From Cedar to Hyssop
3. Herbal Remedies
Achillea fragrantissima, Forsk. Compositae Qeisun. Sweet Yarrow. (See Plate 62).
Its use is that of a mild aromatic tonic, like our English Yarrow. The plant is delightfully fragrant, but has a bitter taste. This is alluded to in a verse of one of the Funeral Songs, which are sung while beating the breast in mourning:
"I ate of Qeisun when they left us
I found it sweet, but the parting
Bitterness not to be borne"
(Aftart el Qeisun yom ifrakun
Laqetu helw w lakin el ijraq
Marar ma beyindaq).
Artemisia Herba Alba, Asso (Compositae) Shih. Wormwood (See Plate 63).
A frail grey plant, found in most dry desert places and known to everybody. Its use is that of our wormwoods, in infusion as an aromatic tonic; it is often brought in for sale in Bethlehem by the Taamre women.
Artemisia arborescens, L. Shaibeh (Grey head) .
This is a very beautiful wormwood, with round yellow rayless flowers and larger and more abundant leaves than the shih; it is found on Mount Carmel; its use is the same as above, and it is valued in the town for fevers.
Aikanna strigosa, Boiss. Boragineae. Hawa juwani. Hairy Alkanet.
This Alkanet has beautiful soft blue flowers, very hairy leaves and bright red roots. It is the roots that are used medicinally, as far as our information goes, in infusion, for internal pain, and also externally for sprains and bruises and in one instance (Trans Jordan) for a bruised wound.
The true Alkanet, A. tinctorius, was also used in medicine. Gerarde, quoting Dioscorides, says that the root, made up with oil, is good for old ulcers.
Anchusa strigosa, (Boragineae), Labill. Humhum. (See Plate 64).
The leaves are made into a poultice for sores on sheep and other allimals, especially if there are worms in the sore; the poultice is often mixed with dung. Similar poultices are sometimes used for wounds on human beings.
In Trans Jordan the part of the plant thought most effective is the upper part of the root and part of the stem. This agrees with the use of a plant called Buglossa sylvestus by Gerarde which appears to be an Anchusa. "The root," saith Dioscorides, "mixed with oil, cureth green wounds."
Balanites aegyptiaca, Del. (Simarubeae). Zaqqum. The False Balsam.
This tree only grows around the Dead Sea; we saw a magnificent specimen of it at Jericho laden with fruit, in March, 1932. An Arab expert there, one Haj Hasan, makes "zaqqurn oil" from the kernels of the ripe fruit; he tells us that it is only after many crushings, boiling and poundings with stones that the oil comes forth. It is much valued as a cure for all pains in bones or joints, whether from rheumatism or at the onset of fever, being rubbed in at night after a bath.
Baldensperger also mentions this oil "Old Im Imhammad, the soothsayer of our camp... could extract balsamic oil from the date like fruit... and used it for healing wounds, although the Zaqqum (as the Arabs call it) with its spikes often over an inch long, is said to flourish in hell and furnish fruit for unbelievers."
The monks of a little convent in the Jordan valley once made and sold this oil to pilgrims as balsam, and the poor deluded pilgrims used to carry away little bottles of it and think it the Balm of Gilead! The true Balm, as far as can be known, was probably a Balsammodendron, cultivated in ancient days round about Jericho. It could no doubt be again cultivated there if anyone wished to try, the climate seems just right for it; one sees all round one in the Jordan valley plants known in the parts of Africa where Balsamodendrons flourish. But its value was far greater in olden days than now. It was once an acceptable gift for Kings. Was it not balsam that the Patriarch Helias sent fram Jerusalem to our own King Alfred? It is told so in the Leech Book of Bald, on a page unfortunately imperfect, "So much as may weigh a penny and a half, rub very small, then add the white of all egg and give it to the man to sip. It (balsam) is also very good in this wise for cough and for carbuncle, apply this wort, soon shall the man be whole. This is smearing with balsam for all infirmities which are on a man's body, against fever and against apparitions and against all delusions..."
