Friday, December 15, 2017

Healing Plants in the Bible

Several books have been written describing the plants mentioned in the Bible that are associated with rituals of hospitality and healing.  Mary’s Flower: Gardens, Legends and Meditations written by Vikncenzina Kyrmow with meditations by M. Jean Frisk and illustrations by A. Joseph Barrish, S.M.   Published by St. Anthony Messenger Press in 2002 this book describes the development of flower gardens that honor Mary of Nazareth along with various titles and legends about her.  The book does not draw an explicit connection between Mary of Nazareth and Jewish rituals of hospitality and healing that involved the use of certain flowers.  

Healing Plants of the Bible: History, Lore and Meditations was written and illustrated by the same trio and published in the same year by the same press.  It describes the medicinal and healing properties of the plants mentioned in Scripture and mentions those that have been dedicated to or are symbolic of some aspect of the life of Mary of Nazareth. It does not describe their historic use by Jewish women in rituals of hospitality and healing. The main purpose of the book like the previous one is to assist one in planting or enjoying a garden dedicated to Mary as a spiritual exercise.  Both books provide references for locating exceptional gardens of this type.      

A beautifully illustrated meditation book called Bible Flowers published in 1997 uses 15th century manuscripts from Flanders and Burgundy to illustrate the flowers mentioned in Scripture. Each of the twenty-eight images are accompanied by a scripture quote presented as a visual and thought-provoking meditation.  It is a delightful devotional book with the intention of illuminating Scripture, primarily Hebrew Scripture.  It provides no explanation of the therapeutic use of flowers and plants, but uses them decoratively to frame an illustration of some Bible event.

A fourth book Plants, Flowers and Herbs of the Bible written by W. E. Shewell-Cooper and published in 1977, provides a scientific taxonomy of plants that were in use in Israel and other parts of in the Middle East in the time of Jesus.  There are separate chapters on flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs, trees, grasses and grains and weeds.  The book delves into details of farming methods, pest control, manuring and irrigation.  It does not focus identify the plants used in healing or hospitality in the time of Jesus, or the involvement of women in those rituals.  It is most useful for confirming the botanical names and properties of plants identified in other sources, and learning about how they were grown.

For my purpose of discovering more about plants used by women involved in the ministry of hospitality and healing in the early church, the 1957 edition of All the Plants in the Bible by Winnifred Walker has been a most helpful resource.  Her taxonomy provides accurate botanical illustrations along with the English, botanical and Hebrew names for each of the plants and gives the Scripture quote in which they are mentioned.  The following illustrations come from this book.  The rest of the information is gathered these five sources, the fourth edition of Modern Essentials: A Contemporary Guide to the Therapeutic Use of Essential Oils and various online sources. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

On the Use of Hyssop

Hyssop (Origanum maru or Origanum syriacum) has been in use since classical antiquity.  Called hyssopos in Greek and ezob in Hebrew, it is the Bibilical Hyssop referred to in verse 7 of Psalm 51, “Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.”

The First Book of Kings describes ezob was a small plant.  It was burned with the red Heifer in Numbers xix. 6; and used for purification of lepers in Leviticus xiv. 4, 6, 49, 51; and Numbers xix. 18).  At Passover it was used to sprinkle the blood of the sacrificial lamb on the doorposts (Ex. xii. 22).  Its main use in biblical times was for religious purification.  

In Egypt the priests ate it with their bread to make a suitably austere religious meal.  Hyssop leaves have a lightly bitter taste due to the tannins and an intense minty aroma. Due to its intensity, it is used only moderately in cooking. Fresh Hyssop combined with other herbs is commonly used in Middle Eastern cooking.  Essence of hyssop, obtained by steaming, is also used in cooking to a lesser extent.  It is believed to have soothing, expectorant, and cough suppressant properties.

The Gospel of John mentions that hyssop and vinegar were given to alleviate the thirst of Jesus during his Passion. Matthew and Mark refer to the plant simply as a reed or stick. In the Psalms the sprinkling of hyssop is used allegorically to refer to purification of the heart.  

The Roman Catholic Church, and also some other sects have adopted the biblical practice of sprinkling with hyssop to sprinkling with water to ritually cleanse religious objects and people in a ritual called aspersion.

On the Use of Dill

Dill (Anethum graveolens), wrongly translated in Matthew 23:23 as Anise is recorded in the Talmud as being subject to tithe. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

The ancient Greeks and Romans grew it and used it to flavor foods.  It is native to the eastern Mediterranean region and western Asia. The word dill comes from the old Norse word dylla, meaning to soothe or lull. It dates back in writing to about 3000 B.C. when it earned a mention in Egyptian medical texts.  In the 1st century Rome, dill weed was considered a good luck symbol. Ancient Egyptians used it to ward off witches and as an aphrodisiac.

