup coconut oil (optional: ¼ cup olive oil or almond oil)
1 tablespoon local honey
¼ cup ground oatmeal
Gel from one large aloe leaf
30 drops of lavender essential oil
8 drops of tea tree essential oil

Using a double boiler, melt the shea butter and coconut oil until they’re combined.
Add the oatmeal while stirring continuously.
Once everything has melted and is well blended, add the aloe, honey, lavender and tea tree oils. Continue to blend.
Slightly cool the ingredients so that it begins to thicken.
(Optionally use your mixer to mix for several minutes until ointment has a frothy appearance).
Transfer to a mason jar or other glass container.
Store in the refrigerator, but remove 15 min before use, to soften the ointment, making it easier to apply.

Aloe Vera Smoothie
1. Place the clean aloe gel of one leaf in the blender.
2. Add any fresh fruit of your choice. Lemon, lime, orange, and other citrus flavors blend particularly well with aloe.
3. Add a cup of cold water and blend them together before sampling the taste.
4. If it’s too strong, you can dilute it with more water. If it is too bitter, you can add more sweet fruits like dates or honey.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Calendula - Sunshine Flower

צִיפּוֹרְנֵי חֲתּוּל – Pot Marigold – Calendula

Printable Version

Vibrant, Heart-Comforting, Sunshine Flower in the Dark of Winter
During the peak of winter, when the trees stand bare, the bright calendula plants open their vibrant yellow flowers. These petals seem to concentrate all the little glimpses of sunshine throughout the winter and reflect them back to us. The flowers open in the morning and close when the sun goes down, as it states, “It hath pleasant, bright and shining yellow flowers, which do close at the setting downe of the sunne, and do spread and open againe at the sunne rising (Dodoens-Lyte, A Niewe Herball, 1578).

You’ll find different varieties of calendula: some have yellow flowers, others bright orange with single or double layers of petals. The brightest orange petals have the highest concentration of active medicinal properties. Four kinds of calendula grow wild in Israel- as a loving gift of G-d to brighten our dark days. Indeed, it is known that calendula-flower tea comforts the heart and spirits. Thus, Culpepper writes, The flowers are much used in broths and drinks as a comforter of the heart and spirits, and to expel any malignant or pestilential quality which might annoy them. The seeds have the form of cats’ claws. Therefore, the Hebrew name is צִיפּּוֹרְנֵי חֲתּוּל/tzipornei chatul – cat’s claw. The name ‘Calendula’ comes from the Latin word ‘calendae,’ meaning ‘little calendar,’ because the ancient Romans found that the flowers started blooming on the first day of every month during the season.. Calendula was well known to the old herbalists as a garden-flower and for use in cooking and medicine.

Moves Stagnations with Warming, Grateful Energy
Calendula’s sunny disposition engenders gentle immune boosting properties for protection against the damp, cold of winter. As a common potherb, it was often used in soups and stews. In addition, it is a main ingredient in herbal infusions and cosmetics. Calendula has a medicinal affinity for moving stagnations. It isolates what doesn’t belong, and then helps bring about healthy circulation, thus warming the body. On an emotional level, calendula offers us an opportunity to move what has stagnated in our lives. It helps us warm and dry the emotional-energetic pools we’ve ignored or not quite noticed. Calendula helps us nurture potential. It offers us an opportunity to reclaim our boundaries while making full use of the energy we already possess. Calendula’s flowers follow the sun, gathering in those gentle, fiery, nourishing energies. They coax us into a brighter disposition by giving us a glimpse of the sunny possibilities, even when we’re feeling mired in the dark of winter. Calendula inspires us to harness the positive energies in our lives and to use them to make ourselves and our work blossom. A hardy plant, calendula is able to live in a wide variety of climates and soils. It is self-seeding and thrives on minimal care. In this way, it teaches us to be easygoing and self-sufficient in any situation. It shows us that abundance is available to all of us, regardless of our economic status, as long as we choose to focus on the bright, nourishing elements in our lives. Like the happy calendula, we too have all we need to flourish.

Excellent Healer for Various Skin Conditions
Calendula is one of the best herbs for treating skin problems. It helps soothe sore, inflamed and itchy skin conditions. When I first came to live in Israel in 1979, calendula ointment helped me heal the cracked skin on my fingers. The petals make a nourishing cream for the skin. Due to its antiseptic properties, it may be used safely wherever there is skin inflammation. Calendula was used in the USA to bandage the wounded during the civil war. It has great anti-inflammatory and vulnerary action, making calendula ointment helpful with:

1. Skin dryness or chapping – It moisturizes dry skin and helps severely chapped or split skin.
2. Inflammation – It works well on sprained muscles or bruises. Its anti-inflammatory action helps lessen swelling from injury. Calendula oil also helps treat spider veins, varicose veins, leg ulcers and chilblains.
3. Baby care – The oil helps relieve diaper rash, and sore nipples
4. Minor cuts and wounds – Its antiseptic and antimicrobial properties help speed up the healing of wounds and minor cuts. It relieves insect bites, acne and bed sores. The romans used calendula to treat scorpion bites!
5. Skin issues – Eczema, psoriasis, burns, dermatitis and other skin problems can be soothed using calendula oil. Calendula oil’s antifungal action is also great for helping treat athlete’s foot, ringworm and jock itch. Bath salts with added calendula flowers is stimulating to the skin. As a first aid treatment for minor burns and bee stings, rub calendula flowers on the affected part.

