Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Spiny Hawthorn

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

עוּזְרָר קוֹצָנִי – Spiny Hawthorn – Crateagus Monogyna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

בוצין – Mullein – Verbascum Thapsus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

מרווה רפואי – Sage – Salvia Officinalis

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills - Months of Tishrei/Cheshvan
Printable Version

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Chaste Tree Berries

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills - Months of Tishrei/Cheshvan
(שיח אברהם מצוי- (שיח אברהם אבינו
Chaste Tree Berries – Vitex Agnus-Castus 
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A Female Friend
With the onset of summer, Vitex Agnus-Castus stretches out her graceful, feminine fingers and sends forth her upwardly pointing panicles; covered with fragrant lavender-colored blooms that look like lilacs and are quite attractive to butterflies and bees. Then, in the fall, with the sensitivity of a mother, she offers her healing fruit, bending down her supple branches to eager berry pickers. The berries are made into a tincture that can be taken daily to help women treat most feminine hormonal disorders, while balancing deep body rhythms, and nourishing psychic streams of creativity. Through a slow, steady re-grounding, it can also redirect hysteria – literally, ‘wild womb energy’ – into emotional calm usable energy. The entire plant has been used as a female remedy since ancient times:

If blood flows from the womb, let the woman drink dark wine in which the leaves of the Vitex have been steeped” (Hippocrates 460-377 B.C).
The tree furnish medicines that promote urine and menstruation” (Pliny. A.D. 23-79).

Chaste-Berry tincture is certainly one of the herbs from my herbal medicine cabinet that is most in demand, since it is known as an important uterine tonic regulating the female reproductive system. A friend of women of all ages – from those who need to regulate their period – to menopausal women seeking to alleviate hot flashes, Vitex is definitely the most effective herb for feminine ailments – a true ally for women of all ages.

Balancing and Nourishing Female Hormones
The reason that Chaste-Tree Berry Extract is so effective in treating such a range of female-related ailments is due, in large part, to the fact that it is an amphoteric remedy, which means that it can produce apparently opposite effects. In actuality, it is simply stabilizing its environment. In this way, it will enable whatever the body needs. Research studies have shown the presence of compounds in Vitex that are able to adjust the production of female hormones, as follows:

Increases Progesterone, Lowers Estrogen
In 1930, Dr. Gerhard Madaus conducted some of the first scientific research on the Vitex plant and developed a patent medicine from an extract of its dried fruits. He found it to have a “strong corpus-luteum effect which increases progesterone.” Daily use of Vitex tincture has been shown to enhance progesterone (LH) while inhibiting follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and pro-lactin; moreover, Vitex gently lowers estrogen levels, thus protecting reproductive tissues from cancer. It has the effect of stimulating and normalizing pituitary gland function, which controls and coordinates the menstrual cycle, alleviating irregular menstruation (especially if accompanied by endometriosis). Its progesterone-like compound treats amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, and menorrhagia (heavy menstruation), irregular premenopausal bleeding, PMS, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids.

Regulates Menstruation
Chaste-Berry can not only postpone menopause for pre-menopausal women and reestablish menstruation that has stopped prematurely, it can also facilitate the body in stabilizing the monthly cycle after the use of the birth control pill. In the late 1950’s, 65% of 51 women who took Vitex showed improvement from their heavy bleeding, and excessively short menstrual cycles. About 47% of the women were entirely cured. When flooding and spotting are from corpus luterum deficiency (problems with ovulation), ally with Vitex. This plant may even be useful for the treatment of ovarian cysts and fibrocystic breast disease (non-cancerous breast lumps). Although, acne related to hormonal changes often disappears after even a few weeks, lacking phytosterols makes Vitex a general slow-acting tonic. Clinical research shows that Vitex may start working to treat imbalances after about 10 days, but for full benefit, you need to take it up to six months or longer.

Alleviates PMS
Chaste-Berries has been proven useful as an aid in Premenstrual Tension, relieving chronic menstrual cramps. A study in the British Medical Journal by R. Schellenberg evaluated the use of Chaste-Berry in 170 women with premenstrual syndrome over a period of three monthly cycles. The study reported a reduction or elimination of PMS symptoms such as anxiety, nervous tension, headaches, bloating, breast fullness, insomnia, or mood changes. The results showed a statistically significant improvement with over half of the women noting a 50% or greater improvement in their symptoms. No one discontinued the trial due to adverse effects (Htay TT, et al. Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder). The herb can also help treat premenstrual water retention. With PMS, a positive result may be felt by the second menstruation; however, permanent improvement may take up to a year, or longer.