This same balsam was also grown at Matarieh in Egypt, the ancient Heliopolis, near the famous Sun Well. Budge says of it, "According to Christian tradition, Mary washed our Lord in water drawn from this well, and when the water was thrown out on the ground, wherever any drops of it fell, balsam trees sprang up. From these shrubs a holy oil called 'Meron' was expressed, which was used for anointing at baptisms" and consecrations and other important rites and ceremonies. For centuries it was used as the oil of consecration par excellence, and when, as it sometimes happened, a supply of it was not forthcoming, consecrations of ecclesiastical officials had to be postponed."
Carthamus tinctorius, L. Compositae). Usfur; Za'faran; Qurturn. Safflower; Bastard Saffron.
This prickly thistle-like plant, with bright orange flowers, is grown for its petals, which are used in certain dishes, to give them colour and flavouring. It is a dye plant, having two dyes, one easily extracted, a yellow, and another, more difficult to obtain, a pink, the pink with which we are told the red tape of India was once dyed. Gerarde regards it as rather a dangerous drug. He says, "Of Bastard Saffron... 'We use,' saith Galen, 'the seed only for purgations.' ''... "The seed is very hurtful to the stomack... Put to the same seed things comfortable to the stomack as Anise seed, Galingale and Mastick, Ginger, Salgemmae, and it shall not hurt the stomack at all and the operation shall be the more quicke and speedy." We are glad to think that in the only use we know made of it in Jerusalem, i.e., mixed as one of the drugs in the "Arba'in" (q.v.) it is accompanied by all these comfortable things, saving only the Salgemmae.
Cetarach officinarum, Willd (Filices). Ghalqe. Spleenwort.
This fern is often gathered in Palestine; as far as our observation goes it is used for cuts, but probably has other uses as well. The old tales which gave it the name of Spleenwort are not known. Gerarde says of it, "But this is to be reckoned among the old wives' tales and that also which Dioscorides telleth of, touching the gathering of spleenwort in the night, and other most vaine things, which are found here and there scattered in ald books; from which most of the later writers do not abstaine who many times fill up their pages with lies and frivolous toies and by so doing do not a little deceive young students."
Cynoglossum pictum, Ait (Boragineae). 'Aishbet el jarh. The Plant of the Wound, Lisan el Kelb. Hound's Tongue.
The leaves of this plant, crushed, are said to be good to lay on wounds, hence its commonest name in Arabic, a name also given to other herbs used for the same purpose. This plant, with its pale blue netted veined flowers, long thin leaves (which gave it its Greek name of Hounds Tongue) and flat seeds covered with hooked prickles, is very like our English Hound's Tongue, C. aflicinale. The name 'oflicinale' shows that it was once used in medicine, and it is interesting to find that one of its many uses was the same as the Palestinian one. Gerarde recommends it in an unguent of honey of roses "most singular in wounds and deep ulcers."
Coriandrum sativum, L. (Umbelliferae). Kuzbara. Coriander.
The plant grows wild in Palestine; it has an unpleasant smell, but the seeds have an agreeable spicy taste. It is reckoned a carminative, here as elsewhere, and is one of the drugs used in the 'Arba'in.' Gerarde says of it, "Coriander seeds well prepared and covered with sugar as comfits, taken after meat helpeth digestion... and prevail much against gout."
Cumin Cyminum, L. (Umbelliferae). Kammun abiad. Cummin.
Is cultivated and occasionally runs wild. The seeds look rather like caraway seeds, but have a nasty taste. It is one of the drugs in the 'Arba'in.' Gerarde, quoting Dioscorides, says that "the seed of Cumin scattereth and breaketh all the windiness of the stomach... and is good against the griping torments thereof... and being taken in a supping broth it is good for the chest and for cold lungs."
Erynigium creticum, Lam. (Umbelliferae). Qurs 'anni. Field Eryngo. Snake Root. (Plate 65).
All the Eryngoes, whether of the field or the sea, have a beautiful sea green glaucous hue o.n stem and leaf and flower, which is varied, more especially in E. cretica, with strange blues and purples. They have long thin roots, used in olden days for both medicine and sweetmeats. In Palestine the roots of this field Eryngo are believed to cure snake bite and scorpion sting. This is interesting because similar powers have been attributed to other Eryngiums also. Anne Pratt says of E. campestre, "Its roots when dried and powdered are said to form the chief ingredients of a medicine celebrated in Spain as .a remedy against the bite of serpents."