Prohibited Calendula Superstitions
ספר ויקרא פרק יט פסוק כו לֹא תֹאכְלוּ עַל הַדָּם לֹא תְנַחֲשׁוּ וְלֹא תְעוֹנֵנוּ:
“You shall not practice divination or soothsaying” (Vayikra 19:26).

From here, we learn that superstitious beliefs whereby events can be interpreted as omens or portents for the future are prohibited in the Torah. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 65b) gives the following examples of this prohibition: Someone who says that he will have a bad day if bread falls from his mouth while he is eating or if his walking stick falls from his hand. Here are some examples of prohibited superstitions associated with calendula: Believing that holding a calendula plant will grant a vision of anyone who has stolen anything from the bearer. An old love spell dictates to collect soil that a prospective partner has stepped on and pot it up with a calendula plant. The health of the calendula plant was believed to indicate the health of the relationship. Carrying calendula petals into court was supposed to insure favorable legal proceedings and bring good luck in money matters, especially, in games of chance. Placing a green flannel bag filled with golden calendula flowers beneath one’s pillow, is believed to cause one to dream of winning numbers and winning names.

Additional Medicinal Properties of Calendula
Most people think of calendula as an herb with mainly external healing qualities, yet the versatile calendula has many internal uses as well. Its vibrant edible flowers are used in culinary recipes, as well as in medicinal preparations, dyes and spa products. Calendula treats digestive inflammation and ulcers. It contains a triterpene glycoside called calendulozide B that exerts a marked anti-ulcerous and sedative action. As an acholagogue, calendula aids in the relief of gall-bladder problems, indigestion and colitis. As an emmenagogue it has a reputation of helping delayed menstruation and painful periods. It also relieves symptoms of menopause. An infusion of the freshly-gathered flowers treats fevers, as it gently promotes perspiration.

Culinary Calendula Cuisine 
Fresh calendula petals can be chopped into salads and added to grain dishes. They give flavor to soups and stews and serve as a garnish on fruit and veggie platters. I decorated my children’s birthday cakes with bright calendula petals. Make calendula jelly using apple juice as a base. Grind dry petals to a powder and use as a substitute for expensive saffron or turmeric. You won’t get the flavor of these spices, but the color will be beautiful. Put whole flowers in white wine vinegar. The petals, with their slightly aromatic bitterness are used in fish and meat soups, salads, and as a coloring for various dishes, especially yellow rice.

Useful Garden Flower & Yellow dye
Pot marigold makes an attractive cut flower and can be grown in the vegetable garden to help with insect control. A nice yellow dye has also been extracted from the flower, by boiling. An infusion of the petals can be used as a rinse to lighten and brighten hair. It is a great flower for dried bouquets and dried petals can also be added to potpourris.

Hands On:
You can create a homemade calendula oil infusion to soothe the skin using dried calendula petals and a carrier oil. Olive oil, almond oil or grapeseed oil are some great options. You can use the homemade calendula oil as an after-bath body oil, salve, baby oil, lotion or home remedy for dry skin, inflamed areas, or rashes. The oil will become a nice golden orange color.

Dried Calendula Flowers
1. Pinch flower heads off stems and pull off petals. 
2. Dry them on a cloth or paper towels, as they tend to stick to a metal drying rack or screening.
3. Store in a tight lidded, moisture proof container to keep the color and flavor.

Infused Calendula Oil
There are two methods to infuse the oil:

Cold Infusion Method – This is the preferred technique because it protects the delicate calendula from heat damage.
1. Put the desired amount of dried calendula petals into a clean, dry glass jar.
2. Fill the jar with your carrier oil of choice to cover the petals by one inch (2 cm).
3. Place in a sunny place to infuse for three-four weeks.
4. Drain the petals from the oil and store the oil in a container with a lid for up to one year.

Hot Infusion Method – This method is much quicker than the cold infusion method but won’t have the same strength due to heat damage.
1. Fill a clean, dry glass jar ¼ full with dried calendula petals.
2. Fill the jar with your carrier oil of choice to cover the petals by one inch.
3. Place the petals and the oil in a small saucepan or slow cooker. Heat on low for four hours, stirring occasionally.
4. Let cool. Drain the petals from the oil and store the oil in a container with a lid for up to one year.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Lemon Balm- Calming, Sweet, Honeybee Herb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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