Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Strong, Musty Scented Protective Rue

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills
Months of Shevat/Adar
(רודה (פיגם – Rue – Ruta Graveolens
Printable Version

The Strong, Musty Scented Protective Rue
Like many other families in Bat Ayin and in other religious neighborhoods in Israel, I have planted a rue at the entrance of my garden for protection against Ayin Hara (the evil eye). My rue looks a bit reedy and frazzled, perhaps due to the Ayin Hara it may have absorbed. The tradition that rue expels various forms of negative energy is prevalent in Jewish teachings, among the Bedouin and Arabs, as well as in other cultures. The musty scent of rue is believed to chase away negative spirits. The specific name, Graveolens, is Latin for “having a strong or offensive smell.” No doubt, rue has a strong scent, which I find more interesting than repulsive. The Latin name, Ruta – derived from ‘rhutos’ – a Greek word meaning ‘shield’ testifies to rue’s protective properties. In Italy, it is so highly valued for this purpose that a silver charm called Cimaruta – Italian for ‘Sprig of Rue’ – is worn as a protective amulet or hung above an infant’s bed. 
Rue Amulet
At Sephardi traditional Henna parties, held before weddings, sprigs of rue are included on the Henna tray, for protection against Ayin Hara. Rue is native to the Middle East. It grows in the northern and central parts of Israel, including the Judean hills where we live.  In ancient Israel, rue grew wild in the mountains; and was therefore exempted from ma’aser (tithe) as it was considered hefker (free for all to take) also during the Shemita year (Mishnah Shevi’it 9:1). The Hebrew word
רוּדָה/ruda furthermore means ‘to rule,’ thus rue is also known as ‘queen of herbs.’ It is possible that the name ‘ruta’ is from the Greek ‘reuo’ (to set free), because this herb is so efficacious in treating various diseases.

Torah Teachings on the Potent, Protective Properties of Rue
In the language of the Mishna, rue is called הַפֵּיגָם /HaPegam, a word that is made up of the same Hebrew letters as the word מַגֵּפָה/magefa – ‘epidemic.” This may be because rue is one of the foremost protective herbs effective even against epidemics. The Chida writes, “I would like to entrust to generations to come that the ruda is effective against Ayin Hara and against any kind of spell. I have even heard this from Rabbis of the holy city of Jerusalem. When a person who carries this herb thinks about the sacred name, ‘Rota’ only good things will happen to him” (Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai, Kikar La’eden p. 285a). “In the holy books, there are several esoteric devices for protection from Ayin Hara, I especially recommend to carry the רוּדָה/ruda –‘rue,’ which is very potent. It is proper to protect oneself from Ayin Hara. This is included in the general mitzvah, ‘… and you shall vigilantly protect your lives’ (Devarim, 4:15)” (Rabbi Eliezer Papo, Pele Yoetz, Teviot, letter Ayin). I have personally visited Rabbanit Tzadka – the sister of the well-known Sephardi Rabbi Mutzaffi – for removal of Ayin Hara through עוֹפֶרֶת/oferet – ‘lead.’ She taught me the procedure in details, which includes filling a round vessel with water and adding three small pieces of rue leaves. The lead is heated on the stove and when melted, it is thrown quickly into the water, while reciting certain prayers. At the end of the procedure the lead and the rue is removed and sprinkled with salt to neutralize the negative energy that it absorbed. Then the lead/rue/salt package is thrown in the street to be dispersed with the wind.

Rue for Eyesight
It is interesting that just as rue is effective against the evil eye, among its medicinal properties it is known to strengthen the eye. Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79), held rue to have such a strong effect on the preservation of sight that the painters of his time used to devour a great quantity of it. Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci regularly ate the small, trefoil rue leaves to improve their eyesight and creativity. Italians still eat it in their salads. Rue was recognized as making the sight both sharp and clear, especially when the vision had become dim through over-exertion of the eyes. Rue is valued for its flavonoids, particularly rutin, which strengthens blood vessels in general and the eyes in particular. It was with “Euphrasy and Rue” that Adam’s sight was purged in John Milton’s, Paradise Lost.