Further back in history, Parkinson, quoting older authorities still, says, "Both the Upland and Sea Holly are temperate in heat, somewhat drying and cleansing, but our Sea Holly is more effectual than the Upland kind... yet, what therefore I shall show you of the Sea kind you may transfer to the other, as divers other good authors doe." "The decoction of the roote... or the powder of the roote to the quantitie of a dramme at a time, with some wild Carrot seede drunke in wine, or as Apollodorus doth appoint in the broth of boyled Frogges, or as Heraclides saith, in the broth of a Goose, is available against the sting or biting of serpents and other venomous creatures... the roots bruised and applied outwardly or taken inwardly either, and applied to the stung or bitten place of the Serpent, healeth it speedily." We know of a case in Trans-Jordan where our Field Erynga was used "both outwardly and inwardly" for snake bite, and we wish we could say "it cured it speedily" but so many remedies were used and with such dire results that all that case shows is haw primitive medicine with all its lore of useful plants yet can go very wrong in their application. The patient, a girl, was said to have been bitten by a black viper, and was hurried off to a local fiki to be cured. The following list of 'treatments' was reported by the women friends who helped by obtaining the plants and other material required by the fiki. First the place of the bite, on the foot, was slashed with criss cross lines with a knife to make the blood flow, and ligatures were applied for a time. Then, some said, the wound was cauterised by a red hot iron, but others had not seen this done. Their share had been to prepare and apply poultices of the root stalk of Humhum (Anchusa strigosa) and Qurs 'anni (Eryngium cretica), while the pounded root of Qurs 'anni was given her to drink in milk. Later, stronger poultices were applied, of Humhum, Qurs 'anni and donkey's dung, varied by the pouring in of hot clarified butter (semn). After a fortnight the foot had a wound the length of the side down to the very bone, and it took weeks of patient care in hospital to effect a cure. Whereupon one who has lived long in the country remarked that more folk die of such remedies than of the poison of serpents.
Foeniculum officinale, All (Umbelliferae). Shomar. Fennel.
Fennel grows wild in Palestine and is gathered for salads when young; it is the seed that is considered of medicinal value (as it was in olden days), and is used in infusion, and also in the powder called the 'Arba'in.' The name Shamra is given in the Book of Syriac Medicine, probably meaning this fennel. It was also highly thought of in Saxon England:
"Chervil and Fennel
Two fair and mighty ones
These worts the Lord formed,"
as it says in the Lacnunga. Gerarde too speaks highly of it, "Fennel seed drunke assuageth the pain of the stomach and wamblings of the same" and "The seed of Sweete Fennel is equal in vertues with Anise seeds." And Fennel fruit is still mentioned in our Materia Medica today.
Fumaria sp. (Fumariaceae). Noueme. Fumitory.
There are several kinds of fumitory found in Palestine; these are used in sour milk (leben) as a cure for skin disease. This agrees with Gerarde's first virtue for Fumitory, "Fumitory is good for them that have scabs... growing on the skin."
Glycyrrhiza glabra, L. (Leguminoseae). 'Erq el Sus. Liquorice.
This species furnishes the officinal liquorice. There are four varieties of it in Palestine, and another species, G. echinata, the roots of which also furnish liquorice, but none of these grow near Jerusalem. The favourite use is as liquorice water.
Helicophyllum crassipes, Boiss (Aroideae). Sma'a.
This is a strange looking plant, rather like an arum, with a blackish purple flower and somewhat fleshy leaves cut into segments. It has a cormous root, said to be eaten by the Beduins on the Egyptian coast. We have not found it near Jerusalem, but it grows in many parts of the country. Near Surif, in the Hehron district, it is highly valued by the people, who dry the leaves and put them in pancakes for the sick.
Hyoscyamus sp. (Solanaceae). Benj; Sakaran. Henbane.
There are four species of henbane in Palestine; the people say that in olden days they were used as chloroform and therefore they give them the name of 'Benj,' but we do not know of any modern instance of their use. The name suggests the Indian 'Bhang' (Hashish).
Innula viscosa, L. (Compositae). 'Erq el Tayyun. Lesser Elecampane. (Plate 66).
This is a poor relation of the famous Elecampane, I. helenium, long esteemed for coughs and colds. The Palestinian use is different, the plant being used in a steam bath for stiffness and for rheumatism .