Female Infertility and Breastfeeding
For women who are trying to get pregnant, Vitex may be helpful in healing female infertility by stimulating progesterone production and regulating the ovulatory cycle. It may be taken safely through the end of the third month of pregnancy, which may help prevent miscarriages as well (http://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/vitex-agnus-castus). After the third month, Vitex is still safe to consume, but it’s not recommended, because it may cause the flow of milk too early. In one carefully controlled study with 100 nursing mothers, it was found that women who took Vitex had an increased milk flow (http://www.healthy.net/Health/Article/Chaste_Berry/1646). Later research showed that the best way to stimulate milk production is to take Vitex the first ten days after birth.

Suppressing Sexual Desire
You may wonder why Vitex is called ‘Chaste-Berry.’ It received its ‘sacred’ name, due to its reputation as an anaphrodisiac – suppressing sexual desire. The Greek physician Dioscorides used it as a drink to lower libido more than 2,000 years ago. In ancient Greece and Rome, the temple priestesses also used it to lessen sexual desire. The Athenian matrons in the sacred rites of Ceres used to decorate their couches with Vitex leaves. Likewise, Roman wives whose husbands were abroad in the Legions, would spread the aromatic leaves on their couches to reduce sexual desire; thus, attesting to their faithfulness during wartime. (Blumenthal M, et al. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000). During the Middle Ages, Chaste-Berry’s supposed effect on sexual desire led to it becoming a food spice at monasteries used to suppress sexual excitability; thereby leading to its common name ‘Monk’s pepper’ or ‘Cloister pepper’ (Mills S, Bone K. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. London: Churchill Livingstone; 2000). In Italy, chaste tree berries are thrown in front of novices as they enter the convent or monastery (Mabey R, ed. The New Age Herbalist. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster; 1988). Although it is most legendary as an anti-aphrodisiac to men, how  does it affect women? The verdict is not in and the evidence is mixed. Vitex may actually be an aphrodisiac to the female system (The Wise Women Way, Pages 107-108). Today Vitex does have a reputation as both as an anti-aphrodisiac and as an aphrodisiac!

Why is Vitex Called Siach Avraham Avinu (The Avraham Bush)?
Whereas the botanical name for the purple-blossomed, willowy bush that grows all around the Mediterranean is Vitex Agnus Castus, it is called ‘Siach Avraham (Abraham Bush) in Hebrew. According to Volume XI of The Illustrated Encyclopedia to the Plants and Animals of the Land of Israel, the plant gets its Hebrew name from the tradition that “it is the bush that was revealed to Avraham, with a ram caught in its branches, as he was about to slaughter Yitzchak.”

וַיִּשָּׂא אַבְרָהָם אֶת עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה אַיִל אַחַר נֶאֱחַז בַּסְּבַךְ בְּקַרְנָיו וַיֵּלֶךְ אַבְרָהָם וַיִּקַּח אֶת הָאַיִל וַיַּעֲלֵהוּ לְעֹלָה תַּחַת בְּנוֹ: )ספר בראשית כב: יג)
“Avraham lifted his eyes and saw behold a ram behind him caught in the thicket by his horns” (Bereishit 22:13).

It is possible that Vitex suggested itself to Avraham, because where the binding of Yitzchak took place, in the hill country of Judea, where “It takes over completely along the banks of watercourses that run dry in summer, especially when these are stony.” However, as opposed to many bushes of the Judean Hills, the Chaste-Berry Tree is not thorny or densely branched. Therefore, it not the kind of plant that an animal – even a long-horned one – could get caught in. Long before it became associated with Avraham, Vitex was called Chaste-Berry Tree by the ancient Greeks and Romans – hence the Castus which is Latin for ‘chaste,’ – and the Agnos which means ‘chaste’ in ancient Greek. However, Agnus in Latin means a ‘lamb.’ In the early Christian era, the Land of Israel was partially Greek-speaking, frequently visited by European Latin-speaking Christian pilgrims. When they encountered Vitex, conspicuous for its masses of flowers in the dry summer months when little else blooms in Israel, they inquired about it and were told that its name was Agnos. Not knowing Greek, they misunderstood this to mean Agnus in Latin and concluded that the Chaste- Berry Tree was called the ‘Lamb Tree.’ Being Christian pilgrims eager to identify whatever they saw in the Holy Land with some episode or description from the Bible, they either took this lamb to be the ram sacrificed by Avraham in place of Yitzchak or to be Yitzchak himself, sometimes referred to by Christian preachers as Agnus Dei or “the Lamb of God.” This is how the Chaste-Berry Tree became Vitex Agnus Castus, ‘Tree of the Pure Lamb,’ named the ‘Abraham Bush’ by modern Hebrew botanists, on the basis of an old Christian legend stemming from an ignorance of Greek.