Rue for Purification
Rue has a long-standing reputation as a disinfectant. It constituted a chief ingredient of the famous antidote to poison used by Mithridates in the 1st century BC. It was one of the most complex, highly sought-after drugs during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, particularly in Italy and France, where it was continually used for centuries. An updated recipe was known well into the 19th century. Hippocrates also commended rue and Nicholas Culpeper instructs us to eat rue leaves either by themselves, or with figs and walnuts, to cause “all venomous things to become harmless.” Gerard says, “If a man be anointed with the juice of rue, the poison of wolf’s bane, mushrooms, or todestooles, the biting of serpents, stinging of scorpions, spiders, bees, hornets and wasps will not hurt him” (Maud Grieve, A Modern Herbal: The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic ... Volume 2, p. 695). Rue is one of the ingredients in the Vinegar of the Four Thieves, a formula made famous during the plague years in Europe. It was the custom for judges to have sprigs of rue on their bench against the pestilential infection brought into court by prisoners.

Repellent Pesticide
Rue has been regarded from the earliest times as successful in warding off pests. Whether growing or dried, rue is useful for repelling insects due to its powerful, exceedingly bitter, acrid odor. In the garden, rue may be planted near valuable plants to repel cats as well. When mixed as a decoction, rue can be used topically to kill lice and fly larvae. Rue-water sprinkled in the house ‘kills all the fleas,’ says an old book. You can still make good use of rue today, as a flea repellent and to discourage slugs and beetles in the garden.

Medicinal Properties of Rue
Rue is not only a pesticide in the garden; in the human body, rue treats parasitic worms. It is a useful medicine in hysterical spasms, colic and flatulence, being a mild stomachic. Rue alleviates respiratory infection, cough and croup due to its antiviral, antibacterial, antispasmodic and expectorant properties. The juice of the rue plant has also been used to treat earaches. As an emmenagogue it brings about menstruation. Used in small amounts rue can ease headaches, especially those caused by nervous tension, either as a tea or applying the fresh leaves to the temples. The leaves can also be applied externally in poultice form to relieve sciatica. The expressed juice, in small quantities, was a noted remedy for nervous nightmare. Compresses saturated with a strong rue decoction, applied to the chest, have been used beneficially for chronic bronchitis.

Protection Prerequisite against Protective Plant
In large doses, rue can be toxic. Wear protective gloves when handling rue plants. The plant juices contain furanocoumarins, which sensitizes the skin to light and can cause dermatitis or blisters. Rue’s mild toxicity can cause mood changes, sleep disorders, fatigue, dizziness, spasms, fainting, tongue swelling, clammy skin and photoxicity. Its abortive properties may result in hemorrhaging and miscarriages, so it is contraindicated for women who are pregnant or nursing. 

Herb of Enchantment
Rue has been used in both permitted and forbidden rituals since antiquity. The smoke of rue is known to purify an area, and Rabbis used it to expel dybbuks. Some folks sprinkle tea of rue around the home for protection or bathe in it to break spells. I do not believe in the following superstitions, which are not from Jewish sources. However, I find them amusing enough to include them. Rue mixed with sandalwood and lavender flowers is believed to be a lover’s incense. Rue tea or incense is used to attract a man. Placing rue in a man’s left shoe is believed to hold him and insure his fidelity. I do not recommend these superstitious practices, which may be included in the prohibition against practicing witchcraft. Yet, the legend of rue does live on in playing cards, where the symbol for the suit of clubs could very well be modeled after a rue-leaf.

Hands On:
I have personally treated the cough of my youngest son when he was a baby by rubbing medicated rue oil on his chest every evening. After one week the cough was completely gone.

Medicated Rue Oil
1. Collect two handfuls of nice rue leaves
2. Rinse the leaves and dry them with a dish towel
3. Place the rue leaves in a glass jar and cover them with olive oil
4. Place the glass jar in your windowsill for two weeks, shaking it occasionally
5. Strain the oil. Discard the rue leaves, as their healing properties have now been absorbed into the medicated rue oil.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Milk-Thistle – A Thorny Liver Remedy

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills - Months of Kislev/Tevet
ברקן – Milk-Thistle – Silybum Marianum