To Greeks, dill signified wealth. Many cultures cultivated it for medicinal qualities, particularly its ability to soothe an ailing stomach. In ancient Greece athletes spread dill infused olive oil all over their body as muscle toner.  In Anglo-Saxon England dill was made into a herbal tea according to a recipe borrowed from ancient Greek medicinal texts and used to treat jaundice, headache, boils, lack of appetite, stomach problems, nausea and liver problems. 

Today dill is widely grown in Eurasia and other parts of the world where its leaves and seeds are used as an herb or spice for flavoring soups, sauces and salads.  The aromatic fernlike leaves of dill are used to flavor salmon and other fish dishes as well as cucumber pickles, where the dill flower is sometimes used. Dill is best when used fresh as it loses its flavor rapidly if dried.  Dill seed is used as a spice and dill oil, extracted from the leaves, stems and seeds of the plant is used in the manufacturing of soaps.

Dill weed is a good source of calcium, manganese and iron, and as an antioxidant food, its flavonoids provide anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties that give it a whole host of incredible health benefits.  A study published in the American Journal of Therapeutics investigated the analgesic and antidepressant properties of dill from the South of Morocco. Extract of the dill plant was administered to subjects and showed a significant antidepressant and analgesic effect when compared with the drug references, sertraline and tramadol, and dill had the advantage of no adverse effects.

Dill weed also has proven cholesterol-lowering benefits.  It aids in digestion and provides a source of energy through beneficial fatty acids.  A study published in the Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences found that extract of dill had profound anticonvulsant activities making it a potential natural alternative treatment for epilepsy.
The triacylglycerol structure and distribution of fatty acids of seed oils determines the final physical properties of dill oil that has a positive effect on absorption and metabolism.  Regular consumption of fresh dill aids in the digestion of some important fatty acids. 

Dill oil has been shown to be effective agent against several bacteria strains, completely inhibiting the growth of Fusarium graminearum, a devastating wheat disease caused by the fungal plant pathogen, as well five other toxic bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus.  Dill extracts taken from seeds stored for thirty-five years remained potent enough to kill several fungal strains, such as the mold Aspergillus niger and the yeasts Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Candida albicans.

Dill also contains monoterpene effects which help antioxidant molecules attach to oxidized molecules that would otherwise do damage in the body. These antioxidant effects are comparable to those obtained by ascorbic acid, alpha-tocopherol and quercetin. Thus, dill exhibits anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties capable of fighting free radical damage associated with cancer. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

On the Use of Olive Oil

Olive (Olea europaea) is a small tree native to the Mediterranean, southern Asia, the Middle East, China and the Canary Islands. The species has been cultivated widely because of its many benefits and is considered naturalized in all the countries of the Mediterranean coast, as well as in Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Java, Norfolk Island, California and Bermuda.

Olive oil is one of the core ingredients in Mediterranean cuisine.  The word “oil” in multiple languages derives from the name of this tree and its fruit.  Fossil evidence indicates the olive tree had its origins some 20–40 million years ago in the Mediterranean and was cultivated for its fruit 7,000 years ago in Mediterranean regions.
Its origin can be traced to written tablets, olive pits, and wood fragments found in ancient tombs in the Levant and cookbooks referring to its use in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Crete.

Fossil olive pollen has been found in Macedonia and other places around the Mediterranean. Fossilized olive leaves were found on the volcanic Greek island of Santorini (Thera) and were dated about 37,000 BCE. Imprints of the larvae of olive whitefly were found on the leaves. The same insect is commonly found today on olive leaves, showing that the plant-animal co-evolutionary relations have not changed since that time.  As far back as 3000 BCE olives were grown commercially in Crete.

Spanish colonists brought the olive to the New World, where its cultivation prospered in Peru and Chile. Cultivation quickly spread along the Pacific coast where the climate was similar to the Mediterranean.  Spanish missionaries cultivated olives at Mission San Diego de Alcalá in 1769 and orchards were started at other missions throughout California.  Olive oil production became a highly successful commercial venture from the 1860’s onward.  In Japan, the first successful planting of olive trees happened in 1908 on Shodo Island, which became the cradle of olive cultivation in Asia. 

Olives are one of the most extensively cultivated fruit crops in the world.  In 2011, about 9.6 million hectares were planted with olive trees, which is more than twice the amount of land devoted to apples, bananas, or mangoes. Only coconut trees and oil palms command more space. There are estimated to be 865 million olive trees are in the world today, 95% of which are found in Mediterranean countries where the olive has long been considered sacred.  Olive branches symbolizing abundance and peace were ritually offered to deities and powerful figures in ancient Rome and Greece and used as emblems of benediction and purification.  They were used to crown the victors of friendly games and to signify the end of a war.  The use of olive oil in many religious ceremonies can be traced to the history of its use in ancient times to symbolize wisdom, fertility, power, and purity.