Matricaria aurea, L. (Compositae). Babunij. Feverfew.
This is a very common plant, the flower heads of which have a strong scent. They usually have no rays and look when gathered like little round yellowish balls. These, or sometimes, the whole plant, are used in infusion like Chamomile Tea, usually for fever or abdominal pain.
Olea Europaea, L. (Oleaceae). Zeitun barri. The Wild Olive.
Leaves of the wild olive are reputed to be of medicinal value in fevers, and are also sometimes mixed with Lesser E1ecampane and Rue in the steam bath for rheumatism. It is interesting that Gerarde, giving several uses for the Olive Tree, says, "The branches, leaves and tender buds of the Olive Tree do cool, dry and bind, and especially of the Wild Olive, for they be of greater force than the tame."
Nigella sativa, L. (Ranunculaceae). Qizha. Love in a Mist.
This plant is cultivated for its little black seeds. They are called Habbet el Barake "Seeds of Blessing," and are often eaten scattered on bread and cakes. They are also thought to be medicinal and are included in the 'Arba'in.' Here are some of their excellent virtues, according to Gerarde, "The seed... parched... brought into powder" is to be "smelled from day to day, cureth all catarrhes, rheumes and the like." "The seed drunke with wine, a remedy against shortness of breath, etc." "Takes away freckles laid on with vinegar." To be brief, as Galen saith, it is a most excellent remedy where there is need of cleansing, drying or heating. But in the Syriac Book of Medicine it is chiefly valued for headaches."
Papaver rhaeas, L, (Papaveraceae). El Bakhita (Lucky One) Khash Khash (Rattle). Corn Poppy.
An infusion of the capsules is made and drunk for coughs. The juice is mentioned in the U.S. Materia Medica as a mild anodyne.
Peganum harmala, L. (Rutaceae), Harmal. Syrian Rue. (Plate 67).
In Palestine this plant is, like other rues, thought to be a cure for rheumatism (El Rih). Gerarde mentions it under Rue as "Wilde Rue with white flowers," he gives no special uses for it, only remarking "this Rue in hot countries hath a marvellous strong smell, in cold countries not so." There is a 'Wi1d Rue Antidote' among the compounds in the Book of Syriac Medicine.
Pimpinella anisum, L. (Umbelliferae). Yansun. Anise.
Another carminative, still in our Materia Medica. Gerarde says of this seed, "It has many uses"... "being chewed makes the breath sweet"... "taken with honey cleanseth the brest very much from flegmatick superfluities." The flavour of aniseed is appreciated more on the Continent than in England there one often meets it in bread and cakes and sweets. It is liked too in Palestine, where it is cultivated and occasionally runs wild. It is one of the drugs in the 'Arba'in.'
Pistacia lentiscus, L. (Anacardiaceae). Mastika. Gum Mastic.
The tree which furnishes this gum is a native of Palestine, but we do not know if it is collected there. Anciently it was supposed to have great medicinal value, and it is still sold in Jerusalem, being one of the drugs in the 'Arba'in.' It is said to be used still throughout the East, but more now as a kind of chewing gum, to sweeten the breath than as a medicine.
Pinus halepensis, Mill (Coniferae), Kreish. Pine.
The seeds, Habb Kreish, are reckoned invaluable for nursing mothers in Palestine and also in Trans Jordan, and they are among the ingredients of the 'Arba'in.' They are also eaten for pleasure, small as they are. Pine Bark, of any species, is used to make a lotion for various uses, but especially for dressing scalds caused by boiling oil.
Polygonum equisetiforme, Sibth et Srn. (Palygonaceae). Quddab. Knotweed.
An infusion is made of the plant and given for consumption. This also was a use of our English Polyganum vulgare, of which Gerarde says, "The juice of Knot Grass is good against the spitting of blood." But as far as our enquiries go the Palestinian use appears to be a modern introduction.
Partulaca oleracea, L. (Portulacaceae). Baqleh; Irjele. Purslane.
A common salad plant in the east, considered good for health. The seed is among the drugs in the 'Arba'in.' Gerarde attributes several virtues to the juice of Purslane, also to the seeds.