Printable Version

A Thorny Liver Remedy
Among the edible, volunteer greens in my garden, the blessed milk-thistle’s shiny pale green prickly-edged leaves streaked with white veins, catches my eye. Its blackish seeds – that only ripen at the end of summer when white cottony fibers appear – are the main medicinal part of milk-thistle. I also use its leaves, as herbology teaches that the entire plant shares the medicinal benefit of any part of the plant. From ancient time, people used all parts of the milk-thistle, including the root. They would also eat the flower-head, which is similar and related to the artichoke. The leaves, which are just beginning to appear in the Judean Hills following the winter rains, can be added to a green smoothie. You can use tender small leaves for salad while larger older leaves go well with stir-fry. Carefully cut off the outer spikes before using milk-thistle leaves, except when using them in a smoothie where the blender completely macerates them. Since we are still in the month of Tevet, which is especially suited for rectifying the liver, I thought to share some teachings about the milk-thistle, which is one of the main liver remedies – in addition  to Burdock, Oregon grape, Dandelion and Yellow dock – the acronym for BODY. None of these herbs except for dandelion – which we discussed last week – grows in my garden. Similar to dandelion, milk-thistle is a profoundly cleansing, gentle liver and blood detoxifier that encourages a healthy bile flow. It is prized for its powerfully protecting regenerative effects upon the liver cells.

Most Cursed among Plants
The thistle has a very thorny reputation. Some people even considered it a cursed flower, since as a result of eating from the Tree of Knowledge, the earth was cursed to produce thorns and thistles:

וְקוֹץ וְדַרְדַּר תַּצְמִיחַ לָךְ וְאָכַלְתָּ אֶת עֵשֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶה: (ספר בראשית פרק ג פסוק יח)
“It shall bring forth thorns and thistles for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field” (Bereishit 3:18).

It is interesting that as we are coming closer to the final redemption the curses of paradise are gradually reverting. Women give birth more easily, and much physical labor “in the sweat of the brow” has been automatized. Likewise, although the thorns are annoying when they grow in our vegetable or flowerbeds or when we experience bristling thistles on bare feet, so many health benefits can still be gleaned from various thorns. Even Rashi agrees that thorns and thistles are fit for food but only after special preparation. During the final redemption, the lower lifeforms will be elevated. For example, “The wolf will lie with the lamb,” (Yesha’yahu 11:6). His instincts will be raised up and no longer desire eating another animal. Likewise, plant life is being elevated and the value of the thorns is proportionally increasing.

Potent Detoxifier
Milk-thistle has been revered for at least 2000 years as an effective healing herb, with Pliny the Elder alluding to its cleansing and healing properties in the 1st century. Nicholas Culpeper, the well-known 17th-century pharmacist, cited its use for opening “obstructions” of the liver and spleen and recommended it for the treatment of jaundice. It is has also been used as an anti-depressant, due to its ability to move stagnant liver energy. It is one of the best preventative medicines, as it not only protects each liver-cell from incoming toxins, but simultaneously encourages the liver to more effectively process and release damaging substances that are already built up in the system, such as alcohol, drugs, medications, mercury, heavy metals and pesticides. Milk-thistle is excellent for alleviating a hangover. It helps the liver eliminate alcohol faster from the body (Jane Clarke, the Daily Mail’s Nutritionist). If you’ve had a drink or two, try taking milk-thistle before you go to bed and again in the morning. Due to its detoxifying abilities, it also helps the body to digest rich food and can be used as a travel sickness preventive. As part of a detox regime, it helps improve skin condition in those prone to acne or psoriasis.

Anti-Oxidant, Soothing, De-stressor
Milk-thistle is cool, bitter, sweet and enters the liver and spleen. This demulcent herb soothes and moistens both kidney and bladder irritations, as well as mucous membranes and inflammations. Milk-thistle’s main active bio constituent is silymarin, which selectively acts as an anti-oxidant and protects the body from free radical damage specifically in the intestines and stomach. It may be used for stomach disorders, as a cold tea and a general tonic for new mothers. Silymarin, is alcohol soluble and is not extracted effectively in water. It works best as an alcohol tincture, which may also be added to teas. Recent research indicates that milk-thistle stimulates the immune system and encourages the growth and protection of healthy nerve tissue. Externally, its leaves may be used on the forehead for alleviating headaches, itchy skin and nausea (just keep it away from your eyes). Milk-thistle is wonderful and appropriate for anyone who is under stress, uses alcohol, recreational drugs, prescription medications, or lives in today’s modern times of pesticides, environmental toxins, and pollution, which is virtually every person in an industrial nation.