Hands On:
The time to pick the dark purple Chaste-Tree Berries with their aromatic odor and warm, peculiar taste is in the fall during the month of Cheshvan (October and November). The fruit is dry then and the clusters of berries, resembling peppercorns, easily slide into your hand. Just strip them off the stalk with your fingers. Harvest before the heavy rains in order to ensure the best quality. Wash the berries carefully in a colander. Place them in a permeable basket until completely dry (3 days - one week), or dry them in a dehydrator. When completely dry, you can store the Chaste-Berries in a closed glass container.

Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto l teaspoonful of the ripe berries and leave to infuse l0-l5 minutes. For treatment of most ailments, drink one cup of tea three times a day.

Tincture: It is much easier than you think to make your own tincture.
1. Fill a glass container half full with clean Chaste-Berries.
2. Cover the berries completely with distilled alcohol (40-50%).
You may use vodka or brandy. In Israel, you can buy a completely tasteless 95% percent alcohol in the supermarkets. I delude this with an equal amount of purified water before use.
3. Make sure you fill the jar – to the spot where the lid ring begins – with 40-50% distilled alcohol; then, screw the lid on tightly. To avoid mildew, no part of the plants should be exposed to the air.
4. Label your jars and date them; then, let them steep in a cool, dark, and dry place.
5. Shake the jars now, and then again during the first week, to ensure that the alcohol penetrates all the berries.
6. Allow the tincture to steep for 6 weeks before straining.
7. Use a fine tea strainer, or muslin, to pour all of the juice out of the jar (or line a colander with muslin, or cheesecloth, and hold it over a bowl while you pour the tincture over the cloth) and into a suitable container. Press the plants gently with your hands to squeeze out all the liquid. You can even gather the sides of the cloth and twist it to get the very last drop!

How much of the tincture do you drink?
May we be blessed to keep our female juices in check this winter!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

אֶתְרוֹג – Etrog – Citrus Medica

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills
Months of Tishrei/Cheshvan
Printable Version

Etrog Preserves Infuses the Year with Holiday Lights
After Sukkot, it is a minhag (custom) to save the Etrog until Tu B’Shevat and eat it in candied form accompanied by prayers that we will merit a beautiful Etrog the following Sukkot. Some families make jam or liqueur from it, or stick cloves in its skin, for use as besamim (good smelling spices) at the havdalah ceremony following Shabbat. Conserving the Etrogim is a way to allow the sweet scent of the Tishrei holidays to linger into the entire year. Just as the fragrance of our Etrog remains long after Sukkot, so do the spiritual highs of the Tishrei Holidays permeate the entire year. Similarly we enjoy the scent of spices during Havdalah in order to allow the light of Shabbat to infuse the coming week with its fragrance.The month of Cheshvan, which begins soon after the end of the holidays, is the perfect time for making Etrog preserves, as the sense of the month of Cheshvan is smell (Sefer Yetzirah 5:9). Having no holidays of its own, Cheshvan serves as intended vehicle to allow the scent of the Tishrei Holidays to infuse the entire year. We always save our Etrogs and collect a few from the neighbors and friends, to have enough for our sugarless candied Etrog preserve. Below I will be sharing our recipe for sugarless Etrog jam. 