Plumbago europaea L. (Plumbagineae). Khamshi. Wild Plumbago. (Plate 68).
The wild plumbago is not always recognised at first sight by lovers of the exquisite blue plumbago of our English conservatories, but those who look closely at it will observe the same salver shaped flowers and the calices with their sticky glands. Then, after the first disappointment is over they will own that though in a lesser degree, the plant has some of the attractiveness of its cultivated superior, and even a special beauty of its own in the late autumn, when all herbage round is dead and sere and the khamshi obstinately continues to flourish with a deepening of its dark green leaves to purple and sprays of flowers varying from blue to lilac.
The plant is of medicinal repute, both in Palestine, and Trans Jordan. Here is one recipe for its use in toothache. Take khamshi leaves and henna leaves and pound them with a roosted onion and spread the plaster thus obtained round the tooth, the burning juice will allay the pain. The same kind of treatment is recommended for other ailments, but sounds rather dangerous. The use of the plant for toothache is mentioned by Gerarde. He says of Leadwort, Plumbago Plinij, "...the whole plant is of a biting taste, a burning faculty, that it will raise blisters upon a man's hand... the new Herbarists call it Dentaria or Denteilaria Rondeletij who made the like use hereof as he did of Pyrethrum, etc., such burning plants, to appease the immoderate pain of the toothache and such like."
Khamshi is a favourite with children in spite of the risk of blisters, because of the red calour of its juice; if they wish to play at weddings a squeeze of it provides the henna to stain the little bride's hands, while, if the game is battle there is blood to· make a fine show of wounds. Even their elders do not disdain this counterfeit – Poor Man's Henna – Henna el Fukara it is called and some say it has a good dark (ghamiq) tint of its own, but perhaps that is "sour grapes." And after a village quarrel, perhaps some rascal will smear himself and think to deceive justice, while he cries lamenting, "See haw my blood is flowing!" It is because of this that they say, proverbially, of one who malingers:
"He scratched himself and then smeared on khamshi"
(Itharmash wa dahanu bi khamshi).
Ruta bracteata (R. Chalepensis var bracteosa). Rutaceae. Sadhab; Zadabie; Fejam. Rue, (Plate 69).
Rue is much used in Palestine for rheumatism; one way of applying it is to boil it, mix with handal (colocynth) rind and anoint the affected parts. It is also used for earache, the juice, pressed out, is dropped into the ear. For stomachache it is made into an infusion and drunk, and this infusion is also valuable in cases of 'Fright' ('Khof'). All these uses, as well as many others, were once well known in England, but nowadays rue is chiefly grown in cottage gardens to be chopped up as food for sick chickens.
The wild rues of Palestine, such as Haplophyllum Buxbaumii, for which the name Fejam is used, never that of Sadhab, are often used for rheumatism also. One of them is esteemed above the others and has two special names of its own, this is Haplophyllum tuberculatum, called Mirwaha, and Shajaret el Rih (Plant of Rheumatism).
The following is a prescription for rheumatism, in which these rues and other plants are used for a steam bath.
Ruta chalepensis var bracteosa. Boiss. Fejam. Garden Rue.
Haplophyllum tuberculatum Forsk. Mirwaha. Wild Rue.
Peganum harmala L. Harmal. White Rue.
Vitex Agnus Castus L. El Ghar. Vitex.
Ecballium elaterium L. Qithe. Squirting Gourd.
Citrullus colocynthis L. Handal. Colocynth.
A handful of each of these plants should be soaked for three days, then all stewed together in a close pot, the mouth stopped up with dough. When ready the steam is allowed to escape through a small hole and the patient uses it as a steam bath for about an hour. When he has perspired freely he should be wrapped up in blankets and put to bed.
As well as being a medicine, Rue is a powerful charm. Mrs. Einsler describes how on a ceremonial visit to a young mother she found her wearing a blue mandil decked with sprays of lucky plants, gilded, among which were sprays of Rue, and brides, especially Jewish brides in Jerusalem, often wear a leaf of Rue, gilded, on their heads. One often sees children too, with a rue leaf on their caps. The rue is chosen for an amulet because its leaflets are often five together and so represent a hand, hence the name, 'Hand of Rue,' 'Keff sadabie,' which they give to the leaf, it is therefore powerful, as the Hand Charm is, against the Evil Eye.