Spiritual Properties of Milk-Thistle
In Hebrew, milk-thistle is called בָּרקָן/barkan – ‘lightening.’ This is because the intricate white pattern on the leaves resembles lightening. Interestingly, according to a superstitious saying, throwing thistle into a fire keeps lightning away from the home. To Anglos, these same white veins looks as if milk has spilled on them. The English name also indicates that they produce a milky sap when punctured, just like many other leaves in the lettuce family. The leaf was also used to support milk production in lactating mothers (Weeds. Milk Thistle. Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications, Inc). The thistle became the emblem of Scotland in the 1200s, as well as the Chivalric Order of the Thistle in 1540. Throughout Celtic regions thistle represents nobility, graciousness, bravery, devotion, durability, strength and determination. When you try picking a thistle, you will find they demand respect…and gloves. The sturdy, forceful nature of this flower explains the traditional symbolism of thistles for overcoming even the most unshakable enemy. The Victorian Language of Flowers identifies thistle as the flower of intrusion (or perhaps more distinctly a warning against unwanted meddling. Yet, its green leaves naturally sends out peaceful energies of trust. It offers the characteristics of good advice, listening skills and helpfulness to others. Combine this with purple flowers’ transcendent, introspective nature that unites the physical with spiritual. Green and purple together harmonize with humanitarians, leaders and visionary artists. Thus, the energy of the milk-thistle guides you outwardly and upward toward higher consciousness and psychic abilities.

Culinary Uses:
Early on, all parts of the milk-thistle were used for a variety of purposes. The leaves were extensively utilized and often eaten as a vegetable. Milk-thistle tastes delicious just like spinach. When raw, the leaves taste like a cross between spinach and romaine lettuce – an earthy, slightly bitter taste that works as a perfect accompaniment to a vegetable salad. When cooked, milk-thistle work as a terrific spinach replacement in all recipes. The stem of the immature plant reminds me of the taste of Swiss chard stems. Milk-thistle extract is now also used in a beverage called Rockstar Energy Drink as an energy-enhancing agent.

Hands On:
The milk-thistle thorns aren’t as big of an issue as they might seem. Once you cook them, the thorns soften, and you can eat them, thorns and all. Frying the leaves makes them crispy like potato chips and takes away irritation from the thorns. Boiling them also softens the thorns enough that you can eat them like spinach.

Milk-Thistle Stir-Fry
4 Tablespoons olive oil
2 medium size onions chopped
3 garlic cloves minced
15 medium size milk-thistle leaves
Sea salt and pepper to taste

1. With your household scissors cut off the very edge of the thistle leaf. (Bigger ones are less work.) If you hold the milk-thistle leaves by the middle, you won’t get pricked. Some people may want to wear gloves but I don’t bother.
2. Cut the milk-thistle leaves into thin strips
3. Sauté the onions until translucent
4. Add the garlic and continue to stir-fry until everything is slightly browned
5. Mix in the chopped milk-thistle leaves but turn off the fire after 2-4 minutes

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Dandelion Reviving Your Inner Child

Herbal Remedies from the Judean Hills
שן ארי – Dandelion – Taraxacum Officinale 
Printable Version

Liver Cleansing Herb and the Month of Tevet
Dandelion grows in most parts of the world, almost all year round. The other day, I noticed one in the crevice of the natural steps my husband made as a shortcut through the garden. Out of all its wonderful health benefits, dandelion is best known for its ability to treat liver disorders.
The root of the plant contains most of the bitter principles that helps to build up liver tissue, which makes it useful in the treatment of hepatitis, gallstones, and chronic liver congestion. Dandelion stimulates and improves liver function by removing toxins and reestablishing hydration and electrolyte balance. It also increases the release of bile and maintains the proper flow of bile. Dandelion’s antioxidants such as vitamin C, keep the liver functioning optimally and protect it from aging. Since the month of Tevet is associated with the liver, it is the perfect time to work on healing the liver by delving into the mystical and medicinal properties of dandelion. Similar to Chinese medicine, the Torah links the liver with anger and agitation: “The liver gets angry; the gall bladder injects a drop into it and calms it down” (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 61b). Just as the Talmud associates the month of Tevet with anger and the liver, in Kabbalah the sense of the month of Tevet is ‘agitation’ and its organ is the liver:

“He made the letter Ayin king over agitation, And He bound a crown to it and with it He formed Capricorn in the Universe and Tevet in the year, and the liver in the soul male and female” (Sefer Yetzirah Chapter 5).