Rebbetzin's Etrog Jam
Spiritual Remedy for Birthing Mothers
It is a segulah (spiritual remedy) for pregnant women to bite off the pitum of the Etrog on Hoshana Rabbah, and pray for an easy labor (Likutei Maharich, Sukkot p. 106a). The reason for this custom is based on the opinion that the forbidden fruit Adam and Chava ate was an Etrog (Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 15:7). Therefore, the woman bites the pitum in order to show that “just as I have no benefit/pleasure from biting a pitum so too did I have no benefit/pleasure from the sin of eating from the Tree” (Ta’amei Minhagim p. 521:68). After Sukkot we make a kind of candied Etrog to serve on the Tu B’Shevat Seder table, together with the other fruits which are blessed by men and women. It is a custom for pregnant woman or women in difficult labor to partake of this Etrog comfiture, for it is a spiritual remedy for easy labor and for a healthy baby (Kaf HaChaim 664:600). Etrog may also help against infertility. The wife of a childless couple who came to Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu for blessing was offered the Rebbetzin’s Etrog jelly and conceived within two months! (Avihem Shel Yisrael p. 193). 

Eating from the Tree of Knowledge Affected Every Tree
Traditionally eating Etrog in holiness is a rectification for the blemish of eating from the Tree of Knowledge. The consequence for women caused by eating from the Tree was difficult pregnancy and birth (Bereishit 3:16). Therefore it makes sense that biting off the pitum of the Etrog after Sukkot is a segulah for a woman to become pregnant, and eating Etrogim in any form is a segulah for both becoming pregnant and for an easy birth. Eating from the Tree of Knowledge affected the entire universe. Even the trees were affected. Hashem had originally commanded them to become עֵץ פְּרִי עֹשֶׂה פְּרִי/etz pri ose pri – fruit trees producing fruits (Bereishit 1:11), but they instead became עֵץ עֹשֶׂה פְּרִי/etz ose pri – trees producing fruits (ibid. 12). Although the creation of the trees is written before eating from the Tree of Knowledge, “there is no former and later in the Torah” (Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 6b). Whatever happened in the Creation story and the Garden of Eden is beyond time. The trees don’t have free choice that they could sin and deliberately chose to become trees producing fruits rather than fruit trees producing fruit. It was the choices of the human beings to eat the forbidden fruit that effected them retroactively.

Unifying Process and Product
Originally, Hashem desired that the taste of the trees should be the same as the taste of the fruits. This signifies that the process and product would be one, rather than what we are accustomed to in the product-oriented-Western-World, where people focus on getting things done to achieve a certain goal, without always experiencing the enjoyment of the process that produces the desired result. Eating from the Tree of Knowledge made a gap in the world between not only Good and Evil but also body and soul, spiritual and physical, process and product etc. Only the Etrog tree performed Hashem’s will and became a fruit-tree producing fruits (Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 35a). This alludes to the opinion that the Etrog was also the Tree of Knowledge, as it states, “She saw that the tree was good for food” (Bereishit 3:6). Since no other tree was eatable, only the fruits it produced, Rabbi Abba of Acco concluded that the Tree of Knowledge was an Etrog whose tree was eatable (Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 15:7). The Midrash mentions that not only does the Etrog tree have the same taste as its fruits, its fruits also remain on the same tree from year to year (Midrash Yalkut Shimoni Vayikra 23:651). These features both blur the distinction between the process and the product. Although the fruit is the choice product, the tree as well shares its taste. Remaining on the same tree year after year with the possibility of being harvested anytime in the process highlights the importance of the process itself rather than the final fruit product which keeps evolving from year to year. This strongly suggests that the Etrog has the ability to rectify eating from the Tree of Knowledge. I found a Chassidic commentary explaining that the Etrog was the Upper Tree of Knowledge (Rabbi Yitzchak D’man Acco, Meirat Einayim).

Versatile Healing Capacities
Since it is through the cause of the blemish that the rectification is enacted, the Etrog has the ability to rectify eating from the Tree of Knowledge together with the three additional possibilities for the identity of the Tree of Knowledge: wheat, grapes and figs (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 40a). Having the ability to rectify the Tree of Knowledge which caused death and disease, it makes sense that the Etrog has abundant healing properties. According to Rambam the Etrog can cure more than 70 medical ailments. Each part of the Etrog has healing properties. A plaster of the crushed seeds placed on a snake or scorpion bite can save from death. Etrog-leaf-tea strengthens a sick person who is weakened. Etrog cream made from the peel works like magic against wrinkles, acne, scratches, and help heal burns.

