Tuesday, October 31, 2017

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. 

Monday, October 30, 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 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 enjoy longer life expectancy 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.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

On the Use of Balm

Balm (Balanites aegyptiaca) also known as desert date, soap berry and is a species of tree that is native to much of Africa and parts of the Middle East. There are many names for this tree that is mentioned Bible several times as the balm of Gilead. In Hebrew it is called tsori; in Egypt it is called myrobalan, Egyptian balsam or Zachum; in Arabic it is known as lalob, hidjihi, inteishit, and heglig (hijlij). In Hausa it is called aduwa, in Swahili mchunju and in Amharic bedena. It grows prolifically and can be found in many kinds of habitats and soil types from sand to heavy clay.  It survives arid and humid climates and is relatively tolerant of flooding, grazing, and wildfire. 

Balanites aegyptiaca has been cultivated in Egypt for more than 4000 years, and stones placed in the tombs as votive offerings have been found as far back as the Twelfth Dynasty. The yellow, single-seeded fruit is edible, and it is used as a food source during famine.  The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, but the seeds need to be boiled to make them less bitter.  The flowers can also be eaten raw or cooked.  It is especially valuable in arid regions because it survives drought and produces fruit even in the dry season. The fruit can also be fermented and brewed in an alcoholic beverage.

Desert date fruit is mixed into porridge and eaten by nursing mothers, and the oil is consumed for headache and to improve lactation. Bark extracts and the fruit repel parasites and snails.  The fruit can be used to treat worm infections, liver and spleen disorders.  The bark can be boiled to produce a natural abortifacient and an antidote for arrow-poison in West African traditional medicine.  However, exactly which plant is the one referred to in the Bible as the Balm of Gilead is not certain. Balanites aegyptiacaseems is one of the most likely contenders.  Other possibilities include Commiphora gileadensis or a Terebinth tree in the genus Pistacia.   

After having cast Joseph into a pit, his brothers noticed a caravan on its way from Gilead to Egypt bearing balm and myrrh and other spices (Gen. 37:25). When Jacob dispatched his ambassadors to Egypt he sent a little balm as a gift to the ruler (Gen. 43:11). During the final years of the Kingdom of Judah, Jeremiah asked, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” (Jer. 8:22).  In Ezekiel 27:17 balm is listed as one of the commodities which Hebrew merchants carried to the market of Tyre. According to I Kgs. 10:10, balsam (Hebrew: bosem) was among the many precious gifts of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon, but this may be a different plant since the Balm of Gilead is rendered tsori in Hebrew.

Commiphora opobasamum may also be the tsori referred to in Hebrew.  In Ezekiel 27:17, Judah and Israel traded wheat, confections, honey, olive oil and balm.  The balsam tree was cultivated prolifically in Judea and was native to southern Arabia and Ethiopia.  At one time the plains of Jericho were covered with balsam that was cultivated from the first roots of balsam given to King Solomon by the Queen of Sheba as recorded in 1 Kings 10:10. Balm was brought to Rome by Pompey as a sign of victory after the first conquest of Judea in 65 BCE.  Vespasian displayed it among the spoils of war after he destroyed Jerusalem in 69 CE.  It is an emblem of Palestine and guarded for its symbolic and medicinal uses.     

Pliny identified three different species of this plant.  One has thin, capillaceous leaves; the second is a crooked scabrous shrub; and the third grows taller than the other two and has a smooth rind from which balsam can be extracted and preserved.  A resin can be pressed from the seeds, the rind, and even from the stems (see Theophrastus, Hist. Plant. 9:6; Strabo 16:763; Pausanias 9.28.2).

Dioscorides (De materia medica) attributes many medical properties to balsam, such as expelling menstrual flow; being an abortifacient; moving the urine; assisting breathing and conception; being an antidote for aconitum and snakebite; treating pleurisy, pneumonia, cough, sciatica, epilepsy, vertigo and asthma.

In the Talmud balsam from the plains of Jericho produced an ointment that was highly praised (Shab. 26a).  Young women used it as a perfume to seduce young men (Lam. R. 4:18; Shab. 26b). After King Josiah hid away the holy oil with which the kings of Judah were anointed, balsam oil was used instead (Ker. 5b). In the messianic era, the righteous will “bathe in 13 rivers of balsam” (TJ, Av. Zar. 3:1, 42c).

The Christian rite of confirmation is conferred through the anointing with chrism which is traditionally a blend of olive oil and balsam.  Balm seems to have been used everywhere for chrism at least from the sixth century.

Balm was brought to Egypt by Cleopatra, and planted in a garden at Ain-Shemesh. The Egyptian town of Ain Shams was renowned for its balsam-garden, which was cultivated under the supervision of the government. During the Middle Ages the balsam-tree is said to have grown only here, though formerly it had also been a native plant in Syria. According to a Coptic tradition known also by the Muslims, Mary, the mother of Jesus, washed the swaddling clothes of her infant in the spring of Ayn Shams on her way back to Palestine after her flight to Egypt. The story is reminiscent of Christian legends about the Fountain of the Virgin in Jerusalem.

Some of the most impressive health benefits of Balm of Gilead include its ability to reduce 
inflammation, soothe the skin, protect the immune system, eliminates pain, speeds healing, soothe the stomach, and detoxify the body.

Although Balm of Gilead is used as a perfume, it has also been widely used throughout history as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and diuretic. It is derived from an Arabian shrub with the botanical name Commiphora gileaensis which bleeds a sap that can be collected, processed, and applied for a variety of medicinal purposes.  Balm is one of the oldest and most respected herbal remedies in the world, but it has dozens of common names depending on the region of the world.  There remains a question as to which plant the oil comes from, as there are many similar varieties throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

One of the most common applications for Balm of Gilead is as a topical ointment on inflamed areas of the skin. For example, it acts in a similar way to aloe when applied to sunburn, as it can quickly suck out the heat and itchiness due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds found within this powerful oil. Similarly, when it is applied to areas affected by arthritis, it can reduce inflammation, effectively eliminating pain as well.

Aside from effects like soothing sunburn, the antibacterial properties of Balm of Gilead also mean 
that it can quickly clear up skin infections or irritations, such as eczema, psoriasis, and even eliminating the appearance of scars and blemishes. For insect bites, it can be rubbed on the affected area for rapid healing and pain relief. This analgesic quality of Balm of Gilead can be used on the temples and neck as well, if you suffer from headaches or migraines.

Balm of Gilead can be applied to the chest in the form of a warm rub before sleep to help to clear up coughs and colds, both by absorbing into the skin and being inhaled as your skin naturally heats the oil. The expectorant nature of Balm of Gilead can help expel mucus and phlegm, which speeds the healing process.

 For men with enlarged prostates, urination can be a painful or even impossible endeavor. Fortunately, Balm of Gilead has certain diuretic qualities, that when combined with its anti-inflammatory ability, can help stimulate urination. This helps the body expel excess toxins, salts, fats, and even water that the body doesn’t need to retain, increasing overall health and reducing strain on the bladder and kidneys.  It has been known to reduce chronic diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome and other disorders of the stomach, as well as conditions like cystitis.