Anger and resentment, often trapped in the liver, can lead to depression and self-hatred that elevate the liver enzymes if not relieved. Most of the herbs that act on the liver can help with this problem, but dandelion can be particularly effective. While working on healing the liver, repressed anger may surface. Dealing with the anger, which also manifests as agitation and irritation, is vital for restoring optimal liver function.

The Bitter Principle of Dandelion Sweetens Bitter Emotions
Dandelion is one of the plants that people don’t usually think about except when mowing the lawn. It is invasive and pervasive, yet excellent for food and medicine. This teaches us that even little irritating things often have tremendous value. There is a humbling unpretentiousness about this enchanted flower, which blooms longer than most other plants. It represents staying power with a grounding and centering influence that connects to the solar plexus energy center. Dandelion helps to ground scattered emotions and strengthens the emotional body, giving us a stronger sense of self. The solar plexus is the source of connection between ourselves and other people. It may cause irrational instant likes or dislikes of people.. Since dandelion root is a digestive bitter, it helps sweeten the judgment of bitterness and releases hostility trapped in the liver. The bitter action on the liver helps reduce excessive activity that we use to run away from unpleasant emotions.

Balancing the Tension of Overachievers
Dandelion flowers help people who cram too much into their lives – the compulsive ‘doers’ who over plan and over structure their lives – leaving insufficient time for reflection and relaxation.  Having pushed themselves beyond their capacity, without leaving space in their lives for emotional or spiritual expression, they forget how to listen to the needs of their own body. Dandelion may ease their shoulder and neck tension, caused by restraint of their inner selves, by allowing emotions to be expressed, rather than trapped in the muscles. It helps us to shift from being a ‘human doing’ to a ‘human being,’ balancing our energy and excessive activity to bring a sense of inner ease and relaxation. Thus, dandelion balances and restores emotions to a more even keel. Try meditating while holding a single dandelion on your solar plexus to facilitate will, bravery, and a healthy, positive outlook.

Dandelion Reviving Your Inner Child
The bright yellow dandelion symbolizes happiness, simple joys and our inner child who often forgets to play. It is impossible not to notice this cheerful flower that smiles at us when opening, engendering the energy of pure delight. It brings a smile to our faces and youthful thoughts of taking off our shoes, running and playing with the flowers. Dreaming of dandelions is supposed to be especially good for relationships. As a child, I remember blowing the fluffy flower seeds and making a wish, which could come true in ways we hadn’t anticipated. We would count the seeds remaining on the stalk to ‘predict’ how many years before getting married, and how many children we would bear. Dandelion still reminds us that our prayers have power, yet they also come with responsibility. There is a folktale comparing the rose – who desired to live in a castle garden – where she could be safe by climbing on the walls and the dandelion – who was happy to live anywhere children could find her. Since it chose to live in open fields and by the roadsides – anywhere she could bring a smile – dandelion was blessed with a long growing season and designated to become a child’s flower.

Balancing Opposite Polarities and Increasing Psychic Powers
Dandelion opens its petals in the morning to greet the sun and closes them at night to sleep. Due to the contrasting colors of the golden flower and puffy white seeds, it is associated with the opposite polarities of the sun and the moon. The medicinal uses of the plant as a kidney and liver tonic indicate its ability to restore balance. Dandelion can also be used to restore internal mental and emotional balance. Dandelion tea may increase psychic abilities because of its cleansing and rejuvenating properties, and because it is connected to the element of air. Associated with rebirth and immortality, dandelion leaf brings about purification and defeats negativity. Culpepper writes that dandelion has an “opening and cleansing quality… it opens passages.” Drinking either dried dandelion root tea or flower infusion is supposed to enhance the gift of second sight.

Expect the Unexpected & Follow the Wind
“Expect the unexpected” is one of dandelion’s messages. This plant is also quite a traveler – sending its seeds as much as five miles from the originating plant. You can learn from the dandelion when you are looking to cut apron strings and take to the road, following where the wind leads you. A simple puff of wind or blowing on it takes those hundreds of seeds with your desire to all corners of creation.