Medicinal Properties
Etrog juice has been used as a home remedy for centuries. It helps awaken and clean the intestines from too much black bile. This concurs with the following Midrash: “A king suffered greatly from stomach pain. They told him in a dream that he would be healed by eating Etrogs, which the Jews had blessed on for the mitzvah of the Arbah Minim. He ate from them and was healed” (Midrash Vayikra Rabbah, 37:2). The Etrog Man in the Shuk Machane Yehudah of Nachlaot offers to cure being hard of hearing, eye irritations and stuttering with a few drops of Etrog juice on the offending body part. He furthermore teaches that drinking Etrog juice strengthens the body, and brings about feelings of satiation and calmness. It will also make a person smell better. “If a pregnant woman eats Etrogim she will have children with a pleasant scent. The wife of Shavor Malka ate Etrogim during her pregnancy and gave birth to a very nice smelling daughter. When Shavor Malka requested that they bring him good smelling spices, they brought his daughter (Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 61a). The Etrog Man further claims that he has a special Etrog drink for pregnant women that keeps their stomach warm, and gives the child a pleasant smell (Marpeh Habosem). Etrog juice may cure infertility, and help prevents/cures morning sickness. It also helps cure hot flashes. Etrog furthermore helps men regain their strength and virility. Rabbi Nachman teaches that looking at the Etrog is healing for pain in the eyes (Rabbi Nachman, Sefer Hamidot, part 2). Whoever suffers from emotional problems, depression, lack of will and inability should eat a lot of Etrog. (Rabbi Moshe Cohen Shaouli, Nature’s Wealth, Health and Healing Plants). Perhaps this is because the Etrog is compared to the heart. According to Rambam Etrog peel improves heart health, and reduces blood pressure. He who wants to stabilize his blood pressure should drink Etrog juice every day.

Sugar free Etrog Jam or Candied Etrog
·         3 Etrogim (2 ½ cups), 2 cups water, 2 cups apple-juice concentrate

1. Slice unpeeled Etrog very thinly, and remove as many seeds as possible. For jam, chop fruit into very small pieces, including the peel. You may use a food processer for this step. For candied Etrog, keep the Etrog wedges thinly sliced according to desired size.

2. To remove bitterness soak the sliced or chopped Etrog for seven days in water, changing the water daily. Keep the soaked Etrog in the refrigerator to avoid spoilage.

3. Drain Etrog, add water and apple-juice concentrate. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for about two hours, stirring occasionally. [Be careful here, if you leave it for a minute it can burn on the bottom. If it does burn, do not stir up the burned parts into the jam. Dump the stuff into a clean bowl, wash out your pot, put the jelly back in and continue.] Continue simmering closely supervised, stirring every 5-10 minutes for the last ½ hour or more until most of the liquid has evaporated, and the mixture bubbles and spins a thread.

4. Remove jam from pot and store in closed glass jars in the refrigerator until Tu B’Shevat if you can hold yourself back from finishing it so long!

The Etrog’s Prayer
ספר ויקרא פרק כג פסוק מ
וּלְקַחְתֶּם לָכֶם בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן פְּרִי עֵץ הָדָר כַּפֹּת תְּמָרִים וַעֲנַף עֵץ עָבֹת וְעַרְבֵי נָחַל וּשְׂמַחְתֶּם לִפְנֵי הָשֵׁם אֱלֹהֵיכֶם שִׁבְעַת יָמִים:
“You shall take for yourselves on the first day, the fruit of the tree hadar, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick leaved trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d for seven days (Vayikra 23:40).

The Etrog is called “a fruit of הָדָר/Hadar” – a majestic fruit. The Etrog is indeed a glorious and majestic fruit representing the heart – the main organ of the body. However, the greater and more outstanding we and our deeds are, the more humility is required. אֶתְרוֹג /Etrog is the acronym for the phrase which reads, “Let not the foot of pride overtake me” (Tehillim  36:12). אַל תְּבוֹאֵנִי רֶגֶל גַּאֲוָה. It is as if the Etrog is praying, while so much importance is attributed to me, “Let not the foot of pride overtake me!” 

Etrog is furthermore the acronym of אהבה שלימה, תשובה שלימה, רפואה שלימה, גאולה שלימה
Ahava, Teshuva, Refuah, Geulah – Complete love, complete repentance, complete healing, and complete redemption. May our involvement with the holy Etrog bring about all of these complete perfections through the ultimate rectification from the Tree of Knowledge!