Olive was one of the main elements in ancient Israelite cuisine and used for lighting, sacrificial offerings, ointment, and anointment for priestly or royal office.  The olive tree is one of the first plants mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and one of the most significant. An olive branch was brought back to Noah by a dove to demonstrate that the flood was over (Book of Genesis, 8:11). The olive is listed in Deuteronomy 8:8 as one of the seven species that are noteworthy products of the Land of Israel.  The ancient Greeks smeared olive oil on their bodies and hair as a matter of grooming and good health.

Olive oil was used to anoint athletes in ancient Greece and burnt in the sacred lamps of temples.  The “eternal flame” of the original Olympic games was fueled by olive oil and victors of the olympic games were crowned with olive leaves.

In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus crawls beneath two shoots of olive that grow from a single stock.  Greek myth attributed the understanding of olive husbandry to the ancient Greek hero Aristaeus, who also pioneered cheese-making and bee-keeping. Olive wood was used to fashion the most primitive Greek cult figures that were preserved for centuries and the Greeks claim the olive originated first in Athens, but this cannot be proven.

According to the fourth-century BC father of botany, Theophrastus, olive trees ordinarily attain an age of 200 years, but some trees growing on the Acropolis in his life time were believed to date back to the Bronze Age. In his treatise On the Causes of Plants, Theophrastus makes clear that the olive is propagated by pits that are spread far and wide by birds, but a bearing olive tree can be grafted onto a wild olive to increase productivity.  In addition to being propagated by seed and grafting onto an existing tree, olives can be propagated from a piece of the trunk, the root, a twig, or a stake.

According to Pliny the Elder, a vine, a fig tree, and an olive tree grew in the middle of the Roman Forum to provide shade. The Roman poet Horace wrote that he survived on simple diet of olives, endives and mallows supporting the idea of the olive being one of the most perfect foods preferred by the ancients.

The Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem is mentioned several times in the New Testament. St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans compares the scattering and gathering of Israel to the widespread propagation of the olive tree.  The olive tree itself, as well as olive oil and olives, play an important role in the Bible and are mentioned seven times in the Quran.  The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: "Take oil of olive and massage with it – it is a blessed tree" (Sunan al-Darimi, 69:103).

Olive oil contains 93.3 grams of fat, of which 13.33 grams are saturated and 66.6 grams are monounsaturated.  It contains no carbohydrate or protein.  The fact that olive oil is so rich in monounsaturated fat, is believed to be the reason that populations from that region have longer life expectancies and lower risks of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke, compared with North Americans and Northern Europeans.

The monounsaturated fatty acids found in olive oil are healthier alternative to fats and oils used in cooking in other regions.  Studies carried out in Barcelona, Spain found that people who regularly consume olive oil are less likely to develop cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, and hyperlipidemia (high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels).

Olive oil intake also appears to help reduce inflammation, endothelial dysfunction (problems with the inner linings of blood vessels), thrombosis, and carbohydrate metabolism.  Scientists in France concluded that older people who regularly used olive oil for cooking and salad dressing or with bread had a 41-percent lower risk of stroke, compared with those who never consumed it.  People whose diets are high in monounsaturated fats have a lower risk of depression than those whose diets are rich in the trans fats typically used in fast foods and mass-produced items, such as pastries.

Scientists from Barcelona in Spain found a key mechanism by which virgin olive oil protects the body against breast cancer, in contrast to other vegetable oils.  In contrast corn oil, an oil rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, increases the aggressiveness of cancerous tumors.

Oleocanthal, a compound found in extra-virgin olive oil was found beneficial in preventing Alzheimer’s by helping to shuttle the abnormal Alzheimer's disease protein, beta-amyloid, out of the brain.  Findings of initial research done on mice suggest that oleocanthal boosts the production of two proteins and key enzymes that help remove beta-amyloid from the brain.  Rates of Alzheimer's disease are lower in Mediterranean countries, where consumption of olive oil is higher than anywhere else in the world.

In a laboratory experiment at the University of Granada in Spain, researchers found that the components of extra virgin olive oil appear to protect against acute pancreatitis. Investigators from Tunisia and Saudi Arabia carried out a study demonstrating that extra virgin olive oil may protect the liver from cell damage associated with the chemical reaction between free radicals and other molecules in the body. 

A scientific study in the United Kingdom found that consuming 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil daily could fend off ulcerative colitis.  Participants with that daily intake of oleic acid had a 90-percent lower risk of developing ulcerative colitis compared to those with the lowest intake.

Consuming cured olives has the some of the same benefits as consuming the oil, but may have a higher amount of sodium depending on how they are processed, making them a potential cause of high blood pressure.  Olives are also very high in vitamin E and other powerful antioxidants. Studies show that they are good for the heart, and may protect against osteoporosis and cancer.