Medicinal Properties of Dandelion
The energetics of dandelion is bitter, sweet, and cool. It affects the spleen, stomach, kidney and liver. In addition to regulating bile production, promoting liver and kidney health, it is also a remedy for digestive disturbances, diabetes, urinary disorders, skin problems, acne, jaundice, cancer, and anemia. In addition, it helps maintain bone health, skin, vision and weight loss. Finally, as an antioxidant and disinfectant, dandelions fight viral infections as well. Rambam calls it ‘the donkey’s lettuce.’ In Israel, dandelion grows amongst the residential weeds in the Judean hills, Samaria and Galilee.

Preventing 83 Kinds of Illnesses by Protecting the Gallbladder
In traditional Chinese medicine, the gallbladder is the liver’s partner organ and vessel. The gallbladder is called מרה/marah – ‘bitter’ in Hebrew. This is a fitting name since the gallbladder, collects and stores bile, which is the bitter fluid produced by the liver. According to the Talmud, health and illness is dependent on the gallbladder:

והסירותי מחלה מקרבך ותניא מחלה זו מרה ולמה נקרא שמה מחלה ששמונים ושלשה חלאין יש בה מחלה בגימטריא (תלמוד בבלי מסכת בבא קמא דף צב/ב)
“I will remove מַחֲלָה/machalah – ‘sickness’ from your midst” (Shemot 23:25). It was taught: Machalah means gall; why is it called machalah? Because eighty-three different kinds of illnesses may result from it [as the numerical value of machalah amounts exactly to this] (Babylonian Talmud Baba Kama 92b).

Dandelion is very beneficial for the gallbladder and liver because it improves their general functioning, protects them from the ill effects of oxidants and infections, and regulates the various secretions from both organs
. In this way, dandelion may prevent 83 kinds of illnesses.

Culinary Uses
You can eat every single part of a dandelion. When you want to internalize a little nature, nibble on the dandelion and enjoy its endurance. There are lots of flowers that look like dandelion but aren’t! If the leaves are branched, if there is more than one flower on the stem or if the plant is at all hairy, you’re not looking at a dandelion! Don’t eat it unless you’re absolutely sure.

Dandelion Flowers can be added to salads or juiced and used to make jelly, wine and punch. The flowers are supposedly useful when eaten fresh to relieve headaches. Pick the flowers during the day when they are open, as they are very bitter when closed.

Dandelion Leaves
The young leaves can be used raw or blanched in salads or sandwiches, steamed like spinach or cooked into soup or broth. You can make Dandelion Beer from the fermented dried leaves. The leaves can also be dried and stored for the winter or blanched and frozen. The leaves contain 7000 units of Vitamin A per ounce, and are an excellent source of Vitamins B, C and some vitamin D.  As a comparison, the Vitamin A content of lettuce is 1,200 per ounce and carrot 1,275 per ounce. This flowering plant is also rich in fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus. Dandelion also contains more protein than spinach.

Dandelion Root
The root can be dried and used in soups or made into tea or coffee. Fresh roots can also be used in salads.

Dandelion Coffee  
You can use ground and roasted dandelion roots as a coffee substitute. This drink will help digestion and strengthen the liver and kidneys, without influencing the nerves like coffee and regular tea. Uproot the roots of 2-year-old plants. Wash them well and dry them in the sun or in the oven at 100 degrees with the door slightly open. Grind the roots and roast them carefully on a pan without oil, until it gets a little brown.  Make sure the fire is low in order not to burn the roots. Chassidim of natural food claim that dandelion coffee tastes much better than regular coffee and obviously, is much healthier.

Hands On:
Dandelions can also be used as a vegetable and are a good source of fiber. It promotes digestion, and in the past, it was used to treat scurvy because of its high levels of vitamin C.

Steamed Dandelion Greens with Red Pepper & Garlic
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large onions chopped
¼ cup thinly sliced garlic (5 or 6 cloves)
1-2 red peppers sliced in long thin strips
½ teaspoon hot red pepper, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups dandelion greens with stems, well washed and roughly chopped
½ vegetable stock or water
Lemon wedges for serving

1. Place the olive oil in a large, deep saucepan with a lid over medium-high heat. When hot, add the chopped onion and sauté until translucent.
2. Add the sliced garlic and red peppers, hot pepper, salt and black pepper and continue to sauté for about 1 minute.
3. Add the greens and stock. Cover and cook until the greens are wilted and just tender but still a little firm, about 5 minutes.
4. Uncover the pan and continue to cook, stirring, until the liquid almost evaporates and the greens are quite tender, at least 5 minutes more.
5. Serve hot, or cold, with lemon wedges.

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.