Rhus coriaria, L. (Anacardiaceae), Simmaq; summaq. Sumach.
The leaves, fruit and bark of this small tree are used in tanning and dyeing, especially in tanning water bottles, as at Hebron. The fruit is sometimes used to make an acid drink, which is thought good for chronic diarrhoea. But the commonest way of using the fruit is to dry and powder it, and, mixed with za'tar or other condiments, sprinkle it into a stew; it is reckoned by the people as both spice and medicine. This agrees with the use given by Gerarde. He says, "Of Coriars Sumach. The seed of Sumach, eaten in sauces with meat, stoppeth all fluxes," etc.
Sambucus nigra, L. (Caprifoliaceae). Bailasan; balasan. Elder.
The chief use is for fever, the flowers being made into an infusion. Step says of elder, "The flowers contain a small percentage of a volatile oil which render them mildly stimulant, and provocative of perspiration." But in times past Elder was as nearly as possible a cure-al1; possibly this is why it has been dowered with one of the old Arabic names for the Balm of Gilead itself, Balasan.
Thymelaea hirsuta, L. (Thymelaceae). Metnan.
This is a desert plant with minute fleshy leaves and yellowish flowers. It has the reputation in Jerusalem of being a medicinal plant, but the only certain use we know of it is as powdered and applied to wounds on donkeys. Beduins near Gaza when questioned said that they knew of no medical value, they only made rope from its tough stems and also burnt it in their long pipes (ghalyun).
Urtica pilulifera, L. (Urticaceae). Qurreis. Pill Nettle, or Roman Nettle. (Plate 70).
People whip themselves with nettles for rheumatism, a most heroic remedy, rather like allowing oneself to be stung by bees for a cure. Apparently this is a popular old remedy in other countries, too. Culpeper says, "A handful of the leaves of green nettles... bruised and applied to the gout, sciatica or joint aches hath been found to be an admirable remedy." These nettles were probably U. dioica, which is much more common in England than the Pill Nettle, though the suggestion has been made that the Pill Nettle is the right medicinal Nettle and that the Romans brought it purposely to England to cure the rheumatism they acquired in that, to them, inclement isle. But there was no need for them to do that, for nettles follow man wherever he goes, and no doubt the Roman Nettle followed the Romans unasked. The most ancient instance of the use of the plant in this way is more humane, though possibly less effective. Dioscorides ordered this: "For sore Joints, if they be made sore from anything befallen or from chill, take juice of the wort and oil, boiled together, apply them where it most annoys, within three days thou healest him."
 Lit. breakfasted.
 Gerarde, "Herbal," p, 801.
 Gerarde, "Herbal," p. 799.
 Baldensperger, "The Immoveable East," p. 42.
 Probably B. opobalsamum.
 Cockayne, "Leech Book," 2, P 289.
 The holy oil used at baptisms in the Greek Church now is called 'Meron.'
 Sir Ernest Wallis Budge, "The Divine Origin of the Herbalist," p. 23. (The Society of Herbalists, London. 1928).
 Gerarde, "Herbal," p. 1,169.
 Gerarde, "Herbal," p. 1,140.
 Herbal," p. 805.
 Gerarde, "Herbal," p. 1,012.
 Gerarde, "Herbal," p. 1,066.
 Anne Pratt, "Flowering Plants," vol. 2, p. 23.
 John Parkinson, "Theatrum Botanicnm," p. 985.
 Cockayne," p. 35.
 Gerarde, "Herbal," p. 1,932.
 Gerarde, "Herbal," p. 1,089.
 Gerarde, "Herbal," p. 1,393.
 Gerarcle, "Herbal," p, 1,086.
 Budge, "Book of Syriac Medicine," pp. 54-57.
 Gerarde, "Herbal," p, 1,255.
 Gerarde, "Herbal," p. 565.
 Gerarde, "Herbal," ch. 148.
 Gerarde, "Herbal," p. 1,254.
 Einsler, "Mosaik."
 Canaan, "Aberglaube."
 Gerarde, "Herbal," p 1,474-5.
 Step, "Herbs of Healing," p. 90.
 "Cockayne," I., P. 250. Quoted from a Saxon source for the pleasure of